KTEP - El Paso, Texas

Lars Gotrich

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.

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

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.

Giving Up sounds like a demolition derby crashed by a stolen school bus, a giddy smash of screw-eyed indie-pop and junk punk. Based out of Garner, Iowa, with members now spread out across the Midwest, Giving Up has been at this mix for over a decade now. Where its previous records touted lo-fi production and a wild abandon towards songwriting, Garner Cardinals gives the formula a bit of spit-polish, not only injecting some studio dynamics but also focusing the manic-pop into tuneful blasts.

Charles Baudelaire's "L'invitation au voyage" was originally published in Les Fleurs du mal in 1857, a book accused of being une outrage aux bonnes mœurs (roughly, "an insult to good manners" or "morality"). The poem is laden with a sensuousness that speaks beyond our temporal concerns, imagining love as a destination outside this world, perhaps an infinite one. And yeah, it's pretty hot.

Instrumental music speaks. Like a look from a lover or the clench of a fist, there is sometimes more (e)motion in the flick of a riff or the hum of an organ than words can supply. The Texas-based trio Khruangbin got its start digging on '60s and '70s Thai funk, gospel, R&B, surf, psychedelic rock and dub, creating chill instrumentals seemingly tailor-made for groove-seeking beatmakers and blissful dancers at outdoor festivals.

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.

Hot Snakes is a rock 'n' roll band. Just the name alone — Hot Snakes — sounds like a weathered 45 from the Nuggets proto-punk era, when no one really knew what they were doing. When John Reis started Hot Snakes with Drive Like Jehu bandmate Rick Froberg in the early 2000s, that felt like the M.O.: plug in and play as loud as possible. In 2005, they broke up.

I have a soft spot for Yo La Tengo's curiosities, like the cloudy bossa nova shimmy of "How To Make A Baby Elephant Float" or the spelunking drones and gurgling rock improvisations heard on The Sounds Of The Sounds Of Science, which soundtracked a series of underwater documentaries.

Reality is weird — a series of events that connect from birth to death. Shame's singer, Charlie Steen, doesn't claim wisdom of the process, he's just pulling hot embers from this unruly fire, singing in a hoarse scrawl: "My nails ain't manicured / My voice ain't the best you've heard / And you can choose to hate my words / But do I give a f***."

Jay Som's Everybody Works was one of NPR Music's 50 best albums of 2017, a guitar-driven rock record with complex arrangements and even more complex emotions all wrung out from singer, songwriter and producer Melina Duterte.

There must be some meaning to life if we still have music — it gives form to our existential dread, and sometimes you can dance to it. In just four short years, Nap Eyes have made much ado about meaninglessness with rock 'n' roll songs that shake just offbeat and smart lyrics wrapped in bemused ennui.

Shirley Collins just doesn't sing old songs — she inhabits the experience within and transmutes them. She hears songs holistically, and out rings a voice that never overtakes, but rather lives with the melody. Collins innovated the folk music tradition, heard most strikingly in the 1964 album, Folk Roots, New Routes, and gave shape to bands like Pentangle and Fairport Convention.

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