Maria Sherman

This essay is one in a series celebrating women whose major contributions in recording occurred before the time frame of NPR Music's list of 150 Greatest Albums Made By Women.

At the risk of hyperbole: London's La Vida Es Un Mus is one of the most exciting punk record labels going, possessing an unmistakable ear for innovative, dark sounds spanning continents, languages and style. There doesn't appear to be any method to when their releases become available, though its always an event.

This essay is one in a series celebrating women whose major contributions in recording occurred before the time frame of NPR Music's list of 150 Greatest Albums Made By Women.

There is a fine line between sensitivity and melodrama.

Petal, the musical project of Kiley Lotz, doesn't reveal specifics in "Comfort" to determine where she stands, but she makes her disquietude known. Her soft falsetto recognizes that the dissolution of a relationship, the space in which something intimate becomes ill-defined and romance starts to waver, is an idiosyncratic experience every time, for every stranger, friend and loved one. It also happens to be why "Comfort" is so heartbreaking.

There should be an industrywide rule that only acts of quality are allowed to name their project something wholly impossible to Google. Luckily for Sports — a Philadelphia-via-Gambier, Ohio twee-punk four-piece — it makes the cut.

This essay is one in a series celebrating women whose major contributions in recording occurred before the time frame of NPR Music's list of 150 Greatest Albums Made By Women.

Sincerity plays a key role in powerful pop music — candor is the catalyst for connecting an artist with their listenership. For indie-pop purists The Pains of Being Pure At Heart, that's never been a problem. From the band's dreamiest shoegaze influences to its most lucid lyricism, The Pains of Being Pure At Heart has found strength in heart-on-your-sleeve songwriting.

There are no clear-cut earmarks of success in independent music. Perhaps there shouldn't be: When bands find themselves inspiring attention beyond their basement-show aspirations, what looks good externally could chip away at the heart of something pure, something free of traditional capitalistic pressures.

From the first second, The Stevens sets us up for a letdown. In "Chancer," the Melbourne band assures us it's going to be a joyous and heartbreaking ride, a haze of indie-pop bliss defined by its sloping guitars. The song flirts with optimism as it moves upward without ever reaching a landing, creating a tension that power-pop has always known to be true: Darkness is best served deceptively, through happy sounds and complicated sentiment.

It's not unusual for art to pull from adolescent experience, an infatuation with innocence. The danger, of course, is that hindsight is 20/20, and teenage experiences are much less awkward in retrospect. With its debut single from its upcoming LP, Plastic Cough, the Seattle indie-rock band Great Grandpa doesn't ignore the gracelessness of youth. It embraces it.

Gothenburg, Sweden's Agent Blå ("Agent Blue" in English) hasn't been a band for very long, but its unique hybrid — a goth genre combination of indie-pop and post-punk that it calls "death pop" — evokes a certain youthful immediacy that feels far removed from infancy. The composite makes sense, considering the band's members range in age from 17 to 20 years old.

Some of the most powerful pop songs have a tendency to feel deceptive. An ascending melody can cloak sorrow; the most danceable hooks can act as odes to heartbreak or loss. Behind Charly Bliss frontwoman Eva Grace Hendricks' saccharine singing are moments of real intimacy, though they're not nearly as sweet as she makes them sound.

Love songs can often feel myopic. Sometimes it's to their benefit: When done with a certain emotional depth, lyrical particularity can take on a universal quality. It's as simple as someone telling a story that evokes an intimate memory in someone else. That's one of the many reasons why love (and subsequent heartache) is the most popular songwriting topic of all, but also the most exhaustive — and exhausting.

Late last year, Motörhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister passed away at the age of 70. The musician was a rare icon who refused to be defined by genre limitation; he possessed a certain mythos while still alive, a celestial greatness in death. Without Lemmy, it's hard to imagine Motörhead would have helped revolutionize thrash metal, assisting in the birth of the punk subgenre D-beat. In the modern era and in Lemmy's absence, the Dallas five-piece Power Trip has gladly accepted the thrash torch passed on to it.

"Bombs On The Beach" begins in a dystopic place — the song from Philadelphia's pre-eminent post-punkers Dark Blue kicks off with a descending bass melody. Someone snaps, slow and pointed, giving the track a distinctly depressive doo-wop quality. When singer John Sharkey III enters the mix, it gets under the skin, cold and heavy — a song that is so intimately and crucially joyless, it should come with a warning.

Artists make the best cultural critics. They reveal what's happening around us with whatever level of transparency they see fit, with whatever level of opaqueness they desire to sustain mystery. They're observers, internally and outwardly, operating in a space that allows us, the voyeur, the listener, to learn. Kim Gordon has been teaching us for over three decades. Now she's doing it under her own name.