Lars Gotrich

Summer is almost here and you need summer jams. There are always competitors for the title "songs of summer," but when you're sitting on a porch or hanging by a pool, there's no room for competition; you just want a steady string of tunes.

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

RLYR's moniker is an upcapped, vowel-less tribute to Yes' 1974 album Relayer. You know, the one with the incredibly epic gatefold art by Roger Dean? While RLYR isn't quite a fantasy-themed fusion/prog-rock band, the members know a few things about heroic and heavy instrumental rock that storms the gates of delirium.

Inspired by the colorful sticker, Trapper Keeper and lunchbox art from which Lisa Prank takes her punny name, Seattle singer Robin Edwards makes bubblegum pop-punk for lovesick, rainbow-colored unicorns. Built around an electric guitar and a drum machine, her songs are simple and catchy like the Ramones', but are recast for the intimate and imaginative space where these songs begin and expand.

Seattle's Dust Moth scans metal: Thick riffs rumble in and out of heavy atmospheres, with sludgy guitar, melodic bass way out front, and muscular drumming that swings like a thumping heart. Its pedigree scans as metal, too, as the band features guitarist Ryan Frederiksen (These Arms Are Snakes, Narrows) and Giza's rhythm section (bassist Steve Becker and drummer Justin Rodda).

There are rhythms that guide us. The syncopated funk of go-go music internally recognizes the everyday juggle of life by bouncing different parts of the body in staggered time. The motorik rhythm — a 4/4 tempo with an accent on each beat — is linear in its drive, but pulsing with tension. For its part, the feel John Fogerty dubbed chooglin' has always been tied to both an undulating rock 'n' roll rhythm and a philosophy of keeping life free and easy.

Stephen Steinbrink's unfussy imagery stays detached from meaning. That's part of what makes his seven albums worth your time: In their lushly arranged pop songs, the listener can tie and untie Steinbrink's vivid and unrelated images into something meaningful — or not. Even his new album's title, Anagrams, suggests engagement through emotional and lyrical rearrangement.

This is body music, provided your body is a wet noodle blasted by an industrial fan. Horse Lords' members pull from Saharan desert blues, krautrock, jazz and the band Television for building blocks that simultaneously tumble and rebuild, with repeating patterns that demand movement.

After long forays into pop-punk and arty post-hardcore, Thrice returns after a hiatus with a sonically grandiose third act. The band's ninth album, To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere, at times breaks with Thrice's angular moves and aims straight for the gut with more anthemic songs.

Love, lust and drugs are often used as metaphors for one another — "You Go To My Head," "Got To Get You Into My Life," "There She Goes" — with the understanding that each is addictive. We're stunned by it, we're naked without it, we can't live without it.

Julia Holter's music exists in tiny universes, colliding in torch songs and bits of cosmic cabaret that are as reverent as they are perverse. The most minute details and the plainest words suddenly form a grandiose spectacle.

Fair warning: Wicker Man-inspired costumes, grisly occult dealings and static-flickering VHS tapes lie ahead. For some of us (read: me), director Torin Langen's video for Crosss' "Golden Hearth" is the stuff of nightmares, but the heavy weirdness is definitely worth your time.

There is music in nature. Irv Teibel recorded, manipulated and sold nature as functional art; John Cage meditated on it ("My composing is actually unnecessary. Music never stops. It is we who turn away."); Annea Lockwood sonically maps rivers around the world.

For the past three years, the Robotic Empire label has released album-length tributes to Nirvana for Record Store Day: In Utero, In Tribute, In Entirety and Whatever Nevermind.

Three silhouettes stretch across the flat earth, facing each other at a tense distance. Heat squiggles through the air like baby snakes dancing in the sand. The one facing west is long and cracked like old leather, his face determined but his eyes wet with worry. In a rush to claim his bounty, he's replenished his bullet belt, but has left his gun in the room where his antenna'd lover lies. He is thinking about last night, knowing it was likely his last.

There's reality, and then there's what we tell ourselves. Both can be terrifying and difficult, even disastrous. Chris Schlarb tackles an old friendship, misconceptions, grace and the passing of time in Psychic Temple's "Brother O."

As The Smiths know, sometimes you just need someone to sing you to sleep. So while our team was at SXSW in Austin, Texas last week, they asked a handful of our favorite artists in town for the festival — Lucius, Maren Morris, Holly Macve, Mt. Wolf, Timmy Thomas, A-WA, Declan McKenna and Miya Folick — to do just that. They brought the songs. We brought cameras and microphones.

It's been more than a decade since Erin Tobey's last solo album, and if the name sounds somewhat familiar, she was part of the early- to mid-'00s Bloomington punk scene in bands like Abe Froman and Mt. Gigantic.

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