“And I know myself and I’ll never love anyone else,” declares Lindsey Jordan, the leader, founder, writer and guitar wailer behind rock outfit Snail Mail. That line from the surprisingly buoyant-sounding “Pristine,” the first single from the 19-year-old's debut emotional stomper, Lush, might read as melodramatic. But Jordan delivers the words with such forceful, raspy frankness that they sound more like reality than hyperbole: Oh damn, you think. Maybe she won’t. Jordan’s bluntness pairs well with her slowly smashing (“Stick”) or delicately strummed (“Anytime”) guitar work, a combo that’s earned her comparisons to Liz Phair. Much like Phair, Jordan knows how to channel her angst into her instrument while thoughtfully putting complex feelings into words. “And I hope whoever it is/ Holds their breath around you / ’Cause I know I did,” she sings on “Heat Wave,” framing another of her devastating emotional snapshots that make Lush such a heartbreaker. -- CHRISTINE WERTHMAN
4. Twenty One Pilots, Trench
Twenty One Pilots faced a tough task following its last album, 2015’s best-selling Blurryface, which earned the genre-fluid duo a No. 1 album, a pair of Hot 100 top 5 hits, and a graduation to arena status as a live act. And though Trench didn’t have quite the crossover success as its predecessor, Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun hit new artistic peaks. The well-rounded album offers everything the pair always has -- dense production, intricate drumming, a ukulele here or there -- but it’s more cohesive. Every track calls back to the concept of being down in the trenches, from the desperation of “Jumpsuit” to the unifying “My Blood." More often than not, the ditch Joseph most often finds himself in is the construct of his own mind. But when he sings “But this year/ though I’m far from home / n trench I’m not alone,” on closer “Leave the City,” he finds the solace he -- and so many others -- need. -- L.H.
3. Foxing, Nearer My God
Nearer My God, the third studio album by St. Louis rock band Foxing, is a massive artistic statement that doubles as a moving elegy for those that the band have lost. The quartet pushes themselves into new territory throughout, from singer Conor Murphy’s 0-100 falsetto-to-wail on opening track “Grand Paradise” to the entrancing eight-minute centerpiece “Five Cups.” Producer Chris Walla, who regularly manned the boards as a member of Death Cab For Cutie, complements the band’s meticulous song construction with a variety electronic elements while crafting their most grounded collection yet. -- B.K.
2. Mitski, Be the Cowboy
Whether mining the moody melodrama of-late ‘90s hard rock on album opener “Geyser,” mixing Fiona Apple with Squeeze on “Me and My Husband” or giving us straight-up disco pop on “Nobody,” Mitski’s latest proves she’s an assured enough talent to keep an irrevocably distinct vision even as she ventures further from Lo-Fi Land on Be the Cowboy. Her winding, circuitous vocal melodies remain captivating, and the shotgun marriage of Duane Eddy and synths on “Washing Machine Heart” seems targeted straight for an opening slot at the Bang Bang Bar from Twin Peaks. -- J.L.