In its early years in the mid-twentieth century, rock music faced a lot of backlash due to its nature of inclusivity and breaking down of racial barriers. It served as a massive economic opportunity for performers of color, with artists like Chuck Berry and Little Richard marching to the forefront of the national conscience and opening up a door into a whole new world of minority voices. Sadly, this year, we lost Chuck Berry, leaving behind an unparalleled legacy of kickass dance moves and damn good guitar licks.
However, as the saying goes: When one door closes, another one opens. As such, in 2017, we found ourselves incredibly lucky to have so many minority voices present in the sphere of rock music during a year where they were most needed. In 2017, new albums from — and just the existence of — bands like Downtown Boys exist as an inherent protest to the policies of the current presidential administration, making these releases more than just good music, but also imperative parts of the national dialogue.
From the first days of the year, it was clear that rock music was going to have a strong outing over the twelve months, boasting releases from legends like Robert Plant to veteran indie rockers like The World Is… and Slowdive to relative newcomers like Vagabon and Australia’s Smith Street Band.
Throughout the year, some bands prospered, while others would fall, making 2017 simultaneously one of the most promising, horrifying, and constantly emotional years of recent memory. So here you have ’em: the best rock albums of 2017.
Editor’s note: The point of more extensive genre lists is to help give shine to albums that wouldn’t make it into the overall best albums list. So, we’ve opted to leave the albums that appeared on the overall best list off the genre-specific lists. After all, the point of these lists is to examine the way music has changed or moved throughout the year, and our year-end framework will continue to reflect that impetus. Though it is meant to highlight the best work in this genre, hopefully, you can also make some discoveries through this list.
20. Robert Plant, Carry Fire
Carry Fire is one of the best solo offerings of Robert Plant’s career, and that really is saying something. While so many of his ’60 and ‘70s rock contemporaries have taken up full-time duties curating their own back catalogs, Plant has continued to push forward as an artist. Carry Fire is a project that features some of the most engaged writing he’s committed to tape in quite some time.
He looks outward on the world as it exists in this moment like on “Carvin Up The World Again…A Wall And Not A Fence”, and inward within himself, plumbing his own feelings for stunners like “Dance With You Tonight.” The only direction you won’t catch is his gaze is back over his shoulder. Even more impressive is the way he deploys his voice. That iconic lion’s roar has softened across the span of decades into a smoky, croon that sounds downright otherworldly on the album’s closing track “Heaven Sent.”–Corbin Reiff
19. Converge, The Dusk In Us
Earlier this year I tagged along with a new friend at a festival to see a certain iconic punk band play live at a festival in Canada. According to my friend, a live set from the Boston band, called Converge, was a rare enough occurrence to merit him traveling all the way from Europe to this event. With this kind of co-sign, I was expecting a remarkable show from the heavy, metalcore group, even if that isn’t the kind of genre I naturally find myself drawn to. But even my exceedingly high expectations couldn’t prepare me for the energy this band summoned live.
Frontman Jacob Bannon screams and writhes at the front of the stage, belting the lyrics like they’re final religious koan that will save him from imminent disaster. Upon leaving the show, I wondered if I’d ever feel the band’s energy in the same way again. Then, I learned that they were releasing their first new record in years, The Dusk In Us.
While no recorded album can ever quite capture the feeling of a live show, listening to this new collection of material — the first Converge record I’ve really spent time with — has continually transported me back to the fire of that initial encounter. It may not be changing the face of rock as we know it, but it does prove the mettle of this post-hardcore crew, who have been releasing music for almost twenty-five years and still put out one of 2017’s best rock records.–Caitlin White
18. The Killers, Wonderful, Wonderful
A few months ago, The Killers attested that there aren’t any huge indie rock bands today — you know, like The Killers — because they just aren’t good enough. The question now is: On their fifth album and first since 2012, are they good enough?
“Run For Cover” is a propulsive rock tune that shows the band sounding as urgent and excited as ever. “The Man” is an unexpectedly funky and joyous outing. The title track is a massive, booming anthem. The problem with placing any new Killers output in the context of their own history is just that: Their own history. Hot Fuss was such a defining and amazing record of its era that it’s basically impossible to take off the rose-tinted glasses while looking back at it. That said, Wonderful, Wonderful checks off all the boxes and proves itself to be a worthy addition to the band’s discography.–Derrick Rossignol
17. Manchester Orchestra, A Black Mile To The Surface
There may not be a more dedicated fan base in indie rock than that of Manchester Orchestra, and it’s easy to see why. The solid songwriting and idiosyncratic vocals of frontman Andy Hull have been an indie mainstay for years now — not to mention he’s the only original member of the band left on A Black Mile To The Surface.
He remains a poetic storyteller on tracks like “The Alien,” which begins with chill-inducing lyrics about ignoring your problems, “The lights were low enough, you guessed / You swapped your conscience with your father’s medication / Limped from Rome to Lawrenceville / And on the way wrote out a self-made declaration.” From there, the tale evolves into one of car crashes, love, and more drama than you’d have any right to expect from an indie rock track… unless you’re talking about Manchester Orchestra, that is.–D.R.
16. The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die, Always Foreign
When Donald Trump was elected, many thought that, at the very least, the results of the election would see an outpouring of good punk music. As it would turn out, sure, there were a few pointedly anti-Trump records, but for the most part the musical landscape did not shift under the new administration. That said, The World Is’ Always Foreign is an exception. With this record, the band had a story to tell, and they made it loud and clear with songs protesting the racist and classist policies of the Trump administration and the inherent and overbearing greed of a capitalistic society.
The record’s strongest lyrical moments come in its most instrumentally subdued, with lyrics like, “If there is a hell, it’s ready and waiting for you,” marking a transition in the track “Faker” from quiet reflection into a full-band onslaught. “Dillon And Her Son” is one of the shortest tracks on the record, but also one of the most direct and effective, combining a hammering drum beat with synth lines and wonderful harmonized vocals. The World Is has always been an instrumentally inventive band, and Always Foreign sees them at their best and most refined, making it one of the most impressive rock releases of the year.–Zac Gelfand