Thirty-one-year-old Seattle singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile offers a grand measure of storytelling in her work that arcs from tender to soaring — from Joni Mitchell-style quiet introspection to Janis Joplin-like balls-out rocking. Once she gets started, she's like a Harrier jet taking off for flight. And she's capable of delivering it all with a feather-light gut-check sucker punch. Maybe that's why, after doggedly touring as an opener for everyone from the Indigo Girls and the Fray to Hanson and Tori Amos, she's amassed a following that is most definitely hers. Her recently released fourth album Bear Creek, as well as last year's Live at Benaroya Hall With the Seattle Symphony, features plenty of jumping-off places for what promises to be a great live show at House of Blues this week. But what you might not know about Carlile is how much of an '80s nerd she can be. For starters, she sports The Neverending Story tattoos on her arms and covers Alphaville's "Forever Young" in concert. That says a lot about her. — Peter Chakerian
8 p.m. Thursday, July 5. House of Blues. Tickets: $28 - $35; call 216-523-2583 or visit houseofblues.com.
For a dude who's laid kinda low for the past five years, 2012 is turning out to be the most productive one of Brooklyn-based producer and rapper El-P's decade-long career. His fourth solo album, Cancer4Cure, came out mere weeks after his collaboration on Killer Mike's R.A.P. Music, which he produced. They're two of the most forward-thinking hip-hop albums of the year, built on the 37-year-old's doomsday beats and fertilized with rhymes that run smack into a whole bunch of social, cultural, and political dreams gone wrong. (Killer Mike is also part of this weekend's bill at the Grog Shop, so be sure to get there early.) Last time out, on 2007's terrific I'll Sleep When You're Dead, El-P painted a world edging toward extinction thanks to its own selfish minds and greedy hands. On Cancer4Cure, things aren't looking any brighter. It's a bleak, desperate, and desolate planet we're living on, and El-P is barely hanging on for the rough ride. This is the sound of death creeping up on the already hopeless. — Gallucci
With Killer Mike, Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire, and Despot. 8 p.m. Saturday, July 7. Grog Shop. Tickets: $20, $18 in advance; call 216-321-5588 or visit grogshop.gs.
Remember that scene from Back to the Future when Marty McFly threatens to melt his dad's brain with some Van Halen? Sleigh Bells are kinda like that. The Brooklyn-based duo's second album, Reign of Terror, ups the ante on their digital-chainsaw approach to indie rock. Even more ferocious in its application of sheer, unadulterated volume than 2010's debut Treats, the new album keeps its balance thanks to Alexis Krauss, whose ethereal vocals shimmer in and out of reality, like some sort of fever dream brought on by all the punishing noise going on around her. Appropriately, the band pulls in a host of direct-line metal hallmarks, incorporating blast beats and intense instrumental heroics, with Thin Lizzy-style guitars popping up here and there. It all makes for a more polarized and polarizing sound, with the extremes speeding away from each other faster than ever. When it works, it works remarkably well, and when it all gets to be a bit too much, well, you kinda get that that's what Sleigh Bells are going for. — Nicholas Hall
With Class Actress and Jel. 8:30 p.m. Monday, July 9. House of Blues. Tickets: $20 - $25; call 216-523-2583 or visit houseofblues.com.
What's the secret to the Warped Tour's longevity? We're guessing it has something to do with staying on top of what's happening now and what's coming up next in the worlds of alt- and indie rock. The daylong music festival has survived most of the others that popped up around the same time in the mid-'90s, mostly because it's aimed at young fans, with as many as 100 bands showing up on tour stops to play short sets spread across nearly a dozen stages. They're the kind of gigs you can join in-progress, just in case there are other things, or groups, occupying your busy schedule. It all kicks off at noon, and we suggest sticking around for the entire thing. This year's edition features veteran Warped bands like Yellowcard, Taking Back Sunday, and Senses Fail, along with red-hot up-and-comers like Cleveland rapper Machine Gun Kelly (pictured), who's prepping for the release of his much-anticipated major-label debut album later this year. Expect his set to be a highlight of the long, hot, and sweaty day. — Chakerian
Noon Wednesday July 11. Blossom Music Center, Cuyahoga Falls. Tickets: $35; call 330-920-8040 or visit livenation.com.
Fiona Apple wears her art more openly and painfully than almost any other artist of her generation. The 34-year-old singer-songwriter has carved out a career over the past 16 years that can be as infuriating as it is fascinating. She first made waves with her 1996 debut album Tidal, whose hit single "Criminal" was accompanied by a video that looked like the roots of some particularly grimy and icky kiddie porn. That was just the start of things. By the time she got around to releasing her third album, 2005's Extraordinary Machine, she was fighting with her record company, exposing her fractured relationship with filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson, and falling apart onstage — all of which makes her infinitely more interesting and human than a dozen vagina-flashing dance-pop stars. Apple's new album, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do (which is, remarkably, 67 words shorter than the title of her second album), isn't an easy one to jump into. It's her most difficult work, but it's also her most personal piece. This is one of summer's don't-miss shows, so be sure to clear your calendar for it. — Michael Gallucci
With Blake Mills. 8 p.m. Friday, July 6. Cain Park. Tickets: $37.50 - $75; call 216-371-3000 or visit ticketmaster.com.