The righteous fury of Xetas' second album begs to be performed, to push against prevailing injustice with an overloaded PA in a cramped, sweaty venue. Trapping it in digital files or plastic discs cannot, however, dull the serrated edge of "The Doctor" or lessen the inspirational sway of "The Mariner."

Xetas - The Cypher
MJ Guider - Sour Cherry Bell

Exploring darkened corners between ambient drifts and electronic propulsion, goth-rock prickles and dream-pop cushioning, delicate piano balladry and subterranean club staples, Sour Cherry Bell shuffles out of disorienting rooms before your eyes adjust to the light. Melissa Guion excels with both emotionally resonant single-track vocals and dizzying swirls of overdubs.

The inquisitive melodies and placid tones of Fred Thomas's array of synthesizers recall elementary-school science videos, becoming transfixed by a home aquarium on a rainy afternoon, and the saturated edges of aged film strips, proving that you can quarantine the past. Comforted by wonder or wondering about comfort? Your call.

Fred Thomas - Dream Erosion
Jesu - Terminus

Justin Broadrick's first proper Jesu album in seven years buries surprises in his signature glacier of doleful metallic shoegaze: the ascendant chopped vocals of "Alone," the barren robotic terrain of "Consciousness," the optimistic electronic pulse of closing instrumental "Give Up." Escape routes exist from this bleak tundra, but why leave?

Unveiling the exact processes of Sarah Lipstate's craft—just how her effects-warped guitars capture alien drones from distant galaxies—would be endlessly fascinating, but Arrow's considerable transportive power resists such investigations. Mere minutes into the voyage, such inclinations have vanished into the ether, supplanted by otherworldly melodies and textural bliss.

Noveller - Arrow
The Beths - Jump Rope Gazer

Beaming the bright sunshine and citrusy sweet-tart pairing of The Beths' exuberant power-pop from the other side of the globe feels like a scandalous indulgence, but we all deserve to attend the Auckland quartet's cloudless picnic. Come for the sugar-rush rockers, stay for the verdant harmonies of the daydreaming ballads.

Lewsberg's spartan palette could be carbon-dated to any point on the post–Velvet Underground timeline, but atonal shards in the guitar parts and tinges of darkness in speak-singer Arie Van Vliet's dry observations deem In This House both timely and timeless. These seemingly simple songs grow stranger with each spin.

Lewsberg - In This House
The Microphones - Microphones in 2020

Phil Elverum descends Mount Eerie to revive the dormant Microphones handle for a single-song musical memoir. Shuffling forward on slanted acoustic strumming, this 44:44-long guided tour is casually inviting and endlessly engrossing, highlighted by overgrown vines of distortion, timely vocal overdubs, a synth reverie, and his sheepish sense of humor.

Adding emotional weight to I Break Horses' widescreen post-shoegaze synth-pop, Maria Linden's wounded lyrics dwell on fractured love and compounded mental stress. The mid-album flares of vibrant colors in "The Prophet" and "Neon Lights" boost energy levels, while Warnings' bookends "Turn" and "Death Engine" enthrall as they spiral toward infinity.

I Break Horses - Warnings

Jeff Parker & The New Breed - Suite for Max Brown

With sneaky and startling fluidity, Jeff Parker navigates between traditional and modern compositional modes. It may take five plays for a reverential track to reveal its structure-wobbling tricks or a Dilla-citing fragment to allow its smooth melody to surface, but this stylistic cross-pollination adds depth to an instantly satisfying record.

Every element fits together so naturally for this Barcelona three-piece that Ensayo's expressive, intuitive rock seems easy. What other melody would Artur Estrada sing here? Of course the bass flows into that guitar surge! That's the exact spot for a harmony! Bands would sell their souls for Nueva Vulcano's secret.

Nueva Vulcano - Ensayo
Bill Callahan - Ensayo

Downright disarming in its weathered gravitas and rug-pulling wit (opening line: "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash"), Gold Record stands as another top-tier album of charismatic Americana in Bill Callahan's considerable catalog. May we all feel so at ease with ourselves, slipping comfortably into the past with the benefit of accrued wisdom.

The house band for the best horror-tinged teen dramedy that doesn't exist, Sadie Dupuis's supposed solo project is fully formed in its sophomore season. High-energy sequences are set to absolute earworms like "...Oops!" and "Hysterical," while darker arcs lean on "The Crow" and "Take Care" to deepen the show's mythology.

Sad13 - Haunted Painting
Phoebe Bridgers - Punisher

Accumulating acclaim like an accelerating avalanche, it's tempting to hype Punisher with its biggest moments: the buoyant horns in the chorus of "Tokyo," the radiant harmonies of "ICU," the cathartic cacophony of "I Know the End." But Phoebe Bridgers connects most with the quiet, knowing details in lyrics and arrangements.

A post-rock smorgasbord with optimistically soaring flights, yearning emo revival, near-ambient reveries, bass-driven bruisers, and an acoustic finale, On Circles registers as both expansive and eminently approachable. It's easy to get lost in the lush melodic tapestry on "Wildblood" and "Ishmael," yet the album feels far shorter than forty-seven minutes.

Caspian - On Circles
Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou - May Our Chambers Be Full

The doom-metal heaviness lurking under the surface of Emma Ruth Rundle's sweeping solo material is fully exposed in this collaboration with the pummeling Thou, lacing her spectral vocal melodies with bracing screams and crushing riffs. Sage pacing secures safe passage through the album's aggressive bursts, foreboding valleys, and harrowing heights.

The immersive tranquility of Mary Lattimore's cascading harp melodies could reside in a pocket universe, an ocean-floor observation bubble, or a crystallized childhood memory, sealed off from the outside world. Slowdive's Neil Halstead adds compositional depth as producer, but the indelible primary lines provide reassuring sanctuary from mere mental replays.

Mary Lattimore - Silver Ladders
Shiner - Schadenfreude

Exhibiting no atrophy to their math-rock musculature from post-The Egg stasis, Shiner again proves more mammoth than the sum of its considerable parts: Allen Epley's affecting melodic touch, Josh Newton's pedal-contorted leads, Paul Malinowski's formidable low-end, Jason Gerkin's deft drum-set decimation. "Paul P Pogh" is an exhilarating statement of purpose.

Killer Mike and El-P are legally obligated to Run the Jewels as long as they're hard-wired into our collective pulse. Their fourth salvo lands a rapid series of jabs and uppercuts: superb guest spots, ever-fresh production (that Gang of Four sample), and the perfect balance of wit, wisdom, and vice.

Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels 4
Sarah Davachi - Cantus, Descant

The extraordinary patience modeled throughout the eighty-minute Cantus, Descant makes aesthetic and logistical sense; Sarah Davachi rightly savored her time with a variety of venerable pipe and reed organs, including one dating back to 1479. Those tones are revered with respectfully modernized songwriting, including Davachi's first calmly captivating vocal tracks.

Gliding effortlessly between calculating techno and alluring dream pop, Kelly Lee Owens' second album sharpens both ends of that spectrum. Pulsing club tracks "Jeannette" and "Night" register as poised and playful, while the unguarded vocals of "L.I.N.E." and "Wake-Up" soften the sensuality of R&B, wrapping it in luxurious arpeggiated synths.

Kelly Lee Owens - Inner Song

After a trilogy of four-song EPs, Tim Midyett equals their count with the outstretched horizons of the double album Ambertron. The appreciable warmth of golden-hued sustained chords, heartstring-tugging pedal steel, and Midyett's charismatic, compassionate vocals may be antithetical to the year's calamitous tenor, but Ambertron heads doggedly toward better days.

Not to diminish the magical qualities of Julianna Barwick's vocal-loop mastery, but this album could double as an FDA-approved blood-pressure medication. Bolstered by strong guest spots and the adept deployment of low-end synth frequencies, Healing Is a Miracle eases seemingly inescapable anxieties, transporting listeners to imagined terrain of ineffable wonder.

Julianna Barwick - Healing Is a Miracle
Protomartyr - Ultimate Success Today

Cursed prophet Joe Casey channels our collective present and future, lacing the cosmic joke with black comedy and poignant resignation. Ultimate Success Today ranges from soberly beautiful to intoxicatingly bracing, bristling with inventive edges like free-jazz flourishes, Half Waif guest vocals, and scythe-sharp solos. Never be the simple kind, indeed.

Not suspended in amber but ensconced on a distant planet, growing wiser and weirder, Hum returns from exile with reminders of what was and what can still be. Layers of gleaming, voluminous guitars leave polychromatic contrails across galaxies of romance and remorse as Matt Talbott dwells on space and time.

Hum - Inlet