Ásgeir Trausti Einarsson at Harpa as part of Iceland Airwaves 2014, Reykjavik, Iceland (Photo: Nicholas Rhodes/Corbis via Getty Images)

Ásgeir, “Heart-Shaped Box”

Iceland’s prodigious pop-musical output includes its share of moody and forlorn affairs, music that resonates as you stare at the ceiling in your darkened bedroom. I’ve been listening a lot to the Icelandic singer-songwriter Ásgeir of late, in particular, his cover of Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box.” This is a track that contains the lyrics, “I wish I could eat your cancer when you turn black,” and that Kurt Cobain once described as making him “sadder than anything I can think of.” Ásgeir begins his cover with just his piano and Bon Iver-like falsetto, then layers it with Moog synthesizers and electronic backbeats, and it’s all gloriously haunting, piercing through you with its icy aural daggers. [Kevin Pang]

Sotiria Bellou

Among the many legendary women of rebetiko, Sotiria Bellou stands apart. Rebetiko, often compared to the blues or fado, is a song form born out of the poor, urban subcultures particular to early-20th-century Greece. Bellou found her success with the relatively cleaned-up iteration of rebetiko made popular by her mentor, bouzouki legend Vassilis Tsitsanis; still, she truly embodied the form’s foundational outsiderness. Around 18, Bellou fled disapproving parents and an arranged marriage (which ended with her doing jail time for throwing acid in her abusive husband’s face) for Athens. There she found her calling—and plenty of violent run-ins with Nazi soldiers—as an activist with the Greek Resistance and eventually could live her life as an out lesbian. Singing in the city’s tavernas, she connected with Tsitsanis and became a major part of rebetiko’s mainstream popularity and, in the ’60s, its revival. When Bellou had financial and health problems later in life, the government stepped in to help, illustrating her regard as a national treasure. But her voice is as incredible as her story. Emotional and androgynous, it conveys a deep intimacy with both hardship and passion—two fundamentals of rebetiko. Pro tip: Find the Lyra recordings. [Kelsey J. Waite]

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A digital-to-analog converter

I am not an enormous audiophile, but a few years ago I was given a USB-powered digital-to-analog converter as a Christmas present, and it slowly changed the way I listen to music. What is a DAC? Spend much time googling it, and you’ll find yourself deep in audio-nerd forums, but the short version is that your computer’s audio card is probably not good at translating music. Listening to music on headphones through it is like having a nice set of speakers but hooking them up to a shitty AM/FM radio. So a DAC off-boards the process, making the audio that is then fed into your headphones richer, deeper, warmer, and noticeably less fatiguing to the ears. This makes it essential if you’re the type of person who spends a large portion of the day with headphones on. You can spend thousands on one of these, but you can also get a very good one for $75, and you won’t regret it. It’s the best investment a cubicle-bound music fan can make. [Clayton Purdom]

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