Lars Gotrich

I still prefer music recommendations from friends online or IRL, or stumbling across a punk band cooler than the one headlining the show, or buying a record simply because the artwork rules, or falling down the rabbit hole of random clicks on Bandcamp. Algorithms serve a function, but never satisfy the hunt, at least for me.

What can stop the mutant psych of Sunwatchers? In the last two years alone, the Brooklyn band has released Sunwatchers and II, two live albums and 3 Characters, a double LP led by the truly impossible-to-pin-down guitarist and banjoist Eugene Chadbourne. Sunwatchers' sonic and sociopolitical fervor is palpable, as the band weaves a noise-induced trance given to ecstatic dance.

Balms' "Candle" unleashes an atmospheric bummer — the kind that billows ominously, only to reveal a dark scene once the shroud has dissipated. The San Francisco trio alternates chunky riffs and a plodding rhythm section with dreamy melodies, sudden screams and a voice that coos, "I want your soul." The forbidding effect is something like early Red House Painters' pretty moans set to the downcast punk seething of ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead.

Some days, you can hear a go-go band revving up the party or a pianist busting the keys wide open, luring NPR staff to the Tiny Desk. But in the hushed performances, your ears need to lean into the sound so that your entire being can take in every fingerpick of string and each hummed melody.

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


Portrayal of Guilt exists in the extremes of hardcore, noise, grindcore, death metal, powerviolence and turn-of-the-century screamo — subgenres of heavy music that typically scream through the pain. On its debut album, the Austin band doesn't just want you to scream, but also to Let Pain Be Your Guide.

"I've made music under many brand names. It was a dumb idea," David Bazan jokes during his performance at the Tiny Desk, in his own particularly reflective and self-deprecating way.

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


In metal, lineage can be everything. These musicians are lifers — sworn to the riff, defenders of the faith. It's what keeps metal alive. But when the bloodlines cross streams, the lineage doesn't get broken so much as emboldened. Azusa contains decades of experience, but Heavy Yoke reaches across the metal spectrum for a debut album wrapped in rapturously beautiful discord.

For nearly a decade, Arctic Flowers' members have mined the identifiably gloomy sound attached to Siouxsie Sioux and Joy Division. But with each record, the Portland band has carved out its own identity through Stan Wright's whiplash riffs and Alex Carroccio's forceful howl. Straight to the Hunter, the band's third full-length album, once again expands and refocuses a punk sound that's made for dark corners.

Meg Baird and Mary Lattimore both operate at the frayed edges of psychedelic music, sounding at once elegant and fuzzed-out. Baird was in the folk group Espers, sings and drums in the sprawling rock band Heron Oblivion and has a few lovely solo albums of her own.

The Marked Men will never make another album (or so the band says).

Look: Big, dumb riffs are harder than you think. Palm-muted chugs and sidewinder pull-offs can rate on a scale of Honda Accord (safe, reliable, standard) to El Camino (muscular, mean, wild) depending on the driver who's stomping on the sonic gas pedal. Hair Puller was founded on this premise, and its 101 MPH sludge will pulverize your headbanging skull.

Fay Milton and Ayse Hassan from Savages have a new band, except it's not a band, it's playground for all of their punk friends to rage.

Black Tambourine, Velocity Girl, Lilys, Lorelei, Stereolab — these are just a few of the artists who released 7-inch singles on Slumberland Records in the late '80s and early '90s. That's a helluva run for any label, but also remarkably prescient, considering the simultaneously softer and stranger indie pop that would follow.

It's not like Brody Dalle hasn't put her gritty-pretty voice to snarling use, but it's been almost a decade since her band Spinnerette's last release, and four since Diploid Love, her underrated solo effort. But now The Distillers, the L.A. punk band that gave Dalle's velvet scowl a platform to howl, is back onstage and making good on new material, after officially breaking up in 2006.

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 Bandcamp playlist at the bottom of the page.

Pages