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Sidney Madden

Playtime is over.

For me, the last four months of the year always signify a mental flip of the switch. I observe a moment of stillness to realign and take stock of the year's goals, then get a surge of motivating, creative energy to lock in and put those points on the board. Now is the time to kick things into high gear.

A lot of the albums out this week deal with self-discovery and deep reflection on the nature of being human. The members of MUNA look at aging and personal growth on their latest, Saves the World; Lower Dens weighs the madness of a country driven by competition; and the country super group The Highwomen releases its highly anticipated, self-titled album, one that celebrates the power of women while pushing back on the unwritten rules that have allowed men to dominate country radio for so long.

Listen to this playlist via Spotify.

We all love a good plot twist, right? Otherwise you end up in a feedback loop of verse-bridge-chorus monotony you've been spoon-fed for decades and convinced you "like."

In the words of our millennial patron saint, Frank Ocean, "Summer's not as long as it used to be."

Playground ridicule has a way of sticking in your memory. It can haunt you, motivate you or barely phase you now, but still, it lingers. Like many of us, the quality that's most striking about Baby Rose is the same one that used to get her bullied in school. "When I was younger, I used to be teased about my voice," she says with a raspy laugh.

Sleater-Kinney took a lot of chances on its latest album, The Center Won't Hold, upending its much beloved sound to experiment with strange sonics, dark textures and surprising forms. The result is one of the most adventurous, exciting – and best – albums the band has ever made. We open this week's New Music Friday with a look at how and why The Center Won't Hold works and what the recent departure of drummer Janet Weiss means for the band at this point in its quarter-century long career.

Settling into summer's swelter, this week's additions to Heat Check include re-surfaced favorites, lovesick tropes, a gut-punch of a wake-up call and, of course, a couple swerving, drink-spilling bops for good measure.

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