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20 great bands to shake up the 2020s

20 Bands for 2020
(Image credit: Future)

Another decade has arrived, and with it another round of speculation regarding the music that’ll make an impression over the next ten years. If we were to hedge our own bets based on the most-streamed artists of 2019 – a list topped by Ed Sheeran and Ariana Grande, and utterly dominated by pop and urban music – we’d probably have to concede that rock’n’roll is... well, possibly fucked.

But of course lists like these only tell part of the story, and they certainly don’t fully account for a world that contains so many different listeners, with completely different listening habits and levels of engagement. And if we’re talking about the sort of bands we like – the bands we think you like – things don’t look so shabby. These guys are part of the new wave of groups and artists playing first-rate rock (of various different shades), and we reckon they have a good chance of tapping into the zeitgeist over the next decade. 

With the likes of The Struts and Greta Van Fleet already blazing the trail – and Massive Wagons proving that great tunes and a passionate grassroots following can get you a Top 20 album – the resurgence is well underway. So let’s dive into the next phase.

Dirty Honey

Dirty Honey

(Image credit: Dirty Honey)

This LA-based group play “new old-fashioned rock’n’roll”; think of a beefier Black Crowes fronted by the lovechild of Axl Rose and Steven Tyler, and you’re in the right ballpark. Nice ballpark eh?

In their two years as a band they’ve opened for Guns N’ Roses, The Who and Slash, and become the first unsigned band to top Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Songs chart – with the ace When I’m Gone. Their self-titled EP is full of more retro-but-fresh belters like this, and this year they’re planning to come to this side of the pond, so watch this space.

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John (TimesTwo)

John (TimesTwo)

(Image credit: Pets Care Records)

If you liked the intelligent, infectious racket of Idles – but also like your metal on the roaring, doomy side – you’ll love this duo from Crystal Palace, London. So-called literally because they consist of two guys named John, their description of themselves (“four arms, four legs, two heads, wood, metal and plastic”) gives a good idea of the bullshit-free rawness at work here. 

But it doesn’t really do justice to the mix of classic punk, jagged alt.rock and menacing metallic sensibilities at work on album Out Here On The Fringes. There’s a cinematic atmosphere in places too; like the title track’s distorted refrain of ‘the bodies lined up, the bodies lined up'. It’s chilling, in a good way.

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Yola

Yola

(Image credit: Easy Eye Sound)

When we spoke to Rival Sons singer Jay Buchanan last year, he singled out this lady from a small town outside... erm, Bristol as his favourite singer of the moment. Listening to her soulful, rootsy Americana debut Walk Through Fire (which has seen her scoop up four Grammy nominations, and go on tour with Greta Van Fleet). It’s not been easy to get to the point. 

Having grown up “banned” from making music, she ended up homeless on the streets of London. Somehow this didn’t stop her launching a songwriting career, briefly joining Massive Attack and fronting the excellent Phantom Limb before going solo. Expect spine-tingling soul vocals, pedal-steel and fiddles with a modern twist – and, crucially, gorgeous songs.

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The Glorious Sons

The Glorious Sons

(Image credit: Gavin Smith)

We wanted to include these Canadians after seeing them at London's Scala last year. On their new album A War On Everything they’re assuredly slick and anthemic, but this was a proper rock show; the kind that tantalisingly threatens to fall off the rails without ever actually doing so. 

Frontman Brett Emmons, sweet and softly spoken offstage, hurled himself across the stage and into the front row like a young Axl Rose crossbred with Kurt Cobain. The mostly young-ish crowd chanted along to choruses as if they were stadium classics. And they weren't even headlining.

This is the kind of shit that ought to be paired with the stages and clientele currently monopolised by the Coldplays of this world.

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Larkin Poe

Larkin Poe

(Image credit: Tricki-Woo Records)

Lzzy Hale drew our attention to Larkin Poe, and we’re glad she did because these guys are doing interesting – not to mention fun – things with the blues. The sister duo are originally from Georgia but based in Nashville, older sister Megan plays dobro and lap steel, Rebecca sings and plays guitar (she also happens to be married to Tyler Bryant; yes, as in ‘& The Shakedown’). 

They come from a classical and folk background but together they play an amped-up fusion of delta blues and filthy, garagey rock’n’roll. More recently they’ve been nominated for a Grammy, and announced a UK/EU tour for 2020.

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The Underground Thieves

The Underground Thieves

(Image credit: The Underground Thieves)

Since the dissolution of his former band Silvertide, guitarist/songwriter/producer Nick Perri has kept busy - most recently finding a sweet spot with The Underground Thieves. You'll find plenty of Black Keys and Rival Sons here (as well as your classic Led Zeppelins, Deep Purples etc), all perked up with a truckload of attitude and dexterous-yet-delicious bluesy lead guitar.

Perri has also played with Shinedown, Perry Farrell and Matt Sorum, so he clearly knows what he's doing, but The Underground Thieves feels like a project that takes everything he's learned and packs it into one luminescent, enormously ambitious  project that's defiantly his own.  

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The Fallen State

The Fallen State

(Image credit: The Fallen State)

This fivesome are flying the flag for the UK-grown NWOCR (New Wave Of Classic Rock), but their outreach could soon be far more global. Having already opened for the likes of Halestorm, Tremonti, Black Stone Cherry and 3 Doors Down (as well as headlining Ramblin Man Fair’s Rising Stage), they’ve developed a hefty, hard-hitting modern rock sound that makes a lot of sense in arenas – without sacrificing warmth and spark. If you enjoy Alter Bridge, Shinedown, BSC and the like, you’ll love these guys.

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Joyous Wolf

Joyous Wolf

(Image credit: Jimmy Fontaine)

More weapons-grade classic rock’n’roll from the West Coast now – this time from Orange County, Southern California. Signed to Roadrunner records, Joyous Wolf cherry-pick from the best bits of 70s and 90s rock and bluesy metal (Creedence, Soundgarden, Led Zeppelin...) and mix it up with their own swaggering charisma and confidence, propelled by fireball frontman Nick Reese. 

They first popped up on our radar last year with dirty, fuzzy single Sleep Weep Stomp, as well as a brilliant cover of Mountain’s Mississippi Queen, before upping their game with latest EP Place In Time.

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The Hu

The Hu

(Image credit: Eleven Seven Music)

If you’ve already checked out the multi-million-viewed Youtube videos for Wolf Totem and Yuve Yuve Yu, you’ll know what these striking Mongolian mavericks are all about. If you’re new to them, the main thing worth knowing is that The Hu blend the traditional music of their homeland (complete with horsehead fiddle and Mongolian throat-singing) with hooky western rock/metal sensibilities. 

"It’ll never catch on!" you might say. Well, it already has - as the aforementioned Youtube success, massive worldwide tours and recent inclusion in a Star Wars video game suggests.

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Crown Lands

Crown Lands

(Image credit: Travis Shinn Photography)

Just look at that hair! Isn’t it magnificent?! Obviously this isn’t the only reason our eyes were drawn to this duo from Oshawa, Ontario, but you can’t not mention it.

That aside, Crown Lands make the sort of opulent, groovy noise Zeppelin might have made if they’d jammed with Rush and Jack White (they’ve supported White previously). It’s not your standard guitarist/singer n’ drummer twosome either; Cody Bowles plays drums and sings, while guitarist Kevin Comeau also plays keyboards with his feet. And with a keen eye for stylish videos and shoot concepts to boot, they’re springboarding from the tones set by the likes of Rival Sons and Wolfmother.

Catch ‘em at this year’s Ramblin’ Man Fair.

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Those Damn Crows

Those Damn Crowes

(Image credit: Earache Records)

The Welsh firebrands have upped their game on new album Point Of No Return (set for release in February 2020), bringing in Colin Richardson (Bullet For My Valentine, Machine Head, Fear Factory, Sepultura) and Andy Sneap (Judas Priest, Trivium, Killswitch Engage, Opeth, Megadeth) to perform production duties and polish the songs to a professional sheen. 

The influential NWOCR Facebook Group voted Those Damn Crows the best live band of 2019, and you can see why: big choruses, the kind of racing urgency that's given the Foo Fighters a career, and, in singer Shane Greenhall, an enticing mix of clout and charisma. 

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Quaker City Night Hawks

Quaker City Night Hawks

(Image credit: Lightning Rod Records)

Texan rockers QCNH spent much of 2017 gathering new fans as special guests of Blackberry Smoke, a band who know a thing or two about picking good support acts. So by the time they ended up in London at the back end of last year to headline Colours Hoxton, the band already had an audience in place, ready and willing to party. And party they certainly did. 

With the funk of ZZ Top allied to some monster riffs and a mischievous line in comedy patter ("Thanks for buying tickets - we're going to spend all the money on drugs!"), it was one of those shows where you just know you're seeing a band who'll go on to play much bigger venues. Great hats, too.  

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Briston Maroney

Briston Maroney

(Image credit: Lexie_Alley)

Briston Maroney's CV so far might not be typical for an upcoming rock'n'roller – he was a semi-finalist on American Idol at the age of 16, and went on to front bluegrass  act Subtle Clutch – but his output since screams potential. Three EPs in, he writes beautiful, grown-up alt-rock songs performed with a modern pop voice (Taylor Swift loves him, apparently).

He'd been through rehab before he was old enough to drink and moved around the US before settling in Nashville, and his songs reflect a life that's taken in much more than is usual for someone of such tender years. Style-wise, it all sits somewhere between Big Star, Neil Young and the more vulnerable end of The Replacements, but Briston's a huge talent in his own right and those Spotify streaming numbers suggest people are cottoning on. 

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Nolan Potter's Nightmare Band

Nolan Potter's Nightmare Band

(Image credit: Castle Face Records)

Progressive rock is screaming out for a band to bring a young audience to the genre, and this Austin, TX ensemble might be the ones to do the trick. They sound like they're rooted in the more spiritual side of '70s prog and probably listen to modern jazz maestro Kamasi Washington, but it's not music that's in love with its own smarts, nor it is music designed to bewilder the non-believer.  

Released by Castle Face Records (owned by Thee Oh Sees founder John Dwyer), debut album Nightmare Forever is a wild ride, the kind of thing King Gizzard And The Wizard Lizard might come up with if someone instructed them to make a prog album. It's part Pink Floyd, part Mahavishnu Orchestra, part take-it-to-the-church transcendence, all fun and undoubtedly cool. Oh yeah, and there's lots of flute. Hipster prog, anyone?  

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Amyl And The Sniffers

Amyl And The Sniffers

(Image credit: Jamie Wdziekonski)

Like a juvenile punk outfit with everyone's favourite bratty kid sister out front, Amyl And The Sniffers are snotty in exactly the way Aussie punk acts are meant to be, adrenalised and wild and utterly without polish. They're trouble, and they know it. 

For all the beer'n'spit-soaked perfection of the image, The Sniffers' real trump card is singer Amy Taylor, whose gift for a memorable chorus is second only to her extraordinary onstage charisma. She's a true force of nature, and while the band's self-titled debut album may not quite have lived up to the hype, they have the momentum – and the audience goodwill – to ensure that the future's looking bright. 

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Dinosaur Pile-Up

Dinosaur Pile-Up

(Image credit: Parlophone Records)

After kicking around for the best part of a decade without threatening the charts with their lively brand of melodic grunge, Dinosaur Pile-Up suddenly find themselves with heavyweight management, a major record label deal, and an unexpected new lease of life. 

Last year's Celebrity Mansions album was the first fruit of the new setup – single Back Foot was one of the songs of 2019 – and while it's completely out-of-step with much of anything else that's going on, it's slick, it's stuffed with giant songs, and it's more fun than a clown car demolition derby. On ice. Think grunge is meant to be miserable? Think again. 

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Bishop Gunn

Bishop Gunn

(Image credit: Anthony Scarlati)

Hailing from Natchez, Mississippi, Bishop Gunn are yet another band to pick up the next-big-band-in-southern-rock baton and run with it. Debut album Natchez has given them an expanding fan base across the States and brought them support gigs with names like Slash and The Struts. 

Live, they boil with confidence. Frontman Travis McCready is clearly a star, with a voice that can do soulful and sweet, and any band who can casually cover Led Zeppelin and The Beatles in the same set (What Is and What Should Never Be and Hey Jude, since you ask), must be pretty sure of their own material. 

It's not unwarranted: Anything You Want would fit on a Lynyrd Skynyrd best-of and Shine could be a lost Otis Redding song, while most bands get through their careers without writing anything as striking as the spooky, backwoods gospel of Alabama.   

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Sleep Token

Sleep Token frontman Vessel

(Image credit: Spinefarm Records)

One possible answer to the question, "What's rock music going to look like in the future?", the mysterious Sleep Token started drip-feeding their debut album Sundowning last summer, finally releasing the full package in November. By that time they'd sold out London's Underworld (the band's upcoming date at the much larger Islington Assembly Hall date sold out in minutes), but one question still remains: what the hell is going on?

With a masked, anonymous singer, the band don't do interviews, and their music raises more questions than it answers. The songs are informed by the the kind of glitch electronica favoured by pop stars James Blake and Sam Smith (there's even a conspiracy theory that Vessel – the band's mysterious frontman – is literally Sam Smith in disguise), with plenty of auto-tune cloaking the vocals. The difference comes with the crushing, djent-like riffs that drop in to bolster the sound. Either way, the band's genuinely emotional songs have given them a rabid, fully committed fanbase. 

Confused? We suspect that's very much the idea.      

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Church Of The Cosmic Skull

Church Of The Cosmic Skull

(Image credit: Church Of The Cosmic Skull)

For a brief moment in 2017 it looked like Nottingham rockers Church Of The Cosmic Skull might be that year's next big thing, but we're still convinced it could happen. Their image is brilliant. Dressed all in white, like some kind of Midlands-based doomsday cult, you could be forgiven for thinking they all live together, fornicating gleefully and sacrificing small animals, and hell, perhaps they do. 

They also communicate brilliantly, as anyone who's completed Phase 1 of The Psychic Ascension To Humanity can attest (you'll need to pre-order third album Everybody's Going To Die to figure out what that means). And in a world where marketing matters, this matters.  

In the past they've been somewhat stymied by lo-fi production, but the new album is lovely, marking a spot somewhere near the point where The Beatles collide with Thin Lizzy colliding with Queen colliding with Queens Of The Stone Age colliding with Jump-era Van Halen colliding with something dark and mysterious yet also bright and soothing. They're difficult to describe, clearly.    

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Fantastic Negrito

Fantastic Negrito

(Image credit: Cooking Vinyl)

The last time we saw Fantastic Negrito live he managed to break up a fight in the audience using the power of song, literally getting into the protagonists' faces to sing to them about the ultimate futility of their combat. In anyone else's hands this approach would be a recipe for humiliation, but Negrito – Xavier Dphrepaulezz to his parents – leaks charisma from every pore, and he made it look like the most natural thing in the world.

Two albums in, the former drug dealer, farmer and coma survivor is on a one-man mission to resuscitate the blues, turning it into a 21st Century artform informed as much by West Coast hip-hop as it is by the traditional music of the Mississippi Delta. It's brilliantly soulful, wildly political, surprisingly funny, and sexy as fuck.     

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