The Nightowls swagger just as effectively in the afternoon sun, with the sprawling, up-to-10-piece local outfit unloading soulful Motown-inspired grooves behind Ryan Harkrider's smooth trilling vox. Last year's debut LP Good as Gold copped a Jackson 5 rhythm laced with a blue-eyed Memphis soul blast of horns and keys. A recent Gold B-sides EP digs even deeper into a vintage vibe. – Doug Freeman
Not quite a supergroup, the combined talent of Spanish Gold melds seamlessly on this year's debut disc, South of Nowhere. With Hacienda frontman Dante Schwebel, local instigator Adrian Quesada, and My Morning Jacket drummer Patrick Hallahan, the trio riffs garage-psych nuggets out of gritty R&B, swaggering through tunes inspired by the Laredo border with grooving percussion and melting guitar licks. – Doug Freeman
For 25 years, Ashley Cleveland has flipped between two personas, one a first-call Nashville session singer and the other a Grammy-winning Christian rocker. The axis on which she turn is her soulful voice, perfect for either accompanying John Hiatt, Amy Grant, and Etta James, or belting out her own bruising blues originals. Latest LP Beauty in the Curve rocks the gospel through the roof. – Michael Toland
Two albums of liquid synth-pop and Minneapolis quintet Poliça can officially say they're big in the UK. Second effort Shulamith knifed its way to 33 on the English charts, after all. Not bad for a band about which the blogosphere forgot that "Lay Your Cards Out" burned its way across your screen way back in 2012. – Luke Winkie
Seattle sixpiece the Head & the Heart followed up a highly successful Sub Pop debut with late 2013 release Let's Be Still. The album title was telling of the fiddling folk-pop crew, pulling them out of an acoustic-only approach and into electric guitar territory. Tireless touring has tightened the hooks, harmonies, and live set. – Abby Johnston
A reason for celebration in the lockjaw EDM scene, the black-clad trio of David Satori, Zoe Jakes, and Tommy Cappel offers festheads something more substantial than a preprogrammed set list. The San Fran livetronica ensemble features Cappel on drums, Satori on viola, percussion, and electrified lute, and the ethnically inclined electro-tribal oscillations of Jakes' hypnotic belly dancing – leaving audiences wide-eyed without MDMA. – Kevin Curtin
After 11 years with Colombian thrash metal band Ekhymosis, Juanes reinvented himself as a solo act in 2000 with Fijate Bien. March's Loco de Amor blends the 42-year-old's honeyed voice with wicked percussion and misty dance beats, the same recipe that earned him a slew of Latin Grammys in the last decade. – Nina Hernandez
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