Stephen Thompson

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.

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