Mike Katzif

The way Melina Duterte tells the story, it was a tipsy, spur-of-the-moment decision over Thanksgiving in 2015.

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.

In a run spanning more than 30 years, Phish has become one of rock's all-time great touring bands, thanks to dynamic live performances full of lengthy improvisations and whimsical antics. But even with 1,600-plus shows under its belt since the 1980s, the Vermont quartet still has detractors, including those who point to Phish's uneven discography. Fair or not, it's true that the group's studio output is a different beast next to countless hours of live recordings.

There's a new album from Phish coming on Oct. 7, the band's 13th, titled Big Boat, and this news is always met with some conflicted opinions from fans. Throughout an impressive career that now spans 30 years (including a couple hiatuses -> breakups -> reunions along the way), Phish is still known best for its epic live performances rather than its albums. For at least a portion of the diehard concert-collecting fanbase, new songs are more of a refined framework for the lengthy improvisations to come.

Keaton Henson can't help but make things. But, as he establishes throughout his new album Kindly Now, the English songwriter not only suffers for his art; he also seems to suffer because of it. In "The Pugilist," one of Kindly Now's many heartbreakers, Henson reveals the inner struggle he endures so that he can craft work that connects with others, and possibly last after he's gone.

On its fourth album, Ambulance, The Amazing has a way of unspooling melodies that don't grab you so much as slowly burrow under your skin. Playing with an unhurried improvisational spirit, the Swedish band lets ideas amble along and develop naturally; it takes time to explore the nooks of its songs in search of deeper resolution. That lovely, resonant quality conjures a meditative mindset suitable for solitary walks or the melancholic stillness of an early morning.

Deerhoof's never-look-back aesthetic has become a calling card, and its unpredictability a point of pride. Time and again, the San Francisco band has surprised listeners and pushed them in new musical directions they might not immediately want to go, and yet it's hard not to loyally follow along with each sonic jump.

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.

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.

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.


No one can rewrite the past. We all carry around regrets and tragedies that haunt our memories or creep back into our lives if we let them. But one of the best ways to keep the demons at bay is to funnel that pain into art. Domenic Palermo, guitarist and singer of the Philly band Nothing, knows this better than most.

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.

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.

How strange it must be to be born on February 29, only able to truly celebrate a birthday every four years. It's got to conjure some bittersweet feelings, as if missing out a little on a primary marker of the passage of time — not to mention a steady stream of jokes about turning, say, 20 years old, but only technically 5.

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.

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.

At some point, we've all felt isolated from the people we love most, or found ourselves stuck in a decaying relationship that has warped into something unrecognizable. In her songs, Jessica Weiss, singer and guitarist of Fear Of Men, has used a nimble touch to regularly address these themes; and with "Island," a compelling new song from the UK band's new album, Fall Forever, she gives depth to the loneliness, depression and heartbreak she feels.

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.

A band is a lot like family. Musicians spend years trying to get inside each other's heads, learn one another's tics and establish a creative bond. But when your band is also your actual family, that collaborative intimacy can come more innately. That's true for TEEN, the Brooklyn-based foursome first formed by singer and multi-instrumentalist Teeny Lieberson, flanked by her two sisters — keyboardist Lizzie and drummer Katherine — as well as bassist Boshra Al-Saadi.

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

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

With a name like Pity Sex, it wouldn't be wrong to giggle a little. But there's far more power in the Ann Arbor-based band than its self-deprecating, kinda-emo moniker suggests. On its 2013 full-length debut, Feast Of Love, Pity Sex unfurled a windswept blur of hurts-so-good distortion and frayed riffs. Submerged in sludgy, stormy songs like "Drown Me Out" and "Keep" were themes of anguish, disintegrating relationships and the desire for second chances, alongside lovely and winsome pop melodies that could mend broken hearts.

The doubt and heartache stirred up by messy romances and distant crushes are at the core of Carmen Perry's songs. The primary songwriter of Sports, Perry writes in emotionally direct phrases, which capture the confusion and vulnerability that often comes with being young and in love. That theme of yearning and connection is a constant on the band's new album, All Of Something, and the focus of one of its best songs, "Get Bummed Out."

It happens all the time: We see someone walking down the street, sitting on a train, or standing in line, maybe make eye contact for a split second — and then go on with our day. Normally, we don't give those interactions much thought. But for Nicole Schneit, the New York songwriter behind Air Waves, momentary connections provoke wonder: "We encounter each other in the thick of our complex lives by simply looking at each other all the time," Schneit says.

Michael Benjamin Lerner was stuck. After three albums of fuzzy and fizzy power pop, the singer, songwriter, drummer and mastermind behind Telekinesis felt sapped of ideas, as if he'd taken his guitar-driven sound as far as it could go. Writer's block can be a paralyzing frustration, riddled with second-guessing and false starts, but one of the best ways to push through it is to throw out what feels most comfortable and try something unexpected. So he got to work.

In the wake of Ben Folds Five's dissolution in 2000, Ben Folds embarked on an assortment of new projects: He's released solo albums and composed for film and TV; he's collaborated with Nick Hornby and William Shatner; he's even served as a judge on TV's The Sing Off, which led to an a cappella record.

As half of the guitar-and-drums duo The Black Keys, Dan Auerbach has explored, and repeatedly blown up, nearly every shade of the blues for more than a decade. The band's raw early years in Akron, Ohio, were defined by ragged, high-octane bangers full of heavy riffs and explosive drumming.

"I can't stop mourning, it's like hearing cancer spreading," singer and bassist Julie DeLano sings. "It's like hope is a fairy tale and so are the gods, and change is unheard of." In "Wake Of The World," the buoyant final track from the Brooklyn band Gold's self-titled album, DeLano unfurls a laconic string of half-sung, half-spoken inner feelings and open statements about the sad and unsustainable state of society.

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