15 Best New(ish) Rock Bands of 2016
What qualifies a band as “new”? What bands are too old to be new? What if we were already listening and posting about them in 2015? What bands are kind of old but still kinda new? How can we give a little more attention to some of our favorite bands of 2016 without making our Favorite Albums List too long? Do we include bands who made that list, or is this another category of Honorable Mentions? What if they didn’t release an album in 2016? What do we title this list? Should we limit this to just “rock”? Are all these bands even rock? What is a “band” anyway? Those were just some of the many questions we grappled with when creating this list of the “Best New(ish) Rock Bands of 2016” Here’s what we came up with:
Alex Lahey is tired of being compared to Courtney Barnett, but I hope she’ll excuse it for one more time. The feeling I got when I first heard “You Don’t Think You Like People Like Me” was the same one as when I first heard “Avant Gardener.” Both times, here was a songwriter from Melbourne who I only knew two things about: she had a knack for clever, plainspoken lyrics that I couldn’t get out of my head, and she needed to get over to the US stat. Alex will finally come over here in 2017 (SXSW is confirmed, NYC and other cities are TBA), and that’s just one reason I can’t wait for 2016 to be over. “You Don’t Think…” is one of five songs on this year’s B-Grade University EP, all of which are very replay-able. If Alex goes on to achieve the things Courtney has, I won’t be surprised. – Andrew Sacher
2016 has given us a lot of great debut albums, and Brooklyn’s Big Thief gave us one of the most stunning with Masterpiece. Even before the album came out, “Paul”, a gorgeous, chill-inducing acoustic love song, instantly became one of my favorite songs of the year. Frontwoman Adrianne Lenker’s beautifully melancholic voice is the perfect vessel for her stories of love and loss, and it’s a great fit with the album’s folk rock vibes. It’s one of those albums you can’t help keep going back to. Saddle Creek started something of a comeback last year with Hop Along’s great Painted Shut, and Big Thief is more proof that the label may be in the midst of its best era since prime Bright Eyes. – Tatiana Tenreyro
Australian indie rockers Camp Cope released their strikingly good debut earlier this year and it’s slowly but surely taking off here in the States. It’s already been called one of the best albums of the year by Bren from Modern Baseball and Dan from The Wonder Years, and Camp Cope capped the year off with a split single with Philly staples Cayetana, whose sound isn’t a million miles away from Camp Cope’s. (They’re also a bit like Cayetana’s Philly neighbors Hop Along.) The big sell of the album is Georgia Maq’s voice, which we’re dying to hear live. Camp Cope haven’t played the US yet (though Georgia did do a solo set at The Fest), but when they finally make it here, you’re probably not gonna wanna miss them. – A.S.
Cherry Glazerr got a fair amount of attention for their Burger-released debut album, though much of the attention centered on that A) they were all still in high school, and B) singer Clementine Creevy was both a model and an actress (you may know her from Transparent). Having ditched the original members of the band for new musicians, Creevy’s new lineup of Cherry Glazerr will release the muscular, snarling Apocalipstick via Secretly Canadian in January. Leaps and bounds better than that debut, focus should be firmly on the music this time around and rightly so. – Bill Pearis
Crying came up as a 8-bit infused pop-punk band, but with Beyond the Fleeting Gales, they proved to be something much weirder and more unique. This is hyperactive, chipper, prog-inflected, radio-ready hard rock that might have been right at home in 1982, were it not for the indie-pop vocals, Deerhoof-ian twee-ness, and remnants of their chip-tune past. It bounces between so many sounds and maintains so much likability throughout that it somewhat boggles the mind. You can catch them on tour in 2017 opening for Los Campesinos!, which should be a great pairing. – Rob Sperry-Fromm
Max Clarke makes music that’s a bit out of time, somewhere between The Everly Brothers and Harry Nilsson. Having moved Cut Worms from Chicago to Brooklyn, Clarke quickly made a name for himself thanks to some great songs and a quirky solo live show that included canned laughter and applause, and he quickly became an opener of choice this year (Wolf Parade, Luna, Steve Gunn). Cut Worms is now a full band and they’ve made their debut album with Foxygen’s Jonathan Rado (Whitney, The Lemon Twigs) who seems like the right man for the job. – B.P.
The Goon Sax
Shambly indie pop is alive and well on the debut album from teenage Australian trio The Goon Sax who wax poetic (and melodic) about crushes, feeling awkward and home haircuts. B.P.
Michelle Zauner first caught our ears as the singer of the mathy indie-punk band Little Big League, but it’s looking like her solo project Japanese Breakfast is the project she’ll be better remembered for. Pulling from new wave, dream pop and ’80s Fleetwood Mac, the songs on this year’s Psychopomp (some of which had been around for a couple of years) were her hookiest and most immediate yet. They were promising enough to score her a deal with Dead Oceans, who will release Psychopomp‘s followup at some point. If Michelle takes any cues from the jump her recent tourmate made on her Dead Oceans debut, we may be in for quite the new record. – A.S.
Australian singer/songwriter Julia Jacklin first caught our ears earlier this year with some singles that showed off her truly strong voice. Then she won us over again at one of our SXSW shows, signed to Polyvinyl, and released her debut album in October. It’s a solid album that fans of early Angel Olsen and ’60s/’70s folk may wanna check out. She did a lot of touring this year, and she’ll be back in North America this spring opening for Andy Shauf.
Richmond indie folk singer Lucy Dacus released her debut album, No Burden, back in February. It didn’t take long for her warm voice and self aware lyrics to make an impression. In March she made the rounds at SXSW, including a set at the BV day parties (which Japanese Breakfast, Big Thief, Whitney, Margo Price, Pinegrove and Julia Jacklin also played), where we were impressed by her great stage presence and tight band. By June she signed to Matador Records. A busy summer followed, including playing Lollapalooza and opening shows for Car Seat Headrest. Tour-mate Julien Baker included No Burden on her list of top 10 albums of 2016, too. Hopefully Lucy will have time to record a follow up to her debut for Matador soon – we’re looking forward to it. – Amanda Hatfield
Margo Price is looking like one of our generation’s best storytellers, with truly heartbreaking lyrics that are impossible to hear and not feel something. She made our #23 album of the year with Midwest Farmer’s Daughter (released on Jack White’s Third Man Records). Read more here. – A.S.
Pinegrove approach alt-country with a DIY attitude and emotionally honest lyrics, and — led by Evan Stephens Hall’s truly gifted pipes — made one of the most approachable and enjoyable albums of the year. Cardinal is our #10 album of the year. Read more here. They’re also an honorable mention on our punk albums list (because they tour with punk bands). – A.S.
Jeffrey Novack, formerly of Cheap Time, formed Savoy Motel with former members of Heavy Cream, a group that seems fully formed on their debut album: a southern-fried hash of 51% ’70s glam, 49% twitchy post-punk and 100% badass attitude. – B.P.
Sumerlands dropped seemingly out of nowhere onto the metal scene this year with their unusually strong, promising, and distinct self-titled debut LP. Populated by veterans of other excellent bands like Hour of 13, Atlantean Kodex and Eternal Champion, not to mention well-credentialed producer Arthur Rizk (Power Trip, Inquisition, etc), Sumerlands have an attention-grabbing sound that, for all the nostalgia in today’s metal scene, stands out as coming from a unique cocktail of influences and scratching a unique itch for heavy fans. The opening strains of “The Seventh Seal” just grab you by the shirt-collar, with a Van Halen-aping opening riff and a genuine Ozzy-invocation by lead singer Phil Swanson. It’s a sugary, shiny, catchy album that also brings to mind early-80s gold 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. – R.S.F.
When Smith Westerns broke up at the end of 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 old band with first single “No Woman.” Their debut, Light Upon the Lake, was our #31 album of 2016. Read more here. – B.P.