Snailmate celebrated the holidays with a new single, "Under My Tree."Courtesy of Valence Heartlock
Another year has ended. With some folks already looking forward to the big events of 2022, music fans are instead eyeing the most anticipated album releases. But don't forget that new music keeps coming out each and every week, and various local bands closed out December by releasing several great singles and albums. Some were packed with holiday joy, and others tended for celebrations of all that is loud and crunchy. Either way, here are our picks for the best songs of the month.
Snailmate, 'Under My Tree'
By the time you're reading this, Christmas will have already passed, leaving only frayed nerves and bundles of fresh tube socks. But in case your holiday celebrations were spent listening to Wham!, Bing Crosby, and/or Andy Williams, you can draw out the yuletide joy with an original song from Phoenix's own Snailmate. "Under My Tree" is truly a nontraditional holiday ballad as this DIY synth-pop jam would be better suited for a nightclub instead of playing at Uncle Dave's house. But that doesn't mean it's not somehow still appropriate for the season; with talk of "frozen hearts" and no gifts under the tree, it's a song that tackles the inherent loneliness and disconnect some folks experience this time of year. (Something we can all relate to after a couple of COVID Christmases.) In that sense, it's one of a few songs that actually transcend the season — now that's a gift that actually keeps on giving. Playboy Manbaby, 'The Feeling I Get When Petting A Dog'
Playboy Manbaby's catalog features songs about some very specific subject matter. That robust list includes the tediousness of other people ("Strangers Making Assumptions") and the beauty of everyday life ("Smashed Hotdog"). That trend continues with their latest EP, the five-track Toxic Positivity, and most specifically the standout track, "The Feeling I Get When Petting A Dog." Is this jangly, delightfully ramshackle slice of pop-punk about something as simple and wonderful as its title infers? Yeah, duh. But in true Playboy Manbaby fashion, it's also about forgetting all that baggage in the past and any future anxieties, and instead living happily and joyously in the moment — whether that's in your relationships, at work, and, yes, even petting cute doggos. Playboy Manbaby are the poet laureates of modern life, and this song is a true gem in their weird and wonderful discography. Not Nearly, 'Big Gas Pack'
On paper, Not Nearly have everything it takes to be a popular band — at least in the hard rock-loving hemisphere of Arizona. That's because the band describe themselves as "post-hardcore/emo with math chunks and prog swirls," and they more than deliver on this promise of sonic intricacy and robust emotionality. Case in point: "Big Gas Pack," from the band's 11-track album Future Damage. The song checks every box for their core sound: robust instrumentation (love those big, shimmery guitars); lyrics about pheromones and becoming jaded; and vocals alternating between earnest sincerity and yelping rage. Yet as much as the single adheres to certain sonic "norms," Not Nearly have a certain nuance and commitment that makes their songs ultimately excel in terms of overall ambition and trajectory. Maybe they shouldn't call themselves Not Nearly and instead go by Capable and Talented. sugar cowboy, 'juniper'
There's a lot of gimmickry involved with sugar cowboy. For instance, all the songs are apparently "recorded on iPhone voice memo." Plus, their latest LP is entitled Phase Fifteen: Bingo Gas Station Motel Cheeseburger With A Side Of Aircraft Noise And You'll Be Gary, Indiana. (Yes, there are 14 other "phases" with similarly wacky/nonsensical titles.) Yet based on songs like "juniper," sugar cowboy are more than any weird marketing ploys. The song itself is sort of like the Gen Z version of Daniel Johnston, this bizarre, painfully lo-fi ballad that promises to be swallowed up by either the accordion part or the endless echo and reverb. But dig a little deeper, and there's something genuinely charming and engaging amid this deliberate front of purely weird vibes. Maybe sugar cowboy's brand of rock isn't exactly for everyone, but if you can put in the work, it will likely tunnel into the deepest cockles of your heart. CIVILIA, 'This is Not the Devil'
Let's say you enjoyed the robust emo of Not Nearly and are now in search of even more hard rock goodness. Well, then you're in luck as the Valley's own CIVILIA have unveiled their latest album, the 12-track Past Lives. The whole LP is a kind of sampler platter for anyone who loves that hazy conglomeration of shoegaze, prog rock, and alt rock made famous by the likes of Tool and the Deftones. However, the real standout track happens to be "This is Not the Devil." On the one hand, it feels like the best representation of the band's sound, with a particular emphasis on this robust sense of melody and air of romanticism. At the same time, though, some of those "shinier" bits make this a bit more palatable to a wider audience than the album's more crunchy moments. CIVILIA can bring the noise, but it's their restraint and nuance that makes them feel especially exciting.
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Chris Coplan has been a professional writer since the 2010s, having started his professional career at Consequence of Sound. Since then, he's also been published with TIME, Complex, and other outlets. He lives in Central Phoenix with his fiancee, a dumb but lovable dog, and two bossy cats.