1. “Is What It Is”
From She Keeps Bees’ Eight Houses
Liner notes: Smokey and languid, Jessica Larrabee croons defiantly, “Be not completely consumed/Do not surrender,” on this hazy ballad, with kindred spirit Sharon Van Etten singing backup.
Behind the music: Larrabee fronted the Philadelphia band the English System before teaming with drummer Andy LaPlant to form the Brooklyn-based duo.
Check it out if you like: Moody chanteuses (Cat Power, Angel Olsen, PJ Harvey).
From My Brightest Diamond’s This Is My Hand
Liner notes: The fourth MBD album gets off to a rousing start with this joyful brew of marching-band rhythms, xylophone, brass, and Shara Worden’s big, operatic voice.
Behind the music: An alumna of Sufjan Stevens’ band, Worden’s résumé includes collaborations with David Byrne, Matthew Barney, the Blind Boys of Alabama, and the Decemberists.
Check it out if you like: Brainy art-poppers, meaning St. Vincent, tUnE-yArDs, or Joanna Newsom.
3. “To Turn You On”
From Robyn Hitchcock’s The Man Upstairs
Liner notes: Hitchcock gives Bryan Ferry’s morose love song a charming, irony-free makeover, setting his surprisingly tender vocal to a delicate chamber-folk arrangement.
Behind the music: The former Soft Boys leader teamed with producer Joe Boyd (Fairport Convention, Anna and Kate McGarrigle) for this vibrant mix of originals and covers (Doors, Psychedelic Furs).
Check it out if you like: Vital vets like Richard Thompson and Marshall Crenshaw.