Daoud Tyler-Ameen

If past generations saw their wanderlust reflected in Alice peering down a rabbit hole or Luke Skywalker staring down a sunset, the COVID-era equivalent will almost certainly involve a hero gazing into a screen: With most of the U.S. still advised to stay home as much as possible, televisions and smart devices feel more than ever like flickering portals, promising the addled mind passage to anywhere but our own four walls.

A sensitive college dramedy in the age of the teen sex romp, Amy Heckerling's Loser hit theaters in July 2000 with a thud. It failed to earn back its $20 million budget, and by the time stars Jason Biggs and Mena Suvari reunited in American Pie 2 a year later it was as good as forgotten. The film's legacy might have ended there if not for one thing: Tucked into its run-of-the-mill alternarock soundtrack was a song by an unknown New York band, whose self-titled debut wouldn't even be out for another month.

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You know the feeling: Mention a brand of beer, fuss about feeling old or muse aloud about starting a family, and the appropriate summer ale, cosmetic neurotoxin or baby furniture ad wi

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This story is part of American Anthem, a yearlong series on songs that rouse, unite, celebrate and call to action. Find more at NPR.org/Anthem.

Given the saturation of comic-book blockbusters, it's remarkable that Black Panther's myth has only gained steam in the two years since the character first appeared on the big screen, knocking heads and shrugging off bullets.

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As "Never Were," a standout from Worriers' 2013 EP Cruel Optimist, reaches the end of its charging first verse, the drums and guitars stop on a dime. In a few evocative lines, we've just learned of singer Lauren Denitzio's journey from inquisitive child to dutiful student to radicalized young adult, eager to risk life and limb in the service of protest.

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Quarterbacks empties its toolbox within the opening seconds of its self-titled full-length debut: a trebly guitar, a tight rhythm section whose home tempo lies somewhere in the Hüsker Dü range, a single subdued vocal. There's a dizzy little thrill in how deftly the three members carry off a pop song at punk speed, and a pang of tension in lyrics that pass almost too quickly to grasp: "When you said you loved me, did you just mean you missed me? ...

Pop music's great storytellers tend to be handy with the dissolve cut — using telling turns of phrase to signal that time has passed, things have changed and we're rejoining our characters somewhere new.

"Perhaps" opens with the same steady fingerpicking that made listeners sit up and take notice when the first Iron & Wine songs surfaced a decade ago.