Having decommissioned Two Inch Astronaut last summer, Sam Woodring turns down the DC post-punk dial on Final Boy, pairing his falsetto hooks with delicate acoustic melodies and Pinbackian drum programming. Muscle memory steers several songs through the fretboard-strangling flare-ups of yore, moments amplified here as exceptions to the new rule.

Wastelayer lives up to its title within seconds, as Charlie Wagner’s bracing bellow triggers an avalanche of crashing chords and battering drum rolls. Even during the essential exhales from pummeling post-hardcore, Slow Code never relents its steely ethical resolve: we’re fucked, do better (we’ll still be fucked, but do better).

Motes could drift endlessly in the just-awake dream-pop haze of its bookending comforters, curled up in warm guitar feedback and winsome vocal harmonies, and elicit zero complaints. But Crash the Day rises and ventures into playful indie pop, knotted post-punk, and call-and-response lullabies, earning its eventual return to the fold.

Two perfectly paired guitar drones, each occupying twenty minutes of time but seeming infinite in expanse. Both sides evoke moments on pause: Kyle Bobby Dunn’s “The Searchers” spins the rarified refractions of morning light hitting glistening dew, while Wayne Robert Thomas’s “Voyedova” shades the darkening hues of a fading sunset.

Rarely does Grid of Points expand its instrumental palette beyond Liz Harris’s piano and multi-tracked vocals—echoes of echoes and field recordings, at most—but even with a skeletal set-up, these songs remain enchantingly elusive. Is this apparent emotional clarity merely an illusion, the presentation of proximity from considerable distance?

Filling vast western landscapes with a pervasive sense of inescapable claustrophobia, Emma Ruth Rundle commands slow-moving thunderstorms of reverb-laden, doom-heralding guitars. Disquieting lulls echo through empty canyons, each drumbeat a footstep in flight or pursuit. Hope is in short supply, but not extinguished; touches of tenderness keep the campfires burning.

Tim Midyett’s near-annual four-song dispatches reach new heights on the third edition. Heartroller is an unhurried drive into a golden evening, with a picturesque horizon of baritone guitar and pedal steel alleviating the day’s concerns. The profoundly affecting closer “Disappearing Music” finds peace in one’s eventual passing—no minor achievement.

Who says you can’t have it all? On their last proper album, Wye Oak spurned cathartic guitar rock for lustrous, keyboard-driven art-pop. Those paths now converge in maximalist majesty, with slippery synths and tweaked guitar tones sharing space beneath Jenn Wasner’s soaring, expressive vocals. Sonically scintillating, yes, but emotionally refined.

There’s a deceptive nonchalance to Pet Fox’s debut, an ease of instrumental interplay that lets power-pop hooks, dexterous breakdowns, and pangs of exquisite longing sneak up on listeners for maximum effect. The repeat-all function offsets the tidy runtime; as the woozy piano outro of “Disengaged” recedes, the album’s beginning beckons.

During his nearly two-decade tenure with the Jicks, Stephen Malkmus has ventured from pop to prog, languid malaise to saucy struts, impish asides to gargantuan jams. Sparkle Hard utilizes the full playbook with his trademark mirage of effortlessness, adding new wrinkles like auto-tune, a Kim Gordon duet, and political commentary.

The tactile touches of prepared piano are mesmerizing on their own accord, but in both arrangements and performance, Kelly Moran surpasses the set-up. Enveloping electronics wash underneath the cascades of notes, occasionally flooding into open spaces, while Moran’s pacing excels in quiet, spacious tracts and exhilarating bursts of downhill acceleration.

Kathryn Joseph’s bewitching voice contains multitudes: quiet warbles conveying the utmost fragility, melodic scythes cutting upwards, eerie banshee chants, piercing spikes tapping concealed reserves of power. Arrangements lean heavily upon repetitive, minimal piano figures, but surge and swell with textural depth to support the captivating convergence of those vocal variations.

A cheat, perhaps, and a disservice to the other members of each band, but picking a favorite between Steve Hartlett’s complementary projects would belie the need to hear both. Wrap yourself in the warm blanket of Ovlov’s fuzzed-out guitar tones, then hum Stove’s refined hooks as you drift into bliss.

Hot Snakes emerge from cryogenic sleep older and crankier, but swiftly reassert their dominance with a half hour of sinewy post-hardcore garage rock. It’s debatable whether they have less patience for your bullshit or their own, but given Jericho Sirens’ obsession with death, there’s no time to waste on either.

With fresh blood onboard and pop tricks borrowed from Sadie Dupuis’s solo venture as Sad13, Speedy Ortiz sounds refreshed and resplendent. Synthesizers squiggle through thickets of twisted guitars, making room for colossal choruses replete with laser-guided background vocals. Walking a tightrope between communal consciousness and sly wordplay proves no challenge.

Low’s considerable discography offers hours of slow-motion, harmonious balm, a mode that the severe Double Negative imprisons beneath solar flares of rupturing digital textures. It is not without mercy—slivers of beauty, hope, and optimism escape through the cracks—but the jarring, dispiriting surface is a sobering reflection of modernity.

Released a month before Scott Hutchison’s death with transparent lyrical insights to his depression, Dance Music could easily be misinterpreted as a dire listen. But Mastersystem roars against such notions, fighting demons with nostalgic riffs and gut-punching drums. Hutchison’s struggles are laid bare, but that includes inspirational efforts toward self-improvement.

“Some people have to survive,” Phil Elverum intones semi-sheepishly on Now Only’s title track, a bewildered recognition of the cosmic indifference separating Geneviève Castrée’s fate from his own. That line also acknowledges the imperative to continue living—to honor Castrée’s memory without being paralyzed in grief—a relatable, ongoing struggle.

Deafheaven are perched between worlds. Their alt-rock riffs, post-rock pondering, and shoegaze softness fail black metal purity tests, while George Clarke’s goblin shrieks construct a formidable barrier for the unprepared. But this incongruous borderland offers a unique combination of savagery and beauty, with cathartic sweat and blood blurring the edges.

Over two astounding releases, Sarah Davachi extracts religion from church music, leaving behind solemn meditations that resonate through empty pews. Organs linger with no intrusions, piano chords ascend toward high ceilings, ghostly voices permeate the ethereal plane, and subtle electronic manipulations suggest that this enveloping calm is only a simulation.