"A House Is a Home," Ben & Ellen Harper Grammy winner Ben Harper teams up with his mother, Ellen, for Childhood Home, which releases this week. This is the first single from the album. Their tender harmonies and reflections here are like flipping through a family photo album, reminding us of every trial and all the successes our own families experience. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.
"Africana," Los Rakas One of the hottest Latin acts is this Hip-Hop duo of Panamanian cousins who hail from the Bay Area. With a little bit of reggaeton and a lotta bit of cool, Los Rakas released their first full-length album, El Negrito Dun Dun & Ricardo, on April 15. This track is my favorite of the bunch, with a mix of sweet melodies and ass-shaking bass. I'm anxiously waiting until they make another stop in H-Town. YO SI SOY! RAKA! MARCO TORRES
"Bang It Out," Breathe Carolina (feat. Karmin) Breathe Carolina and Karmin are two acts who I think have high ceilings, but just need to put the pieces together to get there. This song is a good start; sure it's a fluffy club track, but BC bring the energy and a bit of an edge and Amy Heidemann is better than most of the singers that sing on dance tracks. And that hook? Magnificent. CORY GARCIA
"Benz Friendz (Whatchutola)," Future feat. Andre 3000 Future's brand-new album Honest has been killing the game lately. On this fun and filthy track from his debut album, he teams up with Dungeon Family compadre Andre 3000, who provides all the cool and crazy that we expect from the OutKast MC. And somehow, some way, Future uses Autotune in a non-annoying manner, with a tearful vocal delivery that endears his character to the listener. Future is the truth; I'm just being honest. MARCO TORRES
"Blue Smoke," Dolly Parton Corny as she can be, Dolly Parton rarely jokes around when it comes to the music she grew up on, which comes to her as naturally as the rippling creeks and early-morning Appalachian mists of her hometown near Pigeon Forge, Tenn. Putting on the bravest face she can, Parton armors herself to board the "heartbreak train" of the title (also the title of her new album, due next week) with glistening dobro, slippery fiddle, a faint Johnny Cash drumbeat and some absolutely impeccable country-gospel harmonies after the double-time breakdown at the bridge. Kudos to the guy singing baritone, too. CHRIS GRAY
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"Breakfast," Kelis Kelis was already the bee's knees, what with her milkshakes that brought all the boys to the yard and all. Now she's managed to top herself by releasing an album comprised of songs about food entitled, well, Food. In her typical style, the songs have absolutely nothing to do with actual food items, but have everything to do with eating...if you catch our drift. She's as random and fantastic as ever on the innuendo-laced "Breakfast," a throwback track that makes no sense and complete sense all at once. ANGELICA LEICHT
"Damascus By Sundown," Jack Rentfro and the Apocalyso Quartet Jack Rentfro is a Knoxville, Tenn. journalist and creative writer who happens to set some of his poetry to music. And this is not the frilly poetry of your freshman English class at Mom and Pop University. His new album, Damascus By Sundown, is a stunning document and a creative wonder chock full of thoughtful smart-isms like "I Have Come For Your Bones," "Elvis Limousine" and "Talking Like a Crazy Man."
But it is the beatnik-like, ten-minute title-track rundown of all our military follies that clamps a steel grip on the mind and refuses to let go. Rentfro attacks our prejudices and nationalistic jingoism like a Gatling gun that never runs out of ammo, like a lunatic wino riffing on Lawrence of Arabia. WILLIAM MICHAEL SMITH
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"Fancy," Iggy Azalea feat. Charli XCX Some songs just sound like summertime. "Fancy" is the aural version of riding around in a convertible in July. After the cold and nonexistent spring Houstonians experienced, we are all ready for a song that makes us feel hot in every way, like this jam. SELENA DIERINGER
"Fall In Love," Phantogram I don't know if anyone feels the same way, but I think that mainstream radio is in a terribly dismal place right now. Not much on the dial is particularly innovative, exciting, or interesting, BUT "Fall In Love" is a welcome exception. Mirroring the synthpop movement happening on smaller stations, I'm personally delighted every time Phantogram comes on. SELENA DIERINGER
"Hero Takes a Fall," the Bangles Arriving just as the Go-Go's were going-going down in flames, the Bangles were the standard-bearers of psych-tinged sunny SoCal pop-rock until they walked like Egyptians to the top of the Hot 100. Happily, they're still around, but 1984 debut All Over the Place remains their best album, mixing chipper originals -- mostly from founder Vicki Peterson, who also made a potent songwriting combo with Susanna Hoffs -- around covers by Byrds contemporaries the Merry-Go-Round ("Live") and Katrina & the Waves ("Going Down to Liverpool"). Not one song here sounds even the least bit dated, but "Hero Takes a Fall" is first among equals, opening the album with a minty blast of power-pop perfection. CHRIS GRAY
"How You Love Me," 3Lau/Bright Lights I'm a sucker for giant hooks, and "How You Love Me" is massive. The track is catchy, it gets to the point, and it doesn't overstay its welcome. It should find a home on a lot of summer driving mixes and late night dance sessions. CORY GARCIA
"In My Town," Undergravity & Dante Higgins Dante Higgins and the duo known as Undergravity have proven themselves to be among the strongest of Houston's slate of young rappers building names for themselves over the last few years, but combining them into a trio (calling themselves the Freshest MCs) has been akin to assembling Voltron. Higgins, Atom Bomb and M.A.C. feed off of each other like symbiotic organisms on "In My Town," a track I heard on Optimo Radio's Live From SXSW mixtape. It's a potent update of the classic South Side sound that's about the best trunk-rattler you're likely to hear this spring. NATHAN SMITH
"Julia," SZA While it was the glittertrap wonder "Teen Spirit" that put SZA on my radar, the standout track off Z for me is this bit of '80s nostalgia. SZA is a great, distinctive voice, and that beat is just a retro-treat. I'm not sure I'd want an entire album of tracks like this, but in the realm of "tracks that you should blast near the end of the dance party" there may be few better this year. CORY GARCIA
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"Midnight (Giorgio Moroder Remix)," Coldplay Here Coldplay feels like a guest on their own song, dominated as "Midnight" is by remixer/disco architect Giorgio Moroder. Chris Martin and crew's real part only lasts about three minutes of the eight and a half total, as the singer gently croons "leave a light on" around a judicious melody and ever-quickening pulse. Then Coldplay yields to some robotic voices singing in French (reminiscent of another recent Moroder collaborator, Daft Punk), and the simple piano chords give way to a luminescent, synth-chorale section that provides a big clue to where their new album's title, Ghost Stories, might have come from. Just lovely. CHRIS GRAY
"No, No, No," Boogaloo Assassins This one from the 2013 album Old Love Dies Hard came to me from DJ Gracie Chavez of my Bombón familia. The genius of covering Dawn Penn's classic reggae joint with a tropical salsa vibe is simply fantastic. My hips and shoulders begin to gyrate as soon as the beat drops, and I'm transported back to my twenties when Latin Night was every night for me. All I need now is a lovely Latina and a Cuba Libre. MARCO TORRES
"Qeres," Trophy Scars Trophy Scars is a strange band that has gone through a whole bunch of phases. Over the years, they've incorporated elements of hip-hop, screamo, indie rock, blues and psychedelia into their sound, before finally taking a long break. Now they've released their first new music since 2011, Holy Vacants, and settled on something like a way harder version of Pink Floyd's blusier rock moments.
Aside from the obvious Floyd debt, though, this single shows off a vastly more mature songwriting approach. It's still Trophy Scars, but they've figured out how to make their varied influences something cohesive and, to be honest, a little bit badass. COREY DEITERMAN
"Stay With Me," NO NO hails from Los Angeles by way of Australia; the group's first full-length album on Arts & Crafts, El Prado, is beautiful from start to finish, but none of the songs stick quite like "Stay With Me." Though it's full of heartache, the silver lining of hope and optimism in "Stay With Me" could melt even the coldest heart. This gorgeous ballad with a simple structure that builds into something undeniable begs to be put on replay time and again. ALYSSA DUPREE
"Wait For a Minute," tUnE-yArDs Merrill Garbus' voice, laid over and under all things electronic, is the draw. It's soulful and intriguing, but once I set my fascination with it aside I was then entangled in smart lyrics like "a thousand roads to injury/ Most of them so smooth it doesn't feel like they're hurting me." Can't wait to see the full set at Free Press Summer Fest. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.
"We Shall Not Overcome," Frank Turner I've had Frank Turner's "We Shall Not Overcome" and the entire Tape Deck Heart album on repeat for the past two weeks. I stumbled onto his tunes mid-April, and I've been familiarizing myself with his fairly deep discography since then. Unfortunately he doesn't have plans to visit Houston any time soon, but this native Englishman's upbeat lyricism, infectious melodies and blending of genres is still worth a listen. MATTHEW KEEVER
"Yesterday," Atmosphere This Minnesota rap act released a new album this week. Not sure how, but I missed this one when it dropped nearly a decade ago. Its piano line is reminiscent of Scarface's "On My Block," while the poignant lyrics reflect on relationships and the things that make us go "crazy 'cause I miss you." If you slept on this like Rip Van Winkle here, hear it out, all the way through, and I promise you'll rewind back for a second listen. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.
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