Ann Powers

Where will you live after the apocalypse? That question becomes more relevant once you realize the apocalypse is now, and ongoing, with society unmaking itself in convulsions and recovering in spurts. And the place where it's leaving Americans is what Erika M. Andersen calls the Outer Ring. It's that circular band of highways and avenues surrounding a city, where vape shops share strip-mall space with Halal butchers and Triple XXX Pleasure Zones, and immigrants stand at the bus stop next to Trump voters while their children get stoned together in the Kwik Mart parking lot.

Tristen Gaspadarek and Buddy Hughen share a house in the graveyard of a golf club, where they make music that captures the stubborn hope and creeping obsolescence at the heart of modern life. Tristen, who performs and records under her first name, was raised in Chicago but moved to Nashville a decade ago. There she met the guitarist and producer Hughen, and the pair was soon collaborating.

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.

The country-music business is show business, whether the bright lights shine at the Grand Ole Opry or at a small dance hall on a lonely Western highway. Mark Wystrach, lead singer for Midland, learned the ropes of that business working at his parents' restaurant and dance hall, the Steak Out, in Sonoita, Ariz. Later he became an actor in Los Angeles, where he met Jess Carson, an Oregon farmer's son, and Cameron Duddy, a Hollywood kid whose love of music had led him to country, too.

A few years ago, my friend Jill Sternheimer and I started a conversation one night while driving around the streets of New Orleans. Both of us are music nerds, and we regularly attend the kinds of musical retrospectives that have become common in this age of historical exploration via tribute shows and historical playlists. Jill, in fact, often organizes such shows at Lincoln Center Out of Doors, where she is the director of public programs. I sometimes write about them, and often ponder how music history's being recorded and revised in the digital age.

If you stumble into the right basement in Nashville, Tenn., you will hear some of the most inventive and lovely psychedelic rock being made just about anywhere. Sun Seeker is one of Music City's freshest new rock bands. It's inspired by 1960s legends like The Band and '90s rockers like Pavement, creating a unique blend of Southern whimsy and fuzzy, melodic rock.

A mysterious photograph appeared across various social media platforms Monday morning, depicting three dashing women — two in cowboy hats, one holding a pair of spectacles — lounging at a wooden table teeming with the evidence of a long night out. NEW BAND ALERT: BERMUDA TRIANGLE, the caption read. Anyone attuned to the Americana scene recognized the one in the middle: Brittany A. Howard, the main rule-breaker in Americana music's most exciting band of this century, the Alabama Shakes.

Daddy Issues formed out of friendship in 2014 and has become one of Nashville's most exciting punk bands. Guitarist Jenna Moynihan, bassist Jenna Mitchell and drummer Emily Maxwell all came to the city to attend Belmont University and met through its thriving DIY scene. Blending a love of noise with powerful melodicism and a knack for capturing the ups and downs of millennial life, Daddy Issues is part of a wave of young women challenging the clichés of both rock music and feminism.

Maybe contemporary country music will make sense again, now that Shania Twain is back to set the record straight.

There are very few artists who can bring the past into the present in a way that captures both the nuance of history and the immediacy of now. But Rhiannon Giddens has done it, beautifully, on her second solo album, Freedom Highway.

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