The 50 Best Active Rock Bands

A few years ago I had a conversation with a friend about how there were no longer any great rock bands.  I felt rock had reached it’s end crappy radio music was going to dominate the airwaves, but little did I know how wrong I was.   Ever since this conversation I’ve spent hours upon hours of listening to rock music through indie rock blogs, Pandora and more…

I’ve discovered a whole new world and haven’t really turned back to the radio music world since.  These are the results of my findings and my instinctive likings after some notes/rules:

*Rage Against the Machine is not listed since they have not come out with new music since 2000, though they are currently active they only really play about one show per year.

*REM broke up about a week ago, hence they are not on this list… the band has to be together and has to have plans to produce new music.

*Breaking Benjamin is on hiatus therefore they did not qualify for this list.


1. The Black Keys – The Black Keys have an arsenal of amazing tunes, how can you not love a two-man band that spits out killer bluesy alternative rock like the Keys.  The Black Keys started in Akron, Ohio back in 2001, but hit it big with the single “Tighten Up” and haven’t looked back since.  In 2009 the duo even did a hip-hop record with some of the most established artists in music. The Keys can do it all.

2. The Shins – The Shins sound like heaven and James Mercer is a genius.  The indie rock band from Albuquerque, New Mexico began way back in 1997.  They still have yet to hit the big time, though they have acquired a large cult following.  Watch this video and you will automatically become a fan… watch part II as well.

3. Arcade Fire – I was just as shocked as you when Arcade Fire won album of the year at the Grammys, though deep down we all knew they deserved it.  Arcade Fire is an indie rock band from Montreal, Canada.  The large eight-person band creates a wide variety of sounds, but the majority of them are intoxicating.  ‘Wake Up’ and listen to one of the most popular bands in the world.

4. Red Hot Chili Peppers – The Chili Peppers looked to be finished when John Frusciante left the band and in essence they kind of are, but their old stuff is so good they are still high on the list.  The Funk Rock band from LA formed all the way back in 1983 and has been jamming strong since.

5. Radiohead – Radiohead may be one of the most underrated bands by rock critics in music history.  The innovating Alternative Rock band from Oxfordshire, England was formed in 1985.  In my opinion Thom Yorke is one of the best singers of all time and it doesn’t hurt that the band gives their records away for free on iTunes.

6. Phoenix – I was skeptical the first time I heard Phoenix because I first heard their song “1901” on a commercial, but you can’t deny the talent this band has.  Phoenix is an Indie Rock band from Versailles, France formed in 1999.  They had initial success in France, but gained worldwide recognition with their latest album “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.”

7. Modest Mouse – Modest Mouse is just another of those vastly underrated bands.  They gained fame with their single “Float On,” but the band from Issaquah, Washington is much more than a single.  They formed in 1993 and have produced some of the best-written music I’ve ever seen.  They haven’t released a record since 2007, but are currently working on one as you read this.

8. Fleet Foxes – If you don’t love this band, I have no love for you.  The Indie Rock band from Seattle with songs that take you out of your everyday routine and into another dimension was formed in 2006 and is currently one of the more popular rock bands, not only in the U.S., but around the world.  You can’t say enough about their acoustics.

9. Foo Fighters – If you don’t know Foo Fighters, you don’t know jack about rock.  The Foo Fighters have been one of the best bands in rock for over a decade and just keep spitting out jam after jam.  Former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl formed the band in 1994. At this pace I don’t expect Grohl to stop until 2094.

10. Dave Mathews Band – DMB was formed in Charlottesville, Virginia in 1991 and have been making the ladies swoon for two decades.  There is just too much to say about DMB, a bluegrass jam band, you love them or you hate them.  I’m not the biggest DMB fan, but they sell out everywhere they play and they deserve their due credit.

11. Wolfmother – The modern-day Led Zeppelin had impressed the crap out of me on both of their albums. Every song they produce is good, it’s hard to find a hard rock band with no bad songs.  Wolfmother from Sydney, Australia was formed in 2000 and had their big break in 2005 with their self-titled album.

12. Local Natives – Local Natives are an up-and-coming Indie Rock band from LA.  Their debut album was released in 2010 and debuted at number three on the New Artist Chart.  Their entire album is great and I expect big things from these guys in the future.

13. Muse – Everyone knows who Muse is, but I’m afraid they may have passed their prime.  In my opinion their first couple of albums were their best and they’ve topped out, but either way they make some great music.  Muse was formed all the way back in 1994 in Devon, England.

14. The Walkmen – The Walkmen are a generally unknown Indie Rock band, but they were formed in New York City back at the turn of the century.  Their singer, Hamilton Leithauser, has a voice similar to Julian Casablancas of “The Strokes.” Their latest album “Lisbon” is pure gold

15. Incubus – I can’t believe Incubus has been around since 1991. The alternative rock band was formed in Calabasas, California as high schoolers.  They are an incredibly well-rounded and creative band scoring success with main-stream rock songs, heavy rock, a slower indie rock style and even funk.  Incubus has four number-one singles and just released a new album in July.

16. Wilco – The alternative folk rock band from Chicago has jammed out nine albums since they formed back in 1994.  They have a couple Grammy wins to back them up and are known for a diverse assortment of sounds, often with a southern feel to them.

17. Pearl Jam – Pearl Jam is amazing when they are on and horrible when they are off. Pearl Jam is one of the original grunge groups out of Seattle and has been together since 1990.  “Ten,” their first album could easily be one of the greatest rock albums ever made and it is easily top five of the 90s.  It’s unfortunate Pearl Jam has seemed to fall off the face of the earth, but at least Eddie Vedder’s solo career is promising, because Vedder with a ukulele is just amazing.

18. Blink-182 – Blink is back!  The trio formed in Poway, California back in 1992 is the king of punk rock.  They went on a half-decade hiatus in 2005, but are returning with “Neighborhoods” on September 27th.  I’m not the biggest fan of their new single “Up All Night,” but it’s a solid punk rock song… the first in a long time.  Even if their reunion bombs, which I doubt, they have a ton of great songs from their first time around and still make a fantastic live show.

19. The Kooks – The Kooks are the catchiest band I’ve ever heard and they get songs stuck in my head for days.  The Indie Pop band from Brighton, England was formed in 2004 and almost immediately had success overseas.  The Kooks recently released their third album “Junk of the Heart,” which hasn’t received as much attention as their previous two albums and may not be as good, but they are still a great listen.

20. The Boxer Rebellion – The Boxer Rebellion remains relatively unknown even though they are one of the best pure rock bands out there.  They have a Muse-like sound, but tend to play their songs like a story arc where they start a little slow and rock out near the end.  The Indie Rock band was formed in London back in 2001 but their band is made up of an American singer, an Australian guitarist and a pair of Englishmen who round out the rest of the band on drums and bass.

21. Rogue Wave – Another Indie Rock band, Rogue Wave was created in 2002.  The band from Oakland sounds a bit like the Shins and is more popular than their record sales show with quite a few songs bought up by Hollywood and put on the big screen.  I guarantee you have heard the song “Eyes” and love it, but they are much more than a one hit wonder.

22. Deerhunter – I can’t get enough of this band, all of their songs are fantastic.  From Atlanta, Deerhunter was formed in 2001 and describe themselves as “ambient punk,” though I’d say they are more of a noise rock or indie band.  Deerhunter is famous for having crazy live shows as their singer is known to wear sundresses and splatter himself with fake blood, though they’re music isn’t close to violent at all. Give them a listen if you like music.

23. Broken Bells – Broken Bells is another two-man rock band consisting of James Mercer of “The Shins” and Danger Mouse.  This alternative band is on the rise after forming in 2009 and kicking it off with a fantastic first album hitting all the way up to the second slot in the U.S. charts last year.  They are already working on another album with an unknown release date.

24. Rebelution – The first reggae-rock band on my list, Rebelution is this decade’s Sublime.  Rebelution was formed in Santa Barbara in 2004 and has released three albums, the latest of which reached number one on the reggae charts.  They are currently working on a new album and I can’t wait.

25. Cold War Kids – Keeping the California trend going, the indie band from Long Beach has garnered a ton of attention especially in the U.S. and Australia.  I don’t know if there is a band comparable in sound to Cold War Kids, but they can appeal to practically any rock fan.  Oddly some people have called them a Christian band, but I beg to differ.

26. Grizzly Bear – The indie folk band started up in 2004 in Brooklyn, though they don’t have much of a Brooklyn sound.  In my opinion, this is the ultimate mountain band. Turn them on when you’re in the mountains and you’ll fall in love.  Grizzly Bear is known mostly for their vocal harmonies, but don’t let it fool you, these guys can play their instruments.  I also recommend watching them perform “Knife” or “A Take Away Show,” it may be their most popular song.

27. Band of Horses – Though they are from Seattle, Band of Horses is not a grunge band.  The alternative rock band started up in 2004, but have gone through about 500 members since then.  Their 2010 album “Infinite Arms” was nominated for a Grammy, though I think their first album was their best.  “The Funeral” may be their most popular song, trust me you’ll know it… Kid Cudi even stole the guitar riff.

28. Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes – Nobody in this band is named Edward Sharpe, in fact they have about 20 members if you’ve ever seen them live.  If you’ve seen an NFL commercial, then you’ve heard this band play “Home,” their most popular song.  The vocalist, Alex Ebert, started the band in 2005 but just recently they’ve hit fame.  The indie folk band has a country feel to the majority of their songs, I’m not a country guy, but I love it.

29.Metallica – They are definitely one of the three best heavy metal bands of all time, but due to they’re more recent hit-or-miss albums they’ve dropped a bit on this list.  From LA, Metallica started up in 1981 and have won mountains of awards. On Halloween they are releasing a collaborative album with Lou Reed, which should be awesome.

30. Flogging Molly – There is nothing like some good drinking music, and Flogging Molly’s irish punk tops the list.  Surprisingly they’re from LA, but they have a definite Boston feel.  Flogging Molly has hit the top 10 on their last two albums with their latest being released in May.

31. Arctic Monkeys – The Arctic Monkeys are an English bred indie-punk band formed in 2002.  They are consistently one of the most popular bands overseas and have released three albums with a fourth coming this year.  The band has a rivalry with “The Kooks” after “The Kooks” singer, Luke Pritchard, kicked the Arctic Monkeys singer, Alex Turner in the face while he was attempting to disconnect his guitar during a live show.

32. The Brian Jonestown Massacre – If you’ve heard the opening song to “Boardwalk Empire” then you know The Brian Jonestown Massacre.  The old school psychedelic rock band sounds like a new wave Rolling Stones.  They were created in San Francisco in 1990 and have continued to keep it on while remaining relatively unknown.  If you are a classic rock fan, you will love this band.

33. Slightly Stoopid – The second reggae-rock band on my list is a fantastic live band and was formed in 1995. These San Diego natives are pure ganjariffic, yeah I just made that word up.  Slightly Stoopid was originally signed by Bradley Nowell, the deceased singer of Sublime, while in high school.

34. My Morning Jacket – The southern rock band from Louisville is one of my favorite “guitar bands’ of the last decade.  They formed back in 1998 and have an almost ska/southern feel which they created themselves.  My Morning Jacket isn’t a very popular band, but they have been used in countless movies and TV shows.

35. Chevelle – Chevelle is an alternative metal band formed in 1995, but hasn’t had much attention the last five years.  The band from Chicago has torn it up for a long time and in my opinion have yet to produce a bad song, I own a few of their albums and love everything they do.  They are definitely the top-tier amongst “radio music” bands.

36. Ben Harper – He’s a laid back acoustic jam-reggae rock musician who has been playing since 1992.  He had an album released in May and some consider him to be the American Bob Marley.  He has won two Grammy’s and I don’t see him stopping there.

37. The Strokes – The alternative rock band from New York got together in 1999 and has played very stellar garage rock since.  They have been one of the most prominent and influential bands of the decade and while they haven’t had a great song in a while, they remain relevant.

38. The Mars Volta – This progressive rock band from El Paso Texas has won a Grammy and is known for being one of the best prog rock bands to date.  They formed in 2001 and scored their biggest hit early. They will release a new album in 2012.

39. Kings of Leon – This alternative rock band doesn’t sound like they are from Tennessee, but they are.  Surprisingly they got together back in 1999, but didn’t hit it big until 2008. Funny rumor, I heard from a friend that Kings of Leon originally named “Sex on Fire” Socks on Fire.

40. MGMT – This psychedelic indie rock band formed in 2005 at Wesleyan University and Rolling Stone pegged them as a top ten artist to watch in 2008 for a reason.  MGMT is a completely original band with a whole new “Electric Feel” that no other modern band possesses.  They began working on a new album in April.

41. The Decemberists – The indie folk band from Portland is all over my iPod recently. I can’t see anyone not loving this band.  Their lyrics and sophistication are something unheard of in the era of crappy club music and radio garbage rock like Nickleback.  Since they formed in 2000 the Decemberists have already released six albums including one last January which reached number one on the U.S. charts.

42. Queens of the Stone Age – Another California band, QSA formed in 1996 and are known to work with  Dave Grohl from the Foo Fighters.  The psychedelic rock band is also known for their hard rock and have sort of connection with hockey.  They’ve had four songs nominated for Grammys but have yet to win.

43. Dispatch – Dispatch is the last reggae fusion band on the list and has been active basically every other year since 1996.  They are one of the most underrated bands in music as far as I’m concerned. I love almost everything they do.  Dispatch released their new album in May and it debuted at number 2 on the iTunes albums chart.

44. The Killers – The Alternative-punk rock band from LA is known for their mainstream success, but they are quite good even though they are a “radio band.”  They were formed in 2001 and had immediate success with their first album “Hott Fuss,” their song “Mr. Brightside” is still one of the most downloaded songs of all time.

45. The Morning Benders – An indie rock band from Berkeley, debuted in 2008 and are already popular enough to make it in Reese’s commercials.  The indie rock band is also known for playing with similar bands like “The Kooks,” MGMT,” “The Black Keys” and “Broken Bells.”

46. Green Day – Recently Green Day has chosen to become the Queen of punk rock after their initial great albums in the 90s through the early 2000s.  The punk rock band from California started up in 1987 and has stayed together as a trio since.  They have won five Grammy’s and are one of the best bands of all time but are on a gradual decline and I’m not sure they can recover.

47. Patrick Sweany – Nobody knows who this guy is except Dan Auerbach of “The Black Keys.”  He is one of the best bluesy, southern guitarists I can remember, just watch this song…

48. Spoon – Spoon is an indie rock post-punk band from Austin, Texas formed in 1993. Many people know their songs, but few seem to know who the band is. They’ve had great success the last half decade and released their latest album in 2010, which reached number four on the charts.

49. The Flaming Lips – Amazingly the ageless Flaming Lips were formed all the way back in 1983 in Oklahoma City.  The Neo-psychedelic indie band is somewhat famous for being a space-like band that is famous for their live act.  They’ve won three Grammy’s after thirteen albums and remade the famous “Dark Side of the Moon” by Pink Floyd this year.

50. Wavves – Wavves are the best new punk rock band with a psychedelic punk style never seen before.  The band formed in 2008 and unless they suffer from Blink-182 syndrome they should be on top of the punk world in no time.  Based in San Diego, Wavves has a Beach Boys/punk mix that works amazingly.

Final Cut:  Girls, Guster, Belle & Sebastian, Explosions In The Sky, Wolf Parade, Interpol

This article took me forever and I argued with myself over my decisions constantly, so I hope you enjoyed it.


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