Stephen Thompson

Before a month-and-change ago, Slowdive hadn't released an album in 22 years. So you'd be forgiven for watching the band perform "Sugar For The Pill" and struggling to pin down what era you're in — especially since NPR Music plopped the group in a playfully retro Brooklyn shuffleboard parlor for the occasion.

The Lone Bellow's earnest and magnetic folk-pop was built to shake the rafters: It's hooky and rousing and performed with absolute commitment. It has been since the beginning, from the band's charming, self-titled 2013 debut through the Aaron Dessner-produced Then Came The Morning two years later. And, if a new song called "Time's Always Leaving" is any indication, it'll carry on through the release of The Lone Bellow's third album, Walk Into A Storm.

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.

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.

In Big Thief's best-known song, the title track from last year's Masterpiece, singer-guitarist Adrianne Lenker sums up a lifelong relationship in just a few simple minutes. Shrouding her sweet voice in bold, blustery rock 'n' roll, complete with a guitar solo, the song serves as a testament to sturdy bonds. It's warm and empathetic, and catchy as anything.

Rainer Maria's story began in Wisconsin and, at least for a time, ended in New York. In the interim, a span stretching from the mid-'90s to the mid-aughts, the band found and refined the sound it was born to play: a tense, wordy, emotionally wound-up bundle of jagged guitars, literary references and vocals that could harmonize beautifully or crash into each other discordantly. Rainer Maria's songs exuded raw, life-and-death drama befitting the group's youth, and every second felt unabashedly sincere.

Matt Pond PA has been churning out charming power-pop songs for nearly 20 years — a run that will extend to 12 full-length albums when the band releases Still Summer on August 11. Its arrival will mark a major milestone in a long and creatively fruitful career: Once tours for the new record have run their course, singer-songwriter Matt Pond is effectively breaking up the band, dropping the "PA" and carrying forward with new projects.

Musicians cover each other's songs often enough that the results rarely qualify as news. But covering a whole album, song for song? That's a labor of love ambitious enough to warrant attention.

Saintseneca writes dark, rivetingly mysterious, painstakingly crafted songs that somehow retain a sense of mischief. Even when the Ohio band incorporates exotic instrumentation into moody ruminations on consciousness, the result can still convey all the pleasures of a three-minute power-pop anthem.

When the Texas band Bedhead got the box-set treatment in 2014, the reissue provided an excellent chance to revisit the recorded legacy of Matt and Bubba Kadane, who've spent the last quarter-century experimenting within a precise, deliberately paced sound.

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.

Julia Jacklin doesn't need much accompaniment: If you were to hear the Australian singer-songwriter's unadorned voice, say, echoing at the top of a stairwell, you'd most likely climb to where it leads without a second thought. Jacklin's full-length debut, last year's Don't Let The Kids Win, knows just when and how to lean in to this simplicity, surrounding her with spare instrumentation that keeps that voice in the center of the frame.

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.

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.

If you've ever attended a gigantic music festival, you've seen them: row upon row of portable toilets collecting untold oceans of human waste. They help create a piquant bouquet that also includes steaming asphalt, deep-fried corn-dog batter, a slurry of mud and torn-up grass, and the sundry odors that can only emanate from a broad cross-section of humanity assembled in one place.

What you probably haven't done — although who's to say, really? — is pondered the collection of 50,000 liters (minimum) of human urine and thought, "What a waste."

There's nothing all that novel about covering a fizzy pop song as if it were a slow, bluesy dirge — any more than it's novel to cover a ballad as if it were a speedball punk jam. Radical transformations aren't radical in and of themselves.

Glen Hansard's career includes a brilliant quarter-century with his rock band The Frames, a fruitful foray into statelier folk-pop with The Swell Season and, most recently, a pair of elegant, deliberately paced solo albums.

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