Charli XCX’s how i’m feeling now couldn’t be more in this moment. The entire album was created in quarantine, and the lyrics address both this extremely specific brand of isolation and the cute, romantic distractions keeping us sane. Charli’s aggressive bubblegum pop style, equipped with autotune and heavy EDM beats, lends itself well to isolated fun, to getting dressed up alone and dancing quite literally like nobody’s watching. “claws” is an adorable song about having a crush, where she sings “I like, I like, I like, I like, I like everything about you” over and over, delivering attraction at its most base and honest admission. On “anthems,” loneliness takes peak form. She sings, “I get existential and so strange / I hear no sounds when I’m shouting / I just wanna go to parties / Up high, wanna feel the heat from all the bodies,” while the beat bounces this isolation around the confines of the track. how i’m feeling now strikes the right balance between the head-on existentialism of quarantine and a healthy dose of romantic escapism. —Marisa Clogher 


On their sophomore album, Diet Cig graduates from college band status, with production that is more robust than their debut (2017’s Swear I’m Good At This). On this album, Diet Cig writes millennial-tailored lyrics like “And I started taking baths again / My moon is in Cancer,” over music that evokes a particular brand of early 2000s pop-punk angst. Their lyrics have always championed self-consciousness, but the production on this album offers these sentiments more legitimacy. “Makeout Interlude” grounds Diet Cig in the style that made them, one that feels like scribbling a crush’s name in a notebook, where they sing “I don’t write love songs / But I wrote a song about you.” “Broken Body” and “Flash Flood” fall on either side of this mood with fast-paced guitar and drums built for thrashing. Do You Wonder About Me? still wants us to scribble in our notebook, but the sound they’re scribbling over is more refined than before. —Marisa Clogher 


Honduran-American artist Lorely Rodriguez—a.k.a. Empress Of—has always embraced her roots, whether by mixing Latin rhythms into dreamy electropop or re-releasing her first big single, “Water Water,” as a Spanish version, “Agua Agua,” for her mom. Her new album goes a step further by actually sampling and mixing her mother’s voice into many of the self-produced songs, spinning catchy dance beats around parental words of wisdom, like in the eponymous opening track: “I only have one girl / But the only girl is like having thousands of girls / Because look at how many times she reproduced herself in each one of you.” The whole album was created to make you move, to sweat out emotions, to let you find strength in the past and to help you move forward. “Void” is the track at the heart of it all. —Sabrina Stone 


Jason Isbell fans will be grateful to hear on this album the same gritty, honest, charming voice that made us fall in love with his work in the first place. Never afraid of laying bare his humility, opening track “What’ve I Done To Help” is a refreshing admission of weakness, with lyrics like “Thought I was strong until I finally had to fight” and “What’ve I done to help but not myself?” As a bonus, the track features David Crosby and Jay Buchanan. It’s hard to find a better harmonizing partner than Crosby, but when you’re in love with, married to, and have a child with another member of the band, it comes across in heavenly harmonies. We get to hear this in the vocals on “Only Children,” sung with violinist, Isbell’s life partner, and brilliant musician in her own right Amanda Shires. “It Gets Easier” is a perfect bookmark to the opener, and “Letting You Go” will go down in the pantheon of great country songs that fathers have written to their children. —Sabrina Stone 


GERG, the debut album from R&B/avant-garde pop musician Jonah Mutono is technically not a debut. Mutono has been releasing music for years under the moniker Kidepo. Consider it more a rebirth, then. The decision to finally release music under his actual name is a turning point for Mutono, symbolizing his coming out as a gay man and his journey to self-acceptance and co-existence in his communities. The songs on GERG (his code name for a former partner) are borne out of personal struggles—with identity and family, and with xenophobia and racism (“Spare” and “Smith Johnson Williams Brown”). Mutono’s rich vocals provide an additional depth to the album’s lyrics and themes. “Shoulders” is a gorgeous musing on loneliness and the hope of love, however slight that may seem at times. On “The Low,” Mutono addresses the excitement of a new relationship and the anxiety of coming out: “I’ve never had one bad dream about you… I really can’t take you to my mama.” Mutono’s songs exude intelligence and empathy, written with thoughtful vulnerability. Both deeply personal and universal, GERG is an unflinching, honest call to acceptance of self and others, in all our forms. Mary Beth Campbell 


This marks the fifth album release by Mike Hadreas, better known by his stage name Perfume Genius. The record is a textured wonderland, featuring an ethereal interplay between grungy dissonance and bright melodies. A slew of instruments, such as the harmonium and harpsichord, flow together to produce a piece so three-dimensional it seems as if you should be able to reach out and touch it. Over the course of the 13-track journey, Hadreas reflects on the joys and struggles of the human body and the complicated relationship that comes with it. In “Describe,” released in February as an early single, Hadreas sings, “No bells anymore, just my stomach rumbling,” alluding to his battle with Crohn’s disease, a hardship that colors most of his music. Similar to previous releases, Hadreas boasts impressive vocal ability with crisp falsettos; for the first time, however, he dips deep into his range to reveal a rugged croon that leads haunting melodies through percussive mountains and valleys. The album is a cinematic masterpiece, providing a luscious score for grappling with the human condition. —Victoria Conway 


Pope’s new release has been highly anticipated for the last three years. The Lunchbox EP reinstates the trio’s continued dedication to grunge-pop following their formative album True Talent Champion. Akin to Pavement rejecting their 1980s big hair predecessors, Pope defies the jangly clean indie-rock the 21st-century packages. Starting with the opening single “Lucky,” Alex Skalany drones, “Here summer disposed / Walking in the sunshine,” which feels oddly fitting in these COVID-19 times. Summer, a time usually wasted in makeshift backyard pools, elbow-to-elbow at crawfish boils, or sharing sweat in cramped shows, is now a distant memory. Yet The Lunchbox EP vindicates you of such losses with its evocative head-nodding camaraderie: “I don’t want to be remembered for much more / Than sharing catastrophe,” Skalany sings in album closer “Goose.” A pulled yawn introduces “BBQ,” a renewing song that serves up whispy vocals from Matthew Seferian leading into a heavy, jammy crescendo. Engineered, produced, and mixed all by Seferian, the EP is sonically impressive. It’s catchy, relatable, with riffs in all the right places, paving an exciting, fresh chapter for this beloved band. Though the collection of songs are over in just 16 minutes, it offers a long-awaited statement: Pope is back. —Danielle Dietze 


Thao & The Get Down Stay Down continue to surprise. Though it’s their fifth album, it’s the first one they’ve self-produced, and their extended agency over their sound is apparent. The album’s title track is an upbeat dance number written from the perspective of Thao’s mother as she reflects on being a refugee of war. In an Instagram post, Thao Nguyen writes that acknowledging her mother’s loss and grief was important, but her mother “is light and joyful and she has always loved to dance,” so she writes these contradictions in tandem. Thao & The Get Down Stay Down are particularly skilled at upending listener expectations. Whether it be atypical time signatures or Nguyen’s sharp and evocative vocals, they revel in surprises. On Temple, there are more straightforward pop-leaning songs like “Pure Cinema,” and songs that are more haunting and unsettling like “Disclaim.” “Phenom” is the band at its strongest, channeling a spooky rage that boils over where instruments and vocals politely clash, and Nguyen whispers, “I’ve been so politely at the bottom” then later screams “I am an old phenomenon.” Thao Nguyen might be an old phenomenon, but not a tired one.  —Marisa Clogher 


Popularly known as the powerhouse vocalist of Paramore, Hayley Williams’ debut solo album departs from the band’s usual pop rock to explore the realm of electronic art pop. Petals for Armor plays like a soundtrack to Williams’ own dreams, with a breadth of influences that spans from the techno pulse heard in “Simmer” to the funky bass line of “Pure Love.” The record is carried by its rhythm section, vocal melodies layered over tight and controlled percussion that produces a sterility seemingly counter to the vulnerability revealed through the record’s lyrics. “Now that I finally wanna live, the ones I love are dying,“ Williams sings in “Leave It Alone,” a haunting croon. Originally written as three distinct EPs, the emotional transformation Williams traverses is evident in the album’s arc. The movement of the record aptly conveys the nonlinear nature of healing, vacillating through a variation of dark harmonics and upbeat tempos reminiscent of Paramore’s After Laughter. This project, however, is vocally distinct from Paramore releases, with a tone of self-reflection that sounds more like a bedroom project than a product meant for mass consumption. —Victoria Conway


In a time when many classic rock and punk groups have decided to “get the band back together,” there is always the risk that the chemistry will be off, or that any new music will sound dated or uninspired. Fortunately, L.A. punk stalwarts X have dodged this risk on Alphabetland, their first studio album in 27 years (and the first album featuring the entire original lineup in 35 years). The songs on Alphabetland hearken back to their earlier albums like 1980’s Los Angeles—fast, tight punk songs threaded with social commentary and anchored by the harmonies of lead singer Exene Cervenka and vocalist/bassist John Doe. Both Cervenka and Doe’s vocals have become richer over the years, allowing their voices to harmonize better than in the band’s earlier days. Guitarist Billy Zoom and drummer D.J. Bonebrake also lend some of their best work in decades to this album. The album starts off energetic, its tone shifting to slightly more somber and reflective by the end. The final track, “All the Time in the World,” ends with a message that is unnervingly fitting for this period of history: “We are dust, it’s true / …But it was fun while it lasted.” —Mary Beth Campbell 


This is listed as “various artists,” but we all know who the artist is. Mannie Fresh clocked enough megahits for Cash Money to fill a double album. He never received his fair cut in royalties, and he split from the label years ago, so don’t expect the proceeds to go where they should. This is still an essential release for Southern rap fiends, New Orleans music aficionados, DJs putting a capellas over classic instrumentals, and anyone trying to start their own cypher. (It’s available on vinyl, so that goes twice for DJs.) The passage of time normalizes everything, and 20 years after these beats terrorized the streets, they could just about pass for lo-fi chill hop to enhance study time. It’s surprising what you notice without words to distract you. Short, pointed rests in “Back That Azz Up” create a pocket rhythm. Big Tymer$’ “Still Fly” sounds ingenious when stripped down, each verse boasting a new motif. “Go DJ” by comparison is simple and monotonous, highlighting how Lil Wayne can breathe life into a raw track. Even without a collaborator like Wayne, Fresh’s afterthoughts could have defined a generation. He carried the Cash Money label on his back. —Michael Kunz