Track 6, "My Shepherd"
from the New Pornographers' Together (Matador)
Liner Notes: Alt-country siren Neko Case calms the band's jittery pop vibe on this gorgeous track.
Behind the Music: A.C. Newman's collective works as both a standalone band and a side project. Like Case, Newman records solo albums, while Dan Bejar also records with his group, Destroyer.
Check it out if you like: Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene, and other brainy yet accessible Canadians.
Track 12, "Coma Chameleon"
from Jamie Lidell's Compass (Warp)
Liner Notes: Reflecting Lidell's roots in the British techno duo Super_Collider, this track is a masterpiece of controlled tension, pitting his wailing R&B voice against an exhilarating groove.
Behind the Music: Featuring appearances by Beck, Feist, and members of Wilco and Grizzly Bear, Lidell's fourth solo album feels like a calculated bid for stardom, but it's still great.
Check it out if you like: John Legend, modern soul men who don't wallow in nostalgia.
Track 3, "Tootsie 1"
from Kevin Dunn's No Great Lost: Songs, 1979-1985 (Casa Nueva)
Liner Notes: An art rocker with a sly sense of humor, Dunn combines wry lyrics ("You're never too old to mope and pine") and guitar flash on this sardonic love lament.
Behind the Music: Dunn was originally a member of influential Atlanta indie band the Fans and coproduced early singles by the B-52's and Pylon, helping jump-start the Athens, Georgia, scene that spawned R.E.M.
Check it out if you like: Brian Eno's pop albums, Sparks, early Robyn Hitchcock.
Track 7, "March 11, 1962"
from Mary Gauthier's The Foundling (Razor & Tie)
Liner Notes: The New Orleans-born roots singer's seventh album chronicles her search for the woman who abandoned her at birth. This heartbreaking song recounts how Gauthier's mother refused to meet with her after they'd finally made contact.
Behind the Music: Gauthier's previous albums have sometimes suffered from self-conscious attempts to create a woozy Tom Waits vibe. Here, producer and Cowboy Junkie Michael Timmins keeps her excesses in check.
Check it out if you like: Confessional country-folk with the unsparing honesty of a Steve Earle or Johnny Cash.