Some say rock music has been declining in the 21st century, in part due to the way we absorb music in this day and age. Whatever the reason may be, however, it shouldn’t take away from some of the great works that the genre has produced in the last 17 years.
Few places in the world have produced as many good rock bands this century than the U.S. has. From landmark albums, to anthemic songs – this list includes those groups who have raised the bar for the rest of the pack through their songwriting prowess, innovative compositions, genre revitalization, and astonishing consistency,
Indie rock, southern rock, pop rock, hard rock – basically any form of rock. It’s all here on our list of the ten best American rock bands of the 21st century (so far).
10. The Black Keys
Blues rock duo The Black Keys have been hammering away since their debut album in 2002, but it was in 2010 when they hit a commercial breakthrough with Brothers. Despite their long wait for stardom, the two-piece were quietly putting out fantastic records like Rubber Factory and Attack & Release. Their back to basics approach has spawned such brilliant cuts as the bluesy throwback “10 A.M. Automatic,” the pedal to the metal barnburner “Lonely Boy,” and the sleazy stomper “Next Girl.” While some might label them as being too commercial-friendly in recent years, their old school whiskey-soaked sound has been introduced to a whole new audience – and we’re sure that part of the music buying public was ecstatic when it was.
Key Tracks: 10 A.M. Automatic, I Got Mine, Tighten Up, Lonely Boy
9. Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Seriously, an album as brilliant as Fever to Tell is almost enough to put this New York outfit into our list, but they did one better by following up their debut album with three more stellar LP’s. Yes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs have been breaking hearts and taking names later since 2003, with a unique stylistic hybrid of indie rock, dance punk, and garage rock. While their first record may be their best output, their follow-ups like Show Your Bones and It’s Blitz are far from being slouches. And with a great last recording in 2014’s Mosquito, this edgy group certainly don’t sound like they’ve lost their spark.
Key Tracks: Maps, Gold Lion, Heads Will Roll, Sacrilege
8. Kings of Leon
Both commercially and critically, few bands in the genre can match Kings of Leon when it comes to making an impact. The successful four-piece came out all guns blazing in 2004 with a southern rock sound that set them apart from the rest of their indie-rock counterparts. And boy what a sound it was. Their first three LP’s are still glowing beacons in rock’s seedy underbelly, before they decided to move into a more arena rock territory – ultimately sending them into the stratosphere in terms of popularity. Whatever you think of their material now, there’s no denying just how satisfying their first three records were.
Key Tracks: Molly’s Chambers, Taper Jean Girl, On Call, Closer
The cold, steely sound that New York trio Interpol have produced this century is certainly one the highlights of modern rock. Led by the emotive crooner Paul Banks, the band got off to winning ways in 2002 with their debut album Turn on the Bright Lights – a record that is still held in high regard 15 years later. From that point, they proceeded to create some glorious works with their Joy Division-inspired soundscapes and meticulously put together compositions. Whether it’s their majestic third LP Our Love to Admire, or their most recent cracker El Pinto – Interpol continue to dazzle with their heart-wrenching and painfully reflective musical style.
Key Tracks: PDA, Evil, Rest My Chemistry, Everything Is Wrong
6. Drive-By Truckers
Occupying a unique space in modern rock is the insanely prolific southern rock band Drive-By Truckers. Eleven studio albums in less than 20 years is certainly impressive in this day and age, but when they’re as consistently brilliant as this group’s are, that impressiveness increases tenfold. They move seamlessly between southern rock and alternative country, often merging the two to create knee-slapping tunes like the rip-roaring rocker “Ronnie and Neil,” the cracking confessional “That Man I Shot,” and the defiant stomper “Surrender Under Protest.” Lynyrd Skynyrd and Neil Young would be impressed by Drive-By Truckers’ back to basics approach – and that’s really the best compliment that could be paid to a band of their ilk.
Key Tracks: Ronnie and Neil, That Man I Shot, Never Gonna Change, Darkened Flags at the Cusp of Dawn
5. The Strokes
As the poster boys for the garage rock revival scene, The Strokes were always destined for success. Their lo-fi masterclass Is This It got them off to a flying start in 2001, but they didn’t rest on their laurels having made such a brilliant modern classic. No, instead they followed it up with two goliath records in the form of Room on Fire and First Impressions of Earth – both sinfully underrated in their own right. Tracks like the sinister blood-pumper “Juicebox,” or the new wave-esque “12:51” proved that they could change up their sound in all sorts of imaginative ways, while songs such as the guitar-driven bulldozer “Reptilia” or the no-nonsense battering ram “Vision of Division” show that they can keep it more traditional too. Simply put – this New York four-piece have adapted and altered their sound throughout the ‘00s, while also keeping one foot firmly in what brought them to the dance in the first place.
Key Tracks: Hard to Explain, Reptilia, Juicebox, Under Cover of Darkness
4. Modest Mouse
Six studio albums in 20 years may not seem like much, but for indie rock group Modest Mouse, it’s a case of quality over quantity. Despite releasing their first record in 1996, this collection of multi-instrumentalists really started coming into their own in the ‘00s, starting with the absolute mind-blower The Moon & Antarctica in 2000. Since then they’ve sporadically released three albums, including 2004’s near faultless Good News for People Who Love Bad News. In 2017, they still stand as one of the best rock groups this side of the 21st century with their eclectic and quirky spin on modern indie rock.
Key Tracks: Gravity Rides Everything, Float On, Missed the Boat, Lampshades on Fire
3. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
If Oasis and The Jesus and Mary Chain gave birth to a Hells Angel, it would probably look and sound a lot like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. The three piece – hailing from San Francisco, California – have been tearing up the rock scene ever since they dropped their fierce self-titled debut album in 2001, and have only improved in the ensuing years. Through an intoxicating mix of garage rock, psychedelia, and shoegaze, this balls to the wall trio have a real knack for firing out banger after banger, epitomized on tracks like the sweltering stunner “Love Burns,” the riff-tastic corker “Generation,” the blues-drenched belter “Ain’t No Easy Way,” and scores more. BRMC are not only one of the most underrated rock bands around, but they’re also one of the very best that this century’s had to offer so far.
Key Tracks: Love Burns, Ain’t No Easy Way, Conscience Killer, Beat the Devil’s Tattoo
2. The White Stripes
Who could forget the dual-pronged attack of influential duo The White Stripes? Despite officially splitting up in 2011, this inventive act had already written themselves into the music history books, largely thanks to their energetic live displays, as well as some utterly satisfying albums. Whether it’s the raw masterpiece White Blood Cells, or the eclectic final output Icky Thump – The White Stripes were undeniably prolific during their attention-grabbing run in the current century. And with a guitar virtuoso like Jack White, combined with the metronomic pulse provided by drummer Meg White, who could really be surprised by their successful stint together?
Key Tracks: Fell in Love with a Girl, Seven Nation Army, Blue Orchid, Conquest
1. Queens of the Stone Age
In terms of consistency, what current rock band can truly rival Queens of the Stone Age? We struggle to think of any. From day one, these hard rockers have been pounding listeners’ eardrums through their scintillating musicianship and carefully arranged instrumentation. Whether it’s the ballsy rawness of 2000’s Rated R, or the crunching brilliance of 2013’s Like Clockwork – this fiery troupe never disappoint. If you don’t get a kick out of songs like “Little Sister,” “Go With the Flow,” or “Feel Good Hit of the Summer,” then you might want to check your pulse.
Key Tracks: A Song for the Dead, Burn the Witch, Make It wit You, Smooth Sailing