Marissa Lorusso

"The value of Death," wrote songwriter Sean Bean, of Boston's Bad History Month, in a dense, intimate introduction to new album Dead and Loving It, "is that it's an infallibly reliable fixed point on the horizon to navigate by when I'm lost at sea."

Some of us are verbal processors, who feel like certain vexing issues just can't be solved until we've exhaustively enunciated every angle. The hope is that the act of explaining a problem aloud will draw out a perspective previously unseen; sometimes you just have to start a sentence to see where it will lead. On "Let Down," from the four-member Gingerlys, Jackie Mendoza and Colin O'Neill's call-and-response vocals feel like two sides of a conversation with the self, an attempt to sketch the contours of tangled relationship in search of a way out.

As Japanese Breakfast, Michelle Zauner writes sparkling, opulent dream pop about grief and love (and, occasionally, robots). After releasing its debut album, Psychopomp last year, the band returned with this year's stunning Soft Sounds From Another Planet. Where Psychopomp, written in the immediate aftermath of the death of Zauner's mother, zeroed in on the experience of Zauner's grief, Soft Sounds widens her aperture, featuring paeans to her coping mechanisms, ruminations on crooked relationship dynamics and said sci-fi robot fantasy.

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.

Updated at 9:40 p.m. ET

Like U2, Ed Sheeran has also canceled his concert in St. Louis because of safety concerns.

The cancellations follow protests in the city prompted by the acquittal of a former police officer, who had been charged with first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of a black man.

Those of us who fell in love with her debut album, Sprained Ankle, have been hungering for more of Julien Baker's sparse, confessional songs — brutally honest and cripplingly insecure, self-deprecating but laced with just enough hope to keep you hanging on — since the album's 2015 release (only briefly sated by the release of "Funeral Pyre," a one-off single, in January).

"I know it's wrong, but I can't stop," Katie Von Schleicher groans in "Midsummer." Her album S***** Hits is full of such self-deprecating admissions; it's an album about looking out from inside your own delusions and bad habits, begging yourself to do better.

Brisbane, Australia is sometimes derided as "Brisvegas," a crack at the city's supposed lack of sophistication. But Australian musician Harriette Pilbeam might disagree that her home city lacks culture: She has spent the past few years honing her power-pop chops in the bands Babaganouj and Go Violets, part of Brisbane's not-insubstantial indie-rock scene.

There's a lot of heart in every project Maryn Jones touches. Her lyrics – which evince struggles with self-doubt and depression, and a penchant for self-reliance – are graceful and introspective. And her voice is powerfully expressive, whether combined with the muscular, fuzzy guitars of All Dogs – the indie punk band she fronts — or providing delicate harmonies for Saintseneca, the folk-rock group of which she's a member.

As Soccer Mommy, Sophie Allison makes sweet bedroom-pop songs built from deep introspection. Allison, a Nashville native and current NYU student, tends to write straight into the heart of the confusing space between adolescence and adulthood. As a result, Soccer Mommy's songs are deeply affecting snapshots of being young in a looming city and trying to find your footing.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released.

Palm does not write music for passive listening. Out of jagged edges and complex, interlocking pieces, the Philadelphia quartet makes off-kilter art rock that demands — and rewards — your full attention. Guitarists and singers Eve Alpert and Kasra Kurt write deeply intertwined melodies that seem to bounce off each other with razor-sharp precision; Gerasimos Livitanos' twitchy, punctuated bass lines mesh with Hugo Stanley's hectic, forceful drumming. The overall effect of cohesion is transfixing.

I am usually one to avoid bands with jokey names, but Cende snuck in with pretty, emo-tinged power pop before I could roll my eyes.

Three years ago, singer and guitarist Jenna Moynihan saw the words "Daddy Issues" written on the wall at a Nashville DIY venue and assumed — with what seems like utterly charming feminist optimism — that it was the name of an all-girl punk group. Sadly, it wasn't; fortunately, Moynihan chose to recruit some friends to take up the moniker themselves. The resulting trio — which also includes drummer Emily Maxwell and bassist Jenna Mitchell — makes stormy, grungey pop that can be charming and trenchant in equal measure.

There's bound to be a disconnect between our ideals and how well we live up to them, between our optimal self and our reality. This is especially true when our goals require us to sacrifice comfort for progress, or to politicize our personal choices.

The lyrics to "Just A Gwen," from Atlanta pop band Art School Jocks, may ring familiar to women. As guitarist Dianna Settles sings, over slinky, surf-y guitars and a dead-steady beat:

Carry your keys
Between your knuckles
You never know who's trying to follow you home
Smile back and
Say you're sorry
You shouldn't be out this late alone

Energetic and earnest, sweet and punchy — self-described "slop-pop" duo Diet Cig is nothing if not endearing. In "Tummy Ache," the first single from the band's upcoming debut Swear I'm Good At This, singer and guitarist Alex Luciano wields this undeniable charm while singing about the challenges of carving out her own space in a notoriously bro-heavy scene.

Spend some time in Boston's indie rock circles, and the name Pile is bound to come up in awestruck tones. The acerbic, noisy rock band's four previous albums and ceaseless DIY tours have earned it local hero status among the leagues of die-hard fans who shout along to frontman Rick Maguire's every word. And Pile is well-known as an idol for its peers, too – just ask defunct Boston cult favorites Krill, who named an EP in the band's honor.

In the last week of 2016, we're featuring just a few of the songs that, for whatever reason, never got their due this year.

Thelma's music sounds almost otherworldly. Slightly spooky and often dramatic, it mixes the warm, human sensibilities of folk with slightly off-kilter electronic elements. The intensity in the music makes sense, given its origins: When Natasha Jacobs, the band's founder, began to focus on songwriting, she did so with a commitment to overcome her lifelong fear of performing. A few years later, while studying composition at SUNY Purchase, Jacobs began experimenting with electronic instrumentation.

If you're tempted to think crunchy electric guitars and pop-punk choruses about heartbreak are the domain of emotional bros, the music of Lisa Prank is a convincing reminder that's not the case. Robin Edwards' one-woman pop-punk project juxtaposes catchy cuteness with vulnerable, relatable honesty and just enough tongue-in-cheek humor. Even the charming, cartoony album art for Adult Teen — Lisa Prank's full-length follow-up to 2014's Crush On The World —manages to combine girlishness and strength.

A recent tweet from Philadelphia's Mannequin Pussy says "i appreciate heartbreak only because of how transformative it can be." That may as well be the thesis of the band's forthcoming album, Romantic, though you wouldn't necessarily know it from the record's sound: brawny punk with a fuzzy pop streak.

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