10 Rock/Alternative Artists Primed for a Breakout in 2017

Corey McLean
Hey Violet

Around this time of year, you see a lot of lists -- best albums of the year, best albums coming in the year ahead, etc. At Billboard, we’re hard at work on a “most anticipated” of 2017 list, reaching across all genres. For the realm of rock and alternative, we decided to keep the 2017 preview a little more open to interpretation -- just like those genres themselves these days. 

We’re here with 10 artists ready for a meaningful breakout in 2017. Some are readying debut albums, some second or third albums. Some are prepping EPs, and then for some, we’re not exactly sure what they’ve got in the works. The constant is we’re confident these bands and solo artists will ascend to new heights and occupy important spaces in the rock and alternative dialogue of 2017. These could be critical breakouts, commercial breakouts or a mix of the two. In last year’s list, we predicted the former regarding Mitski and Pup; in 2017, we’re calling out some that could dominate 2017’s year-end superlatives, in addition to a couple of potential commercial triumphs.

What binds them all together is finding a certain sense of harmony -- happiness through the right bandmates, the right setting, the right frame of mind -- to deliver their defining music.

Hey Violet
Debut album expected in 2017

One Direction took 5 Seconds of Summer on tour and helped pave their way to stardom; isn’t it time 5SOS did the same for some protégés of their own? They’ve been trying with Hey Violet, the pop-rock quintet that accompanied them on the summer leg of their 2016 arena tour. They’ve been kicking around since 2008, when they formed as the straight-ahead rock band Cherri Bomb. A full-length arrived on Hollywood Records four years later, but soon after, they retooled with a far more contemporary sound -- a strain of groove-heavy, millennial guitar pop that helped frontwoman Rena Lovelis truly find her voice. "We’ve been in this situation before -- we had people writing songs for us, older guys, and they didn’t understand young teenage girls at all,” she told Billboard last month. “I think we’ve gotten to a place where we can speak from our souls and just write songs that mean something to us, and that can mean something to our fans.” Now with 5SOS’ Hi Or Hey imprint (via Capitol), they’re aiming to follow up two promising EPs with a proper album in 2017. -Chris Payne

Allison Crutchfield
Debut album Tourist in this Town out Jan. 27

A few years ago, Allison Crutchfield was fronting the power pop-punk band Swearin’, a Philly entity that was on its way to major indie fame. Eventually the flame burned out. Allison never ceased making music and continued work in and around a few different bands, including a handful of touring gigs with her twin sister, Katie Crutchfield, who performs as Waxahatchee. Now Allison is performing under her own name and it’s her best project to date. Signed to the major indie label Merge Records (one-time home to bands like Arcade Fire, Neutral Milk Hotel, Carrie Brownstein’s Wild Flag and more) her experimental pop project is sure to make waves. The debut arrives at the end of January, leading up to what we predict will be a very busy (and totally rewarding) year. -Maria Sherman

Amber Coffman
Debut album City of No Reply due in 2017

Amber Coffman received a lot of attention this year for accusing music publicist Heathcliff Berru of sexual assault and inspiring many of his other victims to come forward. A single tweet sparked crucial discourse, but with that episode hopefully behind her, 2017 figures to shift the spotlight to Coffman’s immense musical ability. After three albums with Dirty Projectors (and collabs with talents as diverse as John CaleMajor Lazer and J. Cole), Coffman is set to deliver City of No Reply, her debut solo album, sometime in 2017 on Columbia Records. She shimmied out to “All to Myself,” a lead single whose vocals ascend as multi-tracked ultralight beams over an old-school Motown heartbeat, set to a sunset luau. Her role in the forthcoming Dirty Projectors album remains undefined (she did not appear on its first single) but the promise of a full-fledged Amber Coffman solo career is plenty to ease the loss. -C.P.

PWR BTTM
TBD 2017

It’s rare that a band can inspire conversation inside and out of a certain Internet hype machine for both their musical prowess and a certain radical personal-as-political rhetoric that gives fans something to not only enjoy, but to believe in. PWR BTTM are our queer lords and saviors, with their complicated riffing and diary-esque retellings of life and love gone awry making them a voice of a generation. It’s been two years since their debut LP, Ugly Cherries; a cathartic sophomore release is just what this uncertain world needs from the band. -M.S.

MUNA
Debut album About U due Feb. 3

Lovers of M83, Chairlift or anyone inspired by a trio calling itself a “dark pop girl band,” take notice -- MUNA’s sweltering love songs are pure epiphany, and just before Valentine’s Day, they’ll release their first full-length. On early winners like “Winterbreak” and “I Know a Place,” the L.A. band breeds positivity through inclusiveness; all three members identify as queer, and their lyrics purposely eschew gendered pronouns, assuring all can project themselves into their synthpop world. All they’ve released so far indicates it’s worth diving into. -C.P.

Sorority Noise
New album due spring 2017

Sorority Noise call the dense emo underground of Philadelphia home but manage to stand out in the (potential) oversaturation: Frontman Cameron Boucher’s songwriting feels as personal as his distinctive croon. The band’s sophomore LP, 2015’s Joy, Departed, showed real introspective growth, and a new album in 2017 -- produced by Mike Sapone, the man behind Brand New’s The Devil & God Are Raging Inside Me -- should prove to write Sorority Noise into indie canon. -M.S.

Maggie Rogers
Debut EP Now That the Light Is Fading due Feb. 17

Life comes at you fast. Midway through 2016, Maggie Rogers was a student at NYU’s Clive Davis Institute, presenting an unfinished song called “Alaska” to Pharrell Williams at his titular masterclass. One listen moved him so passionately that he was driven to the brink of tears, admitting, awestruck, “I’ve never heard anything that sounds like that.” The whole thing was filmed, giving Rogers a viral moment, and an eventual viral hit once the electro-folk song was formally released. Rogers explained to Williams that she grew up in rural Maryland playing the banjo and making folk music, before a trip to France taught her dance music’s universal spirituality. This marriage of beats and the natural world is evident on “Alaska” and her follow-up single “Dog Years,” both of which are set to appear on her debut EP for Capitol Records this February. A North American headlining tour (complete with a Fallon performance) follows, giving us a chance to see Rogers build off this year’s momentum. -C.P.

Vagabon
Debut album Infinite Worlds out Feb. 24

For those with an ear to the ground in New York City’s indie music scene, Vagabon is a name that has existed on the periphery; she posses the lyrical virtuoso of Mitski and the soft songwriting of Frankie Cosmos and yet, she’s something completely different entirely. Vagabon is the project of Cameroon-born singer Laetita Tamko, a voice that cares a real, fragile power -- when she sings, when she plays, people have the habit of listening. A debut album is sure to only draw more attention. -M.S.

Lucy Dacus
Matador Records debut album expected in 2017

The 21-year old Virginian singer-songwriter made good impressions with her 2016 debut No Burden and we think she’s in for a far bigger impact in 2017. That LP came out on the VA imprint EggHunt Records and caught the ear of Matador, which signed Dacus, re-released the album, and put plans for a quick follow-up into motion. She guested on Billboard’s Alt In Our Stars podcast back in October, mused on where her balmy-voiced, introspective songwriting was headed and mysteriously asserted, “pretty much so much” of the album was complete. We’re excited to hear it and we think there’s a great chance it winds up mirroring the success of labelmate/former tourmate/fellow Virginian Will Toledo, aka Car Seat Headrest: Matador signed CSH, set the mood by re-releasing some old favorites, then unleashed one of 2016’s most critically-acclaimed rock records. On her own accord, Dacus has everything going -- the talent, the support, the crowning live show -- for a similar banner year. -C.P.

Girlpool
New album Powerplant out in 2017

In 2015, the teenage best friend duo of multi-instrumentalists Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad took independent rock by storm. The songs on Girlpool’s debut LP Before the World Was Big recall those of early K Records (think Riot Grrrl, Washington in the ‘90s) a certain familiar simplicity that avoids redundancy in its wise observations. They covered Fader to close out 2016 -- a rare feat for rockers these days -- and the hints they dropped about their next move are the sort that make you want to text your BFF immediately. They’ve finished recording their next album (“a full-band sound, drums and everything”) and now they’re just searching for the perfect label to deliver it. Expect further proof that art works best when made with the people you love. -M.S.

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