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. 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’s meant to highlight the best work in the genre, hopefully, you can also make some discoveries through this list.
While rock’s presence in the pop sphere has been diminished over the past several years, that doesn’t so much reflect on the strength at the genre. Trends change, things go in and out of style, and rock will have its day in the sun again. But being pushed back to the fringes is also proving to help rock evolve, where commercial expectations are tapered and bands are given more time to hone their craft before they are thrown into the public eye. That said, some rock music did manage to push its way into larger discussions, be it Greta Van Fleet’s retro debut album, Jack White’s boundary-pushing latest, or the continued ascent of Courtney Barnett to the songwriting throne.
For the most part, our favorite rock music from 2018 are albums that point towards its bright future. Bands like Hop Along and Speedy Ortiz show that some of the most exciting rock craftmanship is originating in the DIY scene, while people like Jeff Rosenstock and Idles are giving rock its much-needed punk attitude in 2018. Deafheaven and Turnstile found greatness in heavy blasts, while Rolling Blackout Coastal Fever and Meg Myers focused more on vibes and nuance. So turn it up loud and blast the pain away with these 20 must-hear rock albums.
20. Hop Along, Bark Your Head Off, Dog
This Philadelphia punk band broke through with critics and fans on 2015’s Painted Shut. Instead of simply repeating that album’s chunky, riff-centric sound, Hop Along decided to get ambitious, spending time in the studio in order to craft a deeper, more manicured sound that nodded to some of bandleader Frances Quinlan’s formative influences, including Conor Oberst and Joni Mitchell. The result is a record that comes across more as a singer-songwriter record than anything conventionally punk, with string sections and layered instrumentation teasing out standout tracks like “How You Got Your Limp” and “One That Suits Me” in new, thoughtful directions.–Steven Hyden
19. Greta Van Fleet, Anthem Of The Peaceful Army
If there’s one thing rock could use more of in 2019, it’s extremely polarizing, wildly popular and brazenly divisive bands. While rock used to be the epicenter of drama and flame in the music world, it’s lately been a quiet, polite subgenre in the larger music world, letting rappers and hip-hop step into the spotlight when it comes to controversy. Cue Greta Van Fleet, the Led Zeppelin-aping, streaming algorithm-dominating, outrageous outfit-wearing rockstars who took 2018 by storm with their much-discussed, oft-hated and fiercely beloved record, Anthem Of The Peaceful Army. Aside from the songs themselves, which openly draw on rock’s rich history and do more than just pay homage to the spirit of Robert Plant, The Band, and Dylan, this band deserves a place on our list simply because it forced people to talk about rock in a way they rarely have in the last decade — like it might actually have the power to piss people off. And when a rock band does that, then they’re unequivocally doing something right in my book.–Caitlin White
18. Meg Myers, Take Me To The Disco
When Los Angeles resident Meg Myers listened to her completed sophomore album, Take Me To The Disco, months after she had finished it, she was moved to tears, realizing only then what she’d actually been writing about. That’s what trauma can do to someone, where you push pain so far down, you don’t even recognize it when it bubbles to the surface. But lucky for her fans, Myers’ own personal trials resulted in a varied album that toys with genre. The alt-rock throwback of “Numb” is the clear standout, but she also delves into electronic textures and lush orchestration throughout, crafting a record that places her distinct point of view and powerful voice as the nucleus holding everything together. Positive and negative charges cancel each other out. “You can’t help the world unless you are grounded and in a good place,” she told me in an interview earlier this year. On Take Me To The Disco, Myers is ready to extend out that helping hand.–Philip Cosores
17. Young Jesus, The Whole Thing Is Just There
Following the re-release of their standout 2017 record S/T earlier this year, post-punk group Young Jesus shared The Whole Thing Is Just There, another album of hard-edged and pioneering rock music, something that’s becoming more and more novel these days. If the band members feel like there’s anything holding them back at all, it doesn’t show on the album, on which they do whatever the hell they want. Sometimes slowcore and sometimes hardcore, the album goes places, especially on the 20-minute album closer “Gulf.”–Derrick Rossignol
16. Grapetooth, Grapetooth
The history of the indie rock side-project is rich with past successes, a place where songwriters and musicians can free themselves from expectations and explore whatever weird ideas they have floating around. But for Twin Peaks’ Clay Frankel, calling Grapetooth merely a side-project feels like it doesn’t quite capture the spirit with which he and Chris Bailoni throw themselves into their music. Rather than the thrashing garage rock of his main band, Grapetooth is more like The Strokes with synths, feverish in its intensity and generous with its melodic leanings. A song like “Violent” quickly turns into an anthem wrapped around a pretty straightforward cadence, performed with the immediacy of a pair that believes in rock music’s continued vitality. Elsewhere “Hangover Sq.” finds new life in the aesthetic of the Psychedelic Furs and while “Imagine On” delves deep into their electronic bag of tricks for a bit of indie pop bliss. Albums like this are not meant to be focused, but Grapetooth shows that an overwhelming moment of inspiration can itself be the tie that binds. It’s enough to want these guys to quit their dayjobs.–P.C.
15. Antarctigo Vespucci, Love In The Time Of Email
Jeff Rosenstock and Chris Farren are two of the nicest, funniest, and most down-to-earth dudes in rock today. They would probably be the last people to describe their joint side project Antarctigo Vespucci as a “supergroup.” But there’s no denying that Rosenstock and Farren somehow become greater than the sums of their parts when paired together. Or, if not greater, at least different — Farren’s sugar-fueled punk songs take a weirder and more abrasive turn in collaboration with Rosenstock, who feels liberated to unleash his latent pop mastermind side on the thoroughly giddy Love in the Time of Email.–S.H.
14. The Dirty Nil, Master Volume
These snarky, hard-rocking Canadians claim Nirvana and The Who as primary influences, and you can hear how they found the middle ground between those bands on the thrilling Master Volume. From the former, they take noise, irreverence, and attitude; from the latter, they take more noise, more irreverence, more attitude, and an unapologetic love of bombast for bombast’s stake. In their home country, The Dirty Nil have inched toward respectability, winning a Juno (Canada’s version of the Grammy) for Breakthrough Group of the Year in 2017. (Once again, Canada proves that it rocks way harder than we do in America.) But Master Volume betrays no desire to move further into the mainstream, or willingness to cater to the needs of the pop-music machine. If anything, The Dirty Nil is even louder and snottier this time around, leaning hard on drunken guitar solos and Luke Bentham’s charmingly over-the-top arena-rock vocals.–S.H.
13. Cloud Nothings, Last Building Burning
For the better part of this decade, Dylan Baldi and Cloud Nothings have been a tremendously consistent force in the realm of thrashing punk-infused rock, busting out raucous and breakneck album after raucous and breakneck album. On Last Building Burning, which Baldi previously told Uproxx, has all the keystones of a Cloud Nothings classic: Plenty of noise, but with room to breathe, too. That’s best exemplified by “Dissolution,” a ten-minute epic that spends as much time exploding as it does shaking the bottle, and to great effect.–D.R.
12. Jack White, Boarding House Reach
When so few of the classic rock star mold still exist, Jack White made an album that reveled in all the excesses that people in his position can indulge. Boarding House Reach features a glammy bit of positivity balladeering in “Connected By Love,” some genuine JW bars on “Ice Station Blues,” and robot-fronted, mostly instrumental meandering on “Get In The Mind Shaft.” It’s all wild and messy and brazen, but also, as our own Steven Hyden points out, it’s actually a lot of fun, too. White strips away any semblance of a script and sounds like he’s enjoying himself more than ever, to the point that when his experiments click with his talents as a rock and roll conquistador, as on “Over And Over And Over,” it places him properly as a true original in a world that has fewer and fewer fitting that bill.–P.C.
11. Thunderpussy, Thunderpussy
Maybe I’m biased because I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, but it seems like bands from Seattle have always had a better handle on what makes a great rock song or album than those from other places. And maybe, I’m also biased in favor of Thunderpussy because they gave themselves such a swaggering, effortlessly great band name. In a world of weird SEO scrambles and lengthy, confusing inside jokes, Thunderpussy lays a claim on feminist power by subverting the very language rock bands of old would’ve used to crudely discuss female groupies. These four female rockers are anything but groupies on their self-titled debut, delivering searing, straightforward rock and roll without any frills or fuss. “Speed Queen” and “Velvet Noose” both harness age-old guitar melodies and outfit them with angry, rebellious narratives that will feel familiar to any girl who grew up in America, and probably, particularly to those who were raised in the beautiful PNW.–C.W.
10. King Tuff, The Other
Since his early days pledging allegiance to a “Sun Medallion” on 2008’s Was Dead, King Tuff has been a psych-folk icon for a certain kind of disenchanted dreamer. A decade into his career, Kyle Thomas is still inspiring outsiders with unrelenting hearts, and his beautiful sleeper album The Other was quietly waging a war on apathy for the dedicated fanbase who faithfully sought it out. Aside from the introspective, aching title track, Tuff stretches his wings on songs like “Psycho Star” and “No Man’s Land,” noodling through an itchy, upbeat ode to earth’s bizarreness on the former, and construction a gorgeous psychedelic jammer that crawls along at a snail’s pace without losing an ounce of fascination on the latter. “The universe is probably an illusion / But isn’t it so beautifully bizarre?” Tuff asks on “Psycho Star,” and the same could be said about him. The Other is a perfect album for finding inspiration deep in your own ennui, and feeling gratitude for a planet that is, admittedly, weird as f*ck.–C.W.
9. Turnstile, Time & Space
Research suggests it takes less than a second to form a first impression. Fortunately, Turnstile doesn’t need much longer than that to wow on their latest, Time & Space. The Baltimore experimental hardcore group has more songs under two minutes long than most bands do, and they come out of the gate with a runaway bus-worth of force on album opener “Real Thing.” Even in the limited time that Turnstile songs have to make something happen, something great always does, and it’s always intense as all hell.–D.R.
8. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, Hope Downs
This Australian outfit took their time before finally recording their debut album, Hope Downs, putting out two well-received EPs in 2015 and 2017 while carefully writing an airtight collection of jangle-pop numbers. The joy of Hope Downs is that it doesn’t sound labored over, but rather like a group of friends who just happened to plug in and bash out an energetic set over the course of 35 minutes. While RBCF’s formula is fairly straightforward (sparkling guitars, zippy basslines, relentless drumbeats that never fall below a brisk jogger’s pace), it’s remarkable how much they’re able to accomplish in that framework. The band’s trio of songwriters — singer/guitarists Tom Russo, Fran Keaney, and Joe White — are similarly witty and hooks-obsessed, and they worked with bassist Joe Russo, Tom’s little brother, and drummer Marcel Tussie on insistent highlights like “An Air Conditioned Man” and “Talking Straight,” until they were just right.–S.H.
7. Courtney Barnett, Tell Me How You Really Feel
Sometimes she sits and thinks, sometimes she releases f*cking perfect, brazen, jeering rock songs like “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your B*tch.” On what is technically only her second full-length album, Tell Me How You Really Feel, this sometimes lackasadiscal Australian rock star gives herself over to feelings in a way that might not have been as obvious when she was making chilled out stoner rock with her fellow mellow rockstar Kurt Vile on last year’s excellent join album, Lotta Sea Lice. Barnett only needs ten tracks to convey her feelings of anxiety, frustration, anger and with the world, deftly carving a place out for herself in the sometimes-crowded pack of indie stars who are gunning to make a name for themselves. But even when she’s being more open than ever before, Barnett always gives off the impression that if she was the only one who ever heard these songs, she’d be just as satisfied with them. That’s the best way to feel, even if I’m endlessly glad that we get to hear them, too.–C.W.
6. Restorations, LP5000
In the modern music industry, it’s harder than ever for the everyman to stay in the game. So it was uniquely inspirational to see the great Philadelphia punk band Restorations return with their first album in four years, LP5000. Like so many other indie bands in 2018, Restorations have to balance real-world concerns with the aspirational goal of creating music and putting it into the ether. You can hear those sorts of real-life struggles communicated plainly in frontman Jon Loudon’s Springsteen-esque growl, as well as the storytelling lyrics, which directly address the pressure of making a home and family amid the reality of an imploding middle class. Have I mentioned that this record also really rocks? As thoughtful as songs like “Nonbeliever” are, they also deliver the goods as blue collar, post-punk rave-ups in the style of Fugazi and Constantines.–S.H.
5. Deafheaven, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love
If you give Los Angeles-based post-metal trailblazers Deafheaven the time they ask of you, it’ll be worth your while. Their song runtimes are routinely upwards of seven minutes, and even though the songs on Ordinary Corrupt Human Love use up a lot of seconds, they don’t waste any of them. The post-metal group is led by the anthemic album opener “You Without End,” a soaring track that’s a comfortable entry into the album. From there, Deafheaven goes over mountains, through valleys, and into the eye of a hurricane for a journey that is devoid of lulls.–D.R.
4. Preoccupations, New Material
When Preoccupations formed out of the ashes of Women (and shed the controversy of their original moniker of Viet Cong), it wasn’t surprising to find their post-punk brutality fully-formed. They were a band that already knew their direction and how to effectively play with each other. But what wasn’t expected was for the group to keep improving, culminating with their best effort yet, New Material. Everything here is more streamlined and confident, or as I wrote in my review of the record, more “grounded and direct… It’s not the sound of a band watering itself down to make itself more palatable. It’s the sound of self-realization.” “Change is everything,” Matt Flegel sings near the end of album highlight “Espionage,” and the album lives up to that idea, showcasing the power of incremental evolution.–P.C.
3. Jeff Rosenstock, Post-
When this punk-rock hero dropped his third solo album on New Year’s Day, it felt like a blessing for 2018. Now, almost a full year later, it feels like prophecy. Few people in his scene have been as politically prescient as Jeff Rosenstock, who foreshadowed the darkness of the oncoming Trump years with his brilliant 2016 album WORRY. For the follow-up, Rosenstock dwelled less on his anxiety and more on the necessity of resistance, applying his talent for philosophical verses and uplifting choruses in the service of inspiring listeners to rail against the powers that be. In a year in which the deluge of bad news continued abated, hearing an indefatigable optimist like Rosenstock wail that “we’re not gonna let them win” felt like tonic.–S.H.
2. Speedy Ortiz, Twerp Verse
“I’m blessed with perfect pitch / I waste it on songs that you never even heard of,” sings Sadie Dupuis on “I’m Blessed,” one of the most flagrant tracks off her band Speedy Ortiz’s third full-length album, Twerp Verse for Carpark Records. The songs here do live up to their title, fighting for all their might to be heard, kiss offs for a year of pain and frustration that demanded unrelenting tenacity. Though the archives of Speedy material span numerous label outlets and outfits, Carpark is where Dupuis has chosen to house these “songs that you’ve never heard of” — the same ones that consistently shake the indie establishment to its core every single time she deigns to give us some more. Not just on “I’m Blessed,” but especially here, Dupuis deftly unpacks the complicated power dynamics between men and women, victim and inflictor of violence, friend and enemy, and some even more complicated sentiments that can’t and won’t fit into a neat binary. Along with arresting lyrics, Speedy casually delivered another album of angular, fizzy guitar melodies that recall ‘90s rock without ever aping it, making Twerp Verse as scrappy as its title, and certainly, a collection of songs that you’ll want to make sure you’ve heard of.–C.W.
1. Idles, Joy As An Act Of Resistance
The death of a child. Global immigration policies and attitudes. Brexit. These are not the things that you’d associate with joy, but that’s the dichotomy that makes Idles’ sophomore album such a triumph. You can hear rage, pain, and humor in frontman Joe Talbot’s delivery, spitting saliva and mouthfuls of beer as a form of punctuation. And in the lyrics, you find a band unafraid to take a stand, making it startlingly transparent where they stand on homophobia and racism. References to professional wrestlers come through with a wink, a song with the title of “Colossus” manages to live up to that grandeur, and on “June,” the grief of a parent that lost their child is confronted with clarity and grace. Many of the best albums showcase their inspiration effortlessly, but Joy As An Act Of Rebellion drips with the sweat of a difficult album to make, with the effort paying off in the form of a rock and roll classic.–P.C.
Some albums on this list are by Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music.