- Julien Baker, Turn Out the Lights
Julien Baker, Turn Out the Lights (Matador) – Memphis-based Julien Baker has experienced a lifetime of growing since her 2015 debut album, recorded when she was 19. Turn Out the Lights shifts from solo guitar to rich arrangements that seek joy in the midst of arduous struggle. Critics might find too much similarity in minor-key piano laments, but if the track "Hurt Less" is any indication, Baker is quickly evolving into a major songwriter.
- Destroyer, ken
Destroyer, ken (Merge Records) – Dan Bejar, founder of Destroyer and occasional New Pornographers member, becomes a more literate and jaded observer of the Vancouver scene with each album. ken favors basslines reminiscent of New Order, but the complex arrangements of albums like Kaputt and Poison Season give way to simpler songs that emphasize Bejar's surrealist poetry.
- Bully, Losing
Bully, Losing (Sub Pop) – Alicia Bognanno has a reputation around Nashville as a punky howler, but she also has a hoarse whispered sneer that fits her trio Bully ideally. The dozen songs on this sophomore album brew up a mix of early-'80s power pop, old-school punk, and '90s grunge of the Pavement and Nirvana sort — which makes Bully one of the most impressive Tennessee exports in years.