For the better part of the past few decades, naysayers have written off rock music, saying that the genre is dead. It may not be as prominent as it was during its formative years, but there remains a strong, vital scene with a number of bands keeping rock alive. While rock’n’roll may not be the dominant cultural force it once was, plenty of rock bands top the billings at many biggest mainstream festivals. Here are 15 of the best new rock bands (and acts) keeping the spirit of rock alive.
These Dubliners formed a band as teens at St. Andrew’s College and gradually grew together both personally and musically. By the time they released their 2021 debut album, It Won’t Always Be Like This, their mix of 80s dance rock and 90s indie-pop influences with a crisp, modern vibe was exploding with propulsive beats and earworm hooks. If the voice gliding atop the whole thing seems strangely familiar, it might be the fact that Inhaler frontman Elijah Hewson’s dad happens to be the singer for a certain other Dublin band you know well (ahem U2).
The Lathums met in school too, but things developed at a breakneck pace for them. Hailing from Wigan, outside the historic music hub of Manchester, England, they were thrown together by their teacher at music school to work on a project. Realizing they were onto something, the fledgling band scored themselves a big-time record deal within less than a year. As heard on their No.1 UK album How Beautiful Life Can Be, The Lathums have crafted an uber-melodic sound full of sunny tunes, gently chiming guitars, and warm, inviting vocals, with more than a hint of vintage 90s Britpop influence. Making them one of the best new rock bands to keep on your radar.
Machine Gun Kelly
Houston’s Colson Baker, better known as Machine Gun Kelly, had an early life that involved being shuttled all around the globe with his missionary parents, so by the time he started thinking about making music, he’d already seen a lot. There’s a lot of life experience in his work, which was initially on the hip-hop tip, 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 inserted an increasing rock influence into his music. Having already become an all-star rapper, he made a drastic turn on 2020’s Tickets to My Downfall, a rap-free zone where hard-charging pop-punk alternates with affectingly melodic alt-rock.
Take a soupcon of 90s shoegaze and toss it in a pot with some twee pop and a dash of 00s indie dream pop, add something entirely original and contemporary, and you’ve got the basic ingredients of the beabadoobee sound. The artist otherwise known as Beatrice Laus was born in the Philippines and raised in London, where she signed with prominent indie label Dirty Hit. In 2018 Laus started unleashing a long string of EPs, but her full-length debut, 2020’s Fake It Flowers, broke out in a major way in the UK thanks to the singer-songwriter’s sweet, twinkling vocals and hazy but inviting tonal tapestries.
London was also the breeding ground for rising indie outfit Sea Girls. Despite the name, they’re a quartet of lads, all of whom have been friends since their teens. They started out on the little London label Almanac Recordings and quickly attracted attention with singer Henry Camamile’s larger-than-life vocal presence and their hooky, melodic indie-rock drive. But even after they moved on up to the majors for their first full-length record, 2020’s UK No.3 album Open Up Your Head, they maintained their indie sensibility while refining their sound.
Dorothy is an LA-based rock band that bears the name of its dynamic frontwoman, Dorothy Martin. Martin has a big, bluesy voice that immediately commands attention, but she’s far from the only attraction in the band. Produced by legendary pop/rock songwriter Linda Perry and released on Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label, the group’s second album, 28 Days in the Valley, matches Martin’s outsized vocal chops with some lacerating riffs and barnstorming beats, bringing 70s hard rock and blues-rock influences to the fore while still somehow feeling fresh and of the moment.
Meet Me @ 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 emerged as a band in 2015, setting off a series of DIY singles and EPs. Their 2017 debut album, Out of Sight, Out of Mind, is as melodic and accessible as it is unrelentingly hard-hitting. Pop-punk is at the trio’s stylistic center, with irresistible choruses popping out of every track, but Tea Campbell’s guitar and Ada Juarez’s drums frequently bear a bit of heavy metal bite to their tonality, with their breathtaking intensity sometimes threatening to send the whole thing hurtling off a cliff (in a good way).
Ayron Jones comes blasting out of Seattle with a slamming-but-soulful sound heavily powered by local influences. Jimi Hendrix and 90s grunge are the twin pillars from which Jones has built his sonic template, adding an alt-rock roar all his own to the mix. When the single “Mercy” from Jones’ 2021 album Child of the State went to the top spot on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart, it became resoundingly clear that he’s a rock’n’roll force to be reckoned with.
Deep Sea Diver
Elsewhere in Seattle, the trio Deep Sea Diver seems to soak up 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 some heavy history to the table, having played with The Shins and Beck. The band is filled out by her drummer husband Peter Mansen and guitarist/keyboardist Elliott Jackson, and on 2020’s Impossible Weight album, they spit out a sound that mates a propulsive, aughts indie-rock feel with an utterly up-to-date alt vibe, marked by nuanced arrangements.
The Black Tones
Completing our little Emerald City triumvirate of best new rock bands is 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. But don’t go jumping to the obvious White Stripes conclusions. For one thing, they do slip a bass into their sound, and like Ayron Jones, The Black Tones look a little further back and closer to home for their inspirations. The title of their 2019 album Cobain & Cornbread offers a big hint as to the siblings’ influences, and their rough-and-ready, no-nonsense rock delivers on that title’s implications.
– Jim Allen
Hailing from the traditional hard rock hotbed of Seattle, Thunderpussy is one of the rare bands that match the shock value of their name with a killer sound. Loud, with ferocious riffs and unapologetic feminist themes, this power quartet is a throwback in a good way. Not many contemporary rock bands are willing to take a deep dive into heavy music that doesn’t directly court mainstream music fans, yet these four women have not only managed to do exactly that, but they’ve earned plaudits for their approach.
Shannon And The Clams
Wearing their vintage influences very much on their sleeve, this indie garage punk outfit out of Oakland, California has developed a cult following for their spunky mix of 50s doo-wop, 80s punk, and surf rock in between. What sets them apart from a groundswell of garage-rock revivalists is their anthemic sing-alongs and the inimitable vocals of frontwoman and bassist Shannon Shaw. The band raised their profile after Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys produced their album and added them as the Key’s opening act, putting them on the national stage.
This Los Angeles outfit makes a compelling case for another SoCal ska revival. While garage rock and glam are having another day in the sun, this power quartet is bringing ska-punk back to the charts, cracking both Billboard’s Rock and Adult Alternative charts respectively. Leading the charge is their high-wire singer Aimee Interrupter, who when she’s not channeling Pauline Black of the Selector, she’s commanding the stage with her fiery pipes. If they sound reminiscent of Rancid it’s not by accident, since their mentor and album producer is none other than Rancid’s Tim Armstrong.
Broken Witt Rebels
This Birmingham quintet stands out from the slew of retro-rock bands by drawing on the blues-rock sound of its pioneers (Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters) and adding in unexpected elements of Southern and country-rock. It doesn’t hurt that Broken Witt Rebels’ frontman, Danny Core, sounds like he’s lived several lifetimes, and the band knows how to write a catchy riff. Even when they dip into wailing rock territory, BWR never loses their soulful spirit.
Greta Van Fleet
Howling vocals with amazing range, gut-busting drumming, and ridiculous shredding… that describes Led Zeppelin, right? Well, it does, but it’s also an apt description for rising blues- and hard-rockers Greta Van Fleet. Upon first listen, it’s hard to believe that this group of three brothers and a friend from Michigan haven’t Led Zeppelin. Yet, 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 pull it off, but they also do it with the bravado that remains on their latest sophomore album The Battle at Garden’s Gate.
– Wyoming Reynolds
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