Marissa Lorusso

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.

Brooklyn-based songwriter Gabrielle Smith has decided to change the name of her band, Eskimeaux, following criticism from Canadian Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq. The band will now be known as Ó.

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.

There's a sort of mythology about art that comes from isolation: the fable of the artist who, removed from the pressure and commotion of the big city, shuts off distractions and emerges from the woods with a heartbreaking masterpiece. "Frost Burn," the newest song from Half Waif's forthcoming form/a EP, almost fits into this narrative. Nandi Rose Plunkett — the musician and producer behind Half Waif's experimental electro-pop — wrote the song while on a writing retreat in western Massachusetts.

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.

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.

What's most striking about Japanese Breakfast's first full-fledged album, Psychopomp, is how gracefully it treads over difficult territory. What started as singer and guitarist Michelle Zauner's side project — she took on the moniker to release solo work when not performing with Little Big League — eventually became an outlet for songs of grief and mourning in the aftermath of her mother's death. Sonically, Psychopomp is a far cry from the Philadelphia emo band's music, trading crunchy indie rock for haunting pop songs with swirling synthesizers.

Mitski closed her set at our SXSW showcase with this angst-ridden song for a scorned ex-lover. It ends with a series of no-holds-barred shouts that seem to be coming from the depths of the singer's heart; once the song ends, she thanks the crowd and whispers "stay safe" into the microphone.

Watch the entire set here, or check out individual songs in the set list below.

Set List

"Everything you feel is good / if you would only let you," Mitski sings over a slightly rushed bass line in the opening lyrics of "I Will." Her voice cracks with empathy throughout her performance, even as the rest of the band joins in and the song picks up a fuller, grooving sound. Her voice grows more powerful as the song progresses; just before the end, she shouts "I'll be brave."

Watch the entire set here, or check out individual songs in the set list below.

Mitski's first single from her upcoming album, Puberty 2, features blisteringly honest lyrics and moments of explosive energy that serve as powerful testaments to her experience as a Japanese-American woman.

Watch the entire set here, or check out individual songs in the set list below.

Set List

"I Don't Smoke" features a drum machine and heavily distorted guitar and bass, but the song's power lies in the unbridled emotion in Mitski's voice. At our SXSW showcase, she performed the simple, yet intense song with an air of controlled passion.

Watch the entire set here, or check out individual songs in the set list below.

Set List

"Francis Forever" opens with just Mitski and her bass. "I don't know what to do without you," she sings mournfully at our SXSW showcase. The song grows to incorporate Casey Weissbuch's drum machine, then Callan Dwan's distorted guitar and eventually Weissbuch's full kit, climaxing in a powerful riff from the whole band.

Watch the entire set here, or check out individual songs in the set list below.

Set List

While "I Want You" is the oldest song Mitski played at our SXSW showcase — it's from her 2013 album, Retired from Sad, New Career in Business — it still holds up next to her current sound. Centered on the emotional intensity of her voice and cutting lyrics, it has all the hallmarks of what make Mitski's songs so memorable.

Watch the entire set here, or check out individual songs in the set list below.

Set List

For a song about a love that makes you want to jump off a ledge, "First Love" is surprisingly subdued. At our SXSW showcase, it featured Mitski's signature earnest vocals and a solo from guitarist Callan Dwan.

Watch the entire set here, or check out individual songs in the set list below.

Set List

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