For most of the past decades, opponents have deregistered rock music, claiming the genre is dead. It may not be as big as it was in its formative years, but it remains a strong and vital scene with a number of bands keeping rock alive. While rock ‘n’ roll may not be the dominant cultural force it once was, there are plenty of rock bands that headline many of the biggest mainstream festivals. Here are 15 of the best new rock bands (and bands) that keep the rock spirit alive.
These Dubliners formed a group as a teenager at St. Andrew’s College and gradually grew together both personally and musically. As they release their first album in 2021, It won’t always be like this, their blend of ’80s dance rock and’ 90s indie-pop influences with a crisp modern vibe exploded with propulsive beats and earworm hooks. If the voice that hovers above the ensemble sounds eerily familiar, it may be the fact that Inhaler Singer Elijah Hewson’s father is the singer of another Dublin band you know well (ahem U2).
The Lathums they met at school too, but things developed at a breakneck pace for them. Hailing from Wigan, outside the historic music center of Manchester, England, they were brought together by their teacher at the music school to work on a project. Realizing they were on to something, the fledgling band signed a major recording deal in less than a year. As heard on their UK # 1 album How beautiful life can be, The Lathums created an ultra melodic sound full of sun-kissed melodies, soft chime guitars and warm, inviting vocals, with more than a hint of vintage britpop influence from the 90s. Making it one of the best new rock bands to keep on your radar.
Kelly machine gun
Colson Baker of Houston, better known as Kelly machine gun, had a youth that involved being transported around the world with his missionary parents, so by the time he started to think about making music, he had seen a lot of it already. There is a lot of life experience to his work, which was initially on the cutting edge of hip-hop, but MGK had always exalted the likes of Rage Against the Machine and Limp Bizkit alongside all of his hip-hop heroes, and over time he gradually incorporated an increasing rock influence into his music. Already an all-star rapper, he made a drastic shift in the 2020s Tickets for My Fall, a rap-free zone where frenzied pop-punk alternates with melodic and touching alt-rock.
Take a 90s shoegaze soup and toss it in a pot with some twee pop and a dash of 2000s indie dream pop, add something completely original and contemporary, and you have the basic ingredients of the beabadoobe ring. The artist known as Beatrice Laus was born in the Philippines and raised in London, where she signed with the famous independent label Dirty Hit. In 2018, Laus began releasing a long series of EPs, but his first feature, 2020’s Pretend flowers, erupted in a major way in the UK thanks to the singer-songwriter’s soft, sparkling voice and hazy yet inviting tonal tapestries.
London was also the breeding ground for the rise of independent groups. Girls of the sea. Despite their name, they are a quartet of guys, who have all been friends since their teenage years. They started out on small London label Almanac Recordings and quickly gained attention with singer Henry Camamile’s larger-than-life vocal presence and their melodic, catchy indie-rock drive. But even after they went to the majors for their first full album, the UK album No.3 of 2020 Open your head, they kept their indie sensibility while refining their sound.
Dorothy is an LA-based rock band named after their dynamic frontwoman, Dorothy Martin. Martin has a big blues voice that immediately catches the eye, but she is far from the only attraction of the group. Produced by legendary pop / rock songwriter Linda Perry and released on the Roc Nation label of Jay-Z, the band’s second album, 28 days in the valley, matches Martin’s oversized vocal chops with lacerating riffs and barnstorming beats, bringing hard rock and blues-rock influences from the 70s to the fore while feeling somehow fresh and moment.
Meet me at the altar
The three young women who make up Meet Me @ The Altar all lived in different states when they met online. Music brought them together and they first appeared as a band in 2015, triggering a series of singles and DIY EPs. Their first album 2017, Out of sight out of mind, is as melodic and accessible as it is relentlessly punchy. Pop-punk is at the stylistic center of the trio, with compelling choruses popping up from each track, but Tea Campbell’s guitar and Ada Juarez’s drums often carry a bit of a heavy metal bite to their tone, with their intensity to breathtaking sometimes threatening to send everything down a cliff (in a good way).
Ayron Jones comes out of Seattle with a snap but soulful sound heavily fueled by local influences. Jimi Hendrix and ’90s grunge are the twin pillars from which Jones built his sound model, adding an alt-rock roar of his own to the mix. When Jones’ 2021 album single “Mercy” State child came in at No. 1 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock charts, it became clear that he is a rock’n’roll force to be reckoned with.
Elsewhere in Seattle, the trio Underwater diver seems to take more inspiration from hometown heroes Death Cab for Cutie than anything that emerged from the city’s grunge boom. LA native and frontwoman Jessica Dobson brings a heavy story to the table, having performed with The Shins and Beck. The band is made up of her drummer husband Peter Mansen and guitarist / keyboardist Elliott Jackson, and in the 2020s Impossible weight album, they spit out a sound that combines a propulsive indie rock sensation with a very current alt atmosphere, marked by nuanced arrangements.
The brother-and-sister duo of singer / guitarist Eva Walker and drummer Cedric Walker, who have learned to do more with less in their stripped-down format, complete our little Emerald City triumvirate of the best new rock bands. But don’t jump to the obvious conclusions of White Stripes. For one thing, they slip a bass into their sound, and like Ayron Jones, The Black Tones look a little further and closer to home for their inspirations. The title of their 2019 album Cobain & Corn Bread offers a big clue to sibling influences, and their raw, no-frills rock takes into account the implications of this title.
If this Brooklyn-based trio had existed when John Hughes was doing his classic teen movies, it’s a safe bet that their sound would have adorned some of his vivid scenes of youthful anguish. As it stands, Nation of Language seems poised to fill the moody alternate avatar role that New Order likes, The treatment, and Depeche Mode occupied in the 80s, but for a whole new generation. As Ian Devaney’s melancholy vocal tones drift above a tapestry of seeping synths and rhythms, the tension between passion and precision is played to perfection.
– Jim Allen
Hailing from Seattle’s traditional hard rock home, Thunder pussy are one of the few bands that combines the shock value of their name with a killer sound. Strong, with fierce riffs and unabashed feminist themes, this powerful quartet is a step back in the right direction. Few contemporary rock bands are ready to dive into heavy music that doesn’t directly court mainstream music fans, but these four women not only managed to do just that, but they’ve also been applauded for their approach.
This Los Angeles outfit makes a compelling case for another SoCal ska revival. As garage rock and glam spend another day in the sun, this power quartet brings ska-punk back to the charts, cracking the two of them. BillboardThe Rock and Adult Alternative charts respectively. Leading the charge is their high-flying singer Aimee Interrupter, who, when not channeling the Selector’s Pauline Black, commands the stage with her flaming pipes. If they remember Rancid, it is not by chance, since their mentor and album producer is none other than Tim Armstrong of Rancid.
Broken Witt Rebels
This Birmingham quintet stands out from the slew of retro-rock groups by drawing on the blues-rock sound of its pioneers (Chuck berry and Muddy waters) and adding unexpected elements of southern rock and country. It doesn’t hurt that Broken Witt Rebels frontman Danny Core sounds like he’s lived multiple lifetimes, and the band knows how to write a catchy riff. Even when they dive into howling rock territory, BWR never loses its soulful spirit.
Greta Van Fleet
Screaming vocals with incredible range, jaw-dropping drums and ridiculous shredding… which describes Led Zeppelin, law? Well, it does, but it’s also an apt description for the rise of blues and hard rock Greta Van Fleet. At first listen, it’s hard to believe this group of three brothers and a friend from Michigan don’t have Led Zeppelin. Still, the quartet seems to have channeled the legacy, spirit, and overall aura of Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham, which isn’t easy. But not only do they succeed, but they also do it with the bravado that remains on their last second album. The battle at the garden gate.
– Wyoming Reynolds
Looking for more? Check out the 10 best power trios in rock.