15 Best New Rock Bands of 2016

What qualifies a group as “new”? Which bands are too old to be new? What if we were already listening to them and posting about them in 2015? What are the groups a little bit old but stay a bit new? How can we pay a little more attention to some of our favorite bands of 2016 without making our list of favorite albums too long? Do we include the bands that made this list, or is it another category of honorable mentions? What if they didn’t release an album in 2016? What is this list called? Should we limit this to “rock”? Are all these bands rock? What is a “group” anyway? These are just a few of the many questions we tackled when creating this list of “Best New Rock Bands of 2016“Here’s what we found:

  • photo of Kane Hibbard

    photo of Kane Hibbard

    Alex Lahey

    Alex Lahey is tired of being compared to Courtney Barnett, but I hope she excuses him once again. The feeling I had when I first heard “You Don’t Think You Like People Like Me” was the same as when I first heard “Before Gardener”. Both times it was a composer from Melbourne who I only knew two things about: she had a knack for smart, simple lyrics that I couldn’t get out of my head, and she needed to switch to American statistics. Alex will finally be coming here in 2017 (SXSW is confirmed, NYC and other cities are TBA), and that’s just one of the reasons I can’t wait for 2016 to be over. “You Don’t Think…” is one of the five songs of this year B-level university EP, all of which are highly replayable. If Alex continues to realize the things Courtney has, I won’t be surprised. – Andre Sacher

  • Big Thief at BV-SXSW (more by Amanda Hatfield)

    big thief

    2016 gave us a lot of great debut albums, and Brooklyn’s Big Thief gave us one of the most mind-blowing with Masterpiece. Even before the album was released, “Paul,” a beautiful spine-chilling acoustic love song, instantly became one of my favorite songs of the year. Singer Adrianne Lenker’s beautifully melancholic voice is the perfect vehicle for her stories of love and loss, and it fits perfectly with the album’s folk rock vibes. It’s one of those albums you can’t help but come back to. Saddle Creek started something of a comeback last year with the big painted closed, and Big Thief is further proof that the label may be in the midst of its best era since Prime Bright Eyes. – Tatiana Tenreyro

  • photo of Matt Warren

    photo of Matt Warren

    Face the camp

    Australian indie rockers Camp Cope released their surprisingly good debut earlier this year and it’s slowly but surely taking off here in the US. It’s already been called one of the best albums of the year by Bren of Modern Baseball and Dan of The Wonder Years, and Camp Cope closed out the year with a split single with Philly staples Cayetana, whose sound doesn’t isn’t a million miles from Camp Cope’s. (They’re also kind of like Cayetana’s Philly neighbors, Hop Along.) The album’s big sell is Georgia Maq’s vocals, which we’re dying to hear live. Camp Cope haven’t played in the US yet (although Georgia did a solo set at Fest), but when they finally get here, you probably won’t want to miss them. – AS

  • Cherry Glazerr at Baby’s All Right in October (more by Em Grey)

    Cherry Glazer

    Cherry Glazerr got a lot of attention for their Burger-released debut album, though much of the attention focused on A) they were all still in high school and B) singer Clementine Creevy was both a model and actress (you may know her from Transparent). After ditching the original band members for new musicians, Creevy’s new lineup, Cherry Glazerr, will release the brawny and surly Apocalypse Staff via Secretly Canadian in January. Leaps and bounds better than those early days, the focus should be firmly on the music this time around, and rightly so. – Bill Pearis

  • photo of Adam Kolodny

    photo of Adam Kolodny

    Tears

    Crying was born as an 8-bit infused pop-punk band, but with Beyond fleeting gusts of wind, they turned out to be something much stranger and more unique. It’s hyperactive, shredded, prog-inflected, radio-ready hard rock that might have been home in 1982, were it not for the indie-pop vocals, Deerhoof-ian twee-ness and remnants of their chip- you do not . It bounces between so many sounds and maintains so much sympathy throughout that it kinda blows the mind. You can see them on tour in 2017 opening for Los Campesinos!, which should be a great duo. – Rob Sperry Fromm

  • Cutting Worms at Rough Trade in December (more by Amanda Hatfield)

    cut worms

    Max Clarke makes music a little out of time, somewhere between The Everly Brothers and Harry Nilsson. After moving Cut Worms from Chicago to Brooklyn, Clarke quickly made a name for himself with great songs and an offbeat solo show that included canned laughs and applause, and he quickly became a go-to opener this year. (Wolf Parade, Luna, Steve Gunn). Cut Worms are now a full band and they’ve made their debut album with Foxygen’s Jonathan Rado (Whitney, The Lemon Twigs) who seems like the perfect man for the job. – BP

  • The goon sax

    Chaotic indie pop is alive and well on the debut album by teenage Aussie trio The Goon Sax, which speaks poetically (and melodicly) about crushes, feeling awkward and home haircuts. BP

  • Japanese Breakfast at Shea Stadium in December (more by Wei Shi)

    Japanese breakfast

    Michelle Zauner first caught our ears as the lead singer of the mathy indie-punk band Little Big League, but it seems her solo project Japanese Breakfast will be the project that will be best remembered. Drawing on new wave, dream pop and 80s Fleetwood Mac, this year’s songs Psychopomp (some of which had been around for a few years) were his most eye-catching and immediate to date. They were promising enough to land him a deal with Dead Oceans, which will release Psychopompis tracked at any given time. If Michelle is inspired by the leap her recent tour mate took the his The debut of Dead Oceans, we may be ready for a brand new record. – AS

  • Julia Jacklin

    Australian singer/songwriter Julia Jacklin first caught our ears earlier this year with a few singles that showed off her really strong voice. Then she won us over again at one of our SXSW gigs, signed to Polyvinyl and released her debut album in October. It’s a solid album that fans of Angel Olsen and 60s/70s folk might want to check out. She’s been touring a lot this year, and she’ll be back in North America this spring opening for Andy Shauf.

  • Lucy Dacus at Mercury Lounge in October (more by Amanda Hatfield)

    Lucy Dacus

    Richmond indie folk singer Lucy Dacus has released her debut album, no burden, in February. It didn’t take long for his warm voice and knowing lyrics to make an impression. In March, she toured SXSW, including a set at BV Day parties (that Japanese Breakfast, Big Thief, Whitney, Margo Price, Pinegrove and Julia Jacklin have also played), where we were impressed by his great stage presence and tight band. In June, she signed with Matador Records. A busy summer followed, including playing Lollapalooza and opening shows for Car Seat Headrest. Tour companion Julien Baker included no burden also on her list of the 10 best albums of 2016. Hopefully Lucy will soon have time to record a sequel to her Matador debut – we’re looking forward to it. – Amanda Hatfield

  • Margo Price at ACL 2016 (more by Tim Griffin)

    Margo Price

    Margo Price sounds like one of the best storytellers of our generation, with truly heartbreaking lyrics that are impossible to hear and not feel. She made our #23 album of the year with Midwest Farmer’s Daughter (released on Jack White’s Third Man Records). Learn more here. – AS

  • Pinegrove at Irving Plaza in December (more by Amanda Hatfield)

    Pine forest

    Pinegrove approaches alt-country with a do-it-yourself attitude and emotionally honest lyrics, and – led by the truly gifted pipes of Evan Stephens Hall – made one of the most accessible and enjoyable albums of the year. Cardinal is our #10 album of the year. Learn more here. They’re also an honorable mention on our punk albums list (because they tour with punk bands). – AS

  • Savoy Motel

    Cheap Time alum Jeffrey Novack formed the Savoy Motel with former members of Heavy Cream, a group that seems perfectly formed on their debut album: 51% Southern hash ’70s glam, 49% edgy post-punk and 100% badass attitude. – BP

  • summer lands

    Sumerlands seemingly dropped onto the metal scene out of nowhere this year with their unusually strong, promising and distinct self-titled debut album. Populated with veterans of other great bands like 13 hour, Kodex Atlantean and Eternal Championnot to mention the well-accredited producer Arthur Rize (Power Trip, Inquisition, etc.), Sumerlands has a catchy sound that, despite all the nostalgia in today’s metal scene, stands out as coming from a unique cocktail of influences and scratching a unique itch for the big fans. The opening strains of “The Seventh Seal” grab you by the collar of your shirt, with a Van Halen-esque opening riff and a real invocation of Ozzy by lead singer Phil Swanson. It’s a sweet, bright and catchy album that also reminds of early 80’s records like Fates Warning, Rainbow, Mercyful Fate, Cirith Ungol. If anything, it was just too short. I can’t wait to see what this band does next. – RSF

  • Whitney in Chicago in December (more by James Richards IV)

    Whitney

    When Smith Westerns broke up in late 2014, Julien Ehrlich and Max Kakacek continued making music together as Whitney, channeling the laid-back sounds of the ’70s Laurel Canyon scene, and eclipsed their former group with the first single “No Woman”. their beginnings, light on the lake, was our #31 album of 2016. Learn more here. – BP

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