Grayson Haver Currin

Meric Long had been playing guitar for three years when he realized the instrument could be more than his hobby — it could be his way of communicating, too, of feeling he had something important to say.

At a high-school friend's house party, Long, then an anxious California teenager, smoked too much weed and meandered on an acoustic guitar for several uninterrupted hours. He assumed he was improvising for no one. But people listened, captivated by the sudden volubility of a 16-year-old who considered himself awkward and uneasy.

This Heat has always had the uncanny ability to appear — and, then, after quietly disappearing, reappear — right on time.

Here is the story of how Moby got his second neck tattoo: In early September of 2019, on the eve of his 54th birthday, the electronic music producer born Richard Melville Hall was having lunch at the vegan restaurant in Los Angeles that he owns, Little Pine. When a pal asked Moby how he intended to celebrate, another responded with a quick quip before he could answer: "Get a tattoo."

John Darnielle thought he had a solid plan for the first half of 2020. In January, he and the members of the Mountain Goats, his band of almost 30 years, would convene at a studio not far from his home in Durham, N.C., to run through songs he'd written for their next album. A month or so later, they'd bounce between two famed studios in the Deep South, recording the meat of that album.

Greta Thunberg did not sail across the Atlantic Ocean for two weeks to become a lead singer. But, just days after the 16-year-old proselytizer censured a room of world leaders many times her age for their shared "fairy tales of eternal economic growth," the internet made her one, anyway.

When Mike Posner asked the 911 dispatcher on the other end of the line if he was going to die, she did not sugarcoat her uncertainty: "All she said," Posner remembers, "was 'I don't know.' "

For the first 57 years of his life, Joe Henry rarely worried about his health. As an early teen, he'd suffered the fatigue of mononucleosis and once been in a car crash. A decade or so later, after he hoisted a heavy amplifier the wrong way, he'd required surgery to patch a hernia. Otherwise, for Henry, even common colds tended to be uncommonly brief.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify and Apple Music playlists at the bottom of the page.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify and Apple playlists at the bottom of the page.

Whether hearing The Glands for the first time or singing along again to tunes that soundtracked turn-of-the-millennium summers in the band's Athens, Ga., hometown, there's one question that everyone within earshot seems to echo: Why wasn't this band famous?