There is no way around it: modern music has quite the negative reputation for people who prefer the tunes of earlier decades. It is known for being inauthentic, cheesy, and made simply to add to the bank accounts of already-affluent producers and corporate money-eaters. However, if one were to dig deep enough into the current music scene, it would soon be obvious that the glimmer of past generations has not completely dulled away. As an avid rock fan, I personally have trouble with the music that attacks my ears every time I turn on the top 40 radio station. It doesn’t take much energy, though, to travel to other stations and discover songs and musicians who still believe in the way music should be made: authentically, and with passion.
To ease the pain of those of you who are slowly losing hope in the new music in the world, I put together a list of my top 10 favorite modern bands. The only qualifications to make the list were they had to be a band (not a solo musician) and they had to have released their debut album after 2000. Obviously, these are not all of the modern bands I like, there are dozens I had to go through to make this final 10 list; these are simply my favorites (in no particular order).
Formed: 2009 in Los Angeles, California
Debut Album: Never Trust A Happy Song, 2011
What Makes Them Special: Grouplove’s distinctive sound is one I have not been able to stop listening to since I first discovered them in middle school. The first song I ever heard of theirs, “Hippy Hill,” hooked me instantly with its hollowing lyrics and powerful music. I’ve happily had the same experience with each song of theirs I’ve come across since. The thing that really makes them stand out is their distinctive blend of upbeat musicianship mirroring that of the 60s and 70s combined with thought-provoking lyrics suck you in and leave you begging for more.
Cage the Elephant
Formed: 2006 in Bowling Green, Kentucky
Debut Album: Cage the Elephant, 2008
What Makes Them Special: Another band I first came across in middle school, Cage the Elephant has a rebel tone I have been vibing with since I first heard them through the speakers of my favorite alt. rock radio station. Their carefree attitude unexpectedly produces meaningful lyrics, even making their song “Cigarette Daydreams” a little anthem of mine when I was 17, due to its lyric “you were only seventeen / so sweet, with a mean streak.”
Formed: 2002 in Manchester, England
Debut Album: The 1975, 2013
What Makes Them Special: Oh, The 1975…were you even an edgy/alternative teenage girl in 2013 if you didn’t have a tumblr account and obsess over The 1975? Although their quick popularity among young girls when their debut album came out led many to believe they were an overrated one hit wonder, their second album proved otherwise. Their sophomore album, I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it, came out in 2016. Now those young girls who were first infatuated with hits like “Robbers” and “Chocolate” are three years older and, unsurprisingly, still love the band and their music, although they went through a complete change of style. I happily include myself in the group of fans still incredibly pleased with their music. The 1975’s dedication to their aesthetic, whether it be black and colorless or pink and pastel, is something anyone can admire, regardless of musical preference. Their music, of course, with its individuality and Matty Healy’s irreplaceable vocals, adds an unforgettable element to The 1975. They are here to stay.
The Arctic Monkeys
Formed: 2002 in Sheffield, England
Debut Album: Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, 2005
What Makes Them Special: Another alternative rock band that made young girls feel edgy in 2013 with the release of their album AM, The Arctic Monkeys carry a mysterious bad boy vibe that is hard not to be intrigued by. 2013 not only brought an extreme style change to the band, with the lead singer Alex Turner trading in his long curly hair and flannel shirts for a slicked back look reminiscing on that of the 1950s and a leather jacket, but also commercial success. It was impossible to turn on an alt. rock radio station in 2013 without hearing “Do I Wanna Know” at least once every hour. Their chilled out and mesmerizing lyrics and sound left me hooked from the first time I heard them. Although they haven’t released anything since AM, Alex Turner’s other band The Last Shadow Puppets have produced enough music to keep Arctic Monkeys fans happy. However, I’m still eagerly awaiting the follow-up to AM.
Formed: 2007 in Leeds, England
Debut Album: An Awesome Wave, 2012
What Makes Them Special: As with my past bands mentioned, alt-J has dominated the alt. rock radio stations again and again. The average person can most likely sing along to songs like “Breezeblocks” and “Left Hand Free” without even completely acknowledging who alt-J is. The vocals of Joe Newman, the lead singer, was the first thing to draw me in. There is no way to describe his distinctive way of singing other than simply enthralling. The vocals combined with their endless use of unique instruments to create a hypnotizing overall sound keeps me returning to their discography. Their songs they have made about films, like “Matilda” for Leon: The Professional give the band a whole new depth.
Kings of Leon
Formed: 1999 in Nashville, Tennessee
Debut Album: Youth & Young Manhood, 2003
What Makes Them Special: I oddly fell in love Kings of Leon when I went to their concert in 2014 for one of my favorite bands, Young the Giant, who was opening for them (and sadly did not make it onto this list). Although I obviously enjoyed Young the Giant’s set, I was transfixed on Kings of Leon. Caleb Followill’s deep voice cascading into the night air mixed with the everlasting guitar solos completely stole me away. I feel like its appropriate to also add that it starting storming during the outdoor concert, yet I chose to stand out in the cold September rain to watch the entirety of Kings of Leon’s set. Kings of Leon obviously hold classic rock close to them as an influence, and it shows in their authentic sound. And, of course, everyone knows their song “Use Somebody.”
Formed: 2004 in Brighton, England
Debut Album: Inside In/Inside Out, 2003
What Makes Them Special: A band named after a David Bowie song, how could I not love them? The Kooks not only named their band after a song from one of the greatest musicians of the past, but they also obviously hold the music of the past, especially the 60s and 70s, as influences. Their endless drum and guitar solos paired with Luke Pritchard’s rockstar-quality vocals leave me feeling as if I had just heard a song from The Kinks, or maybe even The Stones. I find myself continually returning to their debut album due to the fact that I have yet to find a single song on it I do not love. I have enjoyed their music since their debut, but to me nothing will compare to Inside In/Inside Out; it may even be my favorite album of all the bands I mention on this list.
Rainbow Kitten Surprise
Formed: 2013 in Boone, North Carolina
Debut Album: RKS, 2013
What Makes Them Special: Created at my future home of Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, Rainbow Kitten Surprise are a truly unforgettable band. Their creative name is not the only element that make RKS a special band. The lead singer Sam Melo’s deep voice singing about everything from lost love to a society falling apart give RKS a unique edge.
Formed: 2005 in Denver, Colorado
Debut Album: The Lumineers, 2012
What Makes Them Special: Keeping to the reoccurring themes of this list, I discovered and fell in love with The Lumineers in middle school (8th grade to be exact) and they have also repeatedly dominated alt. rock radio stations. “Ho Hey” was their first big hit, and chances are anyone can sing along to the chorus. Their debut album as a whole, with its overall theme based in the 50s and 60s, served as backdrop to time as a fourteen-year-old. My younger self simply couldn’t resist songs alluding to John F. Kennedy and authentic hippies, two things I still find myself obsessed with. Specifically, the song “Flowers in Your Hair” spoke to me while I attempted to figure out who I was. My high hopes for their sophomore album Cleopatra were not wasted, as the album did just as well as their debut. In turn, it seemed to be the perfect soundtrack for my junior year of high school as I struggled with the ever-pressing pressures of deciding what to do with my life. I am currently impatiently awaiting their third album and its endless possibilities as background music to my life.
Formed: 2006 in New York City
Debut Album: Vampire Weekend, 2008
What Makes Them Special: Yet another band I discovered and loved in middle school (I really did go through quite the musical awakening), Vampire Weekend has remained one of my favorite bands ever since I discovered their enthralling, and somewhat depressing, tune “Hannah Hunt.” Their lead singer, Ezra Koenig, was actually an English teacher until 2007, when the band received a record deal. His teaching background explains the profound and somewhat haunting lyrics hidden within Vampire Weekend’s songs. To this day, any Vampire Weekend song transports me to the streets of New York City in the early 1960s; I’m wearing oxford shoes and my hair is in loose curls complimenting my delicate dress and, of course, Vampire Weekend is playing indefinitely from unseen speakers.
Music isn’t the way it was forty years ago. It isn’t even the same as it was ten years ago, or even one year ago. It is always changing, evolving. Change can be frightening because we are scared to miss what we love and have become accustomed to, but it is also exciting. Although music appears “worse” than it was years ago, if anyone searches hard enough, there are still hardworking and deserving bands out there trying to keep the true spirit of music, specifically rock ‘n’ roll, alive.