Lars Gotrich

There is a ceiling-gazing quality to Juliana Daugherty's songs — that's not an attempt at coining a new, fake genre, but a functional image. Light is the singer's first solo album after playing around the Charlottesville, Va. folk scene. Having spent a little time with Light, I just want to curl up in a circle of pillows and stare upwards at eggshell paint that could so easily be cracked by the quiet and contemplative poetry Daugherty sings with gentle, but aching lilt.

Wild Animals must have fans all over the world. No less than seven record labels spread across the U.S., Spain, Italy, Chile and Japan are co-releasing The Hoax; a lot of people really want you to hear the Madrid trio's new album, which recalls Superchunk's crunchy pop-punk and Bob Mould's triumphant, post-Hüsker Dü jangle with Sugar.

There is so much joy to be found in experimental music, with endless opportunities to experience sound and rhythm as pleasure, where discord becomes genuine discovery. Like, when you hear a synth emit a sound that could only be described as an amplified wet noodle slapping a thin slice of ham, that's funny.

There's a smoked citrus flavor to Sonido Gallo Negro, sour swirled in sweet and spice like a tiki drink splashed with mezcal and overflowing with pineapple chunks. Since 2011, the Mexico City ensemble has explored psychedelic cumbia, with an ear towards dive-bar grit. Mambo Cósmico is the nine-piece band's third album, expanding their sonics further with a Zappa-like whimsy — without sounding anything like that mustachioed Mother, mind you.

Sarah Louise must have a sick sense of humor, or just perfectly inappropriate timing: The second day of spring has been welcomed with heavy snow on the East Coast, and I am grumpy about it. But dangit, her new song helping keep the soul toasty.

Aisha Burns' heart was like a glass emptying and filling itself. Her mother had died, but she had also found love in a new relationship, all at once. The conflicting emotions would be enough for any heart to spill over with grief and joy, but Burns channeled it all into her new project.

Stella Donnelly has only one EP to her name, but that's been enough to make her sharp wit come through in sweet, quiet songs that rage loudly. The Australian singer-songwriter's Thrush Metal EP was recently reissued in the U.S. with a bonus track, "Talking," which she performs here surrounded by video of wires, a weaving machine and woolen yarns.

As Cornelius, Keigo Oyamada has stretched his vision across frenzied indie rock, lush '60s-style pop, psychedelic funk and glitched electronics, all deconstructed and reassembled like a neon cubist-pop sculpture. After a little more than two decades, no one can really imitate his complex cool.

This might very well be the ultimate lullaby. Right at the start of the 2018 SXSW Music Festival, Max Richter's eight-hour composition Sleep was performed overnight to an audience tucked into 150 beds. They — the audience, not the tireless group of musicians who performed the piece — slept, dreamed and sometimes snored through this trance-inducing experience.

I can't face myself. Becca Mancari repeats the line like a broken admission spoken through a pinhole camera, a whispered truth so potent it can't be looked right in the eye. The song that line comes from, "Dirty Dishes," is the introspective centerpiece of last year's Good Woman, and in this South X Lullaby, Mancari removes the clicking pulse of the studio version to underline the song's lonely atmospherics.

A laid-back disco cool and bouncing bassline groove don't make Natalie Prass' recent single "Short Court Style" seem like a natural candidate for quiet reflection — perhaps, instead, a hard-earned frolic betwixt lovers who work hard to make their love work.

The members of Wax Chattels introduce "In My Mouth" as "our homage to Auckland's best dive bar." If that's the case, this dive bar has been shattered, battered and fried into a post-punk surrender. No survivors, just a fluorescent strip dangling from the ceiling, flickering the remnants of a crazed brawl.

I'd missed half the set. There was a long line outside around the corner for the headliner, a group of pretty boys who make pretty boy pop-rock. (That's not a knock, just not what I came for.) When I finally made my way into the venue, members of The Aces were just starting to play "Just Like That." It wasn't the boisterous hit, but captured an essence of the group: a band formed in the members' tweens and the confidence and camaraderie that comes with their longevity.

We toil with what's ahead, but know what's possible, what's futile and how it can distort — even control — our everyday. It is exhausting and forgets those who just need need to be in the present.

Over grainy and gray background, alternating a bubbly purple font with artistic block-letter script, a friend shared a hyper-specific meme on his Instagram stories recently: "I have no idea what Grouper is saying, but she makes me cry." I chuckled as I idly swiped by, but only because it's so damn true: Grouper's Liz Harris could murmur a play-by-play for a curling match over whispered guitar and leave me devastated.

We have some questions about Neko Case's first solo album in 5 years, Hell-On. Is the hyphen some kind of slang for our current hell on Earth? Per that wild album artwork, are haberdasheries going to update their stock with hats made out of lit cigarettes? Can human hair really emit such a dark and ominous plume?

Hawthonn's mystic drones seem to come from an ancient astral plane. Formed in 2014, the experimental duo from Leeds explores the metaphysical — dreams and ghosts — through music that seems to both wander through and embody the foggy English countryside.

Brooklyn's Wharf Cat Records doesn't keep to any one sound — from Gothic post-punk to country-rock and noisy electronics to hazy psych-rock — but hangs on dearly to a p

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

Drowse is not only apt for the hazy ambience that Kyle Bates makes with creative partner Maya Stoner, but the medicated state from which it was inspired. Following a mental breakdown, Bates was originally prescribed antipsychotic drugs, and several unmedicated years later, his anxiety returned in heavy doses. His relief came in the namesake of this song, he tells NPR:

Bambara's post-punk has always had a sleek sort of menace to it, a taut rhythm section wrapped in psychedelic noise. It's mesmerizing to listen to, and seeing the band live is an experience wrought from sharp curves and frontman Reid Bateh's rapturous baritone.

The year is 3089. The world looks something like that scene from Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure where society meditates on the most outstanding music of a singular artist. But instead of smoove Van Halen licks, it's The Body, the extreme doom-metal duo who, by this point, have downloaded their brains into cyborgs.

You can hear the hum of the speaker, buzzing from a quiet bass line. You move closer to the riff; it beckons with mysterious portent like a smoking cauldron... and then the pot spills, the riff wobbling in distorted frequencies, a heavy hand on the organ and a voice singing a spooky fairytale. It's too late, you've met the "Three Sisters."

Romance isn't dead, it's just damn hard. We navigate gestures both small and grand like tributaries suddenly rushing into whitewater, and hope to hell that we come out the other side.

Angelina Torreano, the singer and guitarist for the Brooklyn-based Citris, had a particularly intense experience with one of the most old-fashioned romantic moves: a dude wrote her love poetry. And when the intensity wasn't reciprocated, things got weird, she writes an essay published with the song.

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