From left: Harry Styles, Hayley Williams of Paramore & St. Vincent
Year In Music 2017

The 25 Best Rock Albums of 2017: Critics' Picks

If your attention was perched atop the Billboard 200 throughout 2017, it would've seemed rock enjoyed a solid year, as the genre produced -- newfound genre practitioner Harry Styles included -- eight No. 1 albums, ranging from longtime radio staples to arena-minded indie to enigmatic, independently-released experimentalism.

Even so, all these chart-toppers came from artists with at least three albums under their belts (save for the newly-solo One Directioner), suggesting the genre could use some fresh blood livening up the competition. Fortunately, rock, punk, indie, and metal were also defined in 2017 by numerous subterranean, left-of-center acts whose progressive worldviews we can only hope shape the genre at large. 

Below, Billboard's writers and editors present our 25 favorite rock albums of 2017. Big or small, most of these releases grappled with the fear, uncertainty and existential dread that marked this past year. Here's to the music that got us through.  

25. The Used, The Canyon

To disappointingly little fanfare, The Used delivered some of their best music 16years and seven albums into their career. The Canyon opens with frontman Bert McCracken delivering a gut-punching vocal take, both spoken and sung, on "For You," which is dedicated to his childhood friend who committed suicide in 2016. And over the ensuing hour and 18 minutes (which really feels like a half hour less than that), the veteran quartet matches the album's opener in raw emotion while producing some of its catchiest material in years, chiefly lead single "Over and Over Again." The whole thing was produced by Ross Robinson, the man behind bone-rattling classics from Korn to Slipknot to Relationship of Command; The Canyon proved he still knows how to elicit spellbinding performances from heavy mainsream rock bands. -- KEVIN RUTHERFORD

24. Imagine Dragons, Evolve

That album title may as well be Imagine Dragons' plea to the rest of rock to at least try to keep up with them and their streaming-era alchemy; there were only three rock songs to hit the top 5 of the Billboard Hot 100 this year, and these guys had two of 'em. What the Dragons are doing is hardly revolutionary in 2017, but few of the many acts who've attempted to hybridize "alternative" into something that encompasses pop, dance and hip-hop make tracks as punchy as theirs -- "Believer" is still less club banger than headbanger, and "Yesterday" is a better Queen jock jam than anything on the last Panic! album. -- ANDREW UNTERBERGER

?23. Downtown Boys, The Cost of Living

On their debut for Sub Pop Records, Downtown Boys unleashed their jubilant, saxophone-wielding protest rock on their largest audience yet. Singing in both Spanish and English, frontwoman Victoria Ruiz’s battle cries covered net neutrality and Trump’s border wall alongside inward avowals of self-worth and her Chicana identity. Fittingly, a like-minded elder comrade helped see it all through; Fugazi guitarist Guy Picciotto stepped in as producer and captured the galvanizing fury of the Boys' live show like never before.  -- CHRIS PAYNE

22. The Maine, Lovely Little Lonely

The Maine set a tough bar for their sixth album with the pop-rock perfection of 2015's American Candy. But in 2017, the Arizona natives showed themselves up with an album featuring even more power and magic than their previous LP. The album makes it evident that The Maine have found their groove with one another after 10 years together, and they can carry their infectious sound throughout a 12-song disc as well as they did from the start: electro-rock closer “How Do You Feel?” is as inrectious as the anthemic, echoing kickoff “Don’t Come Down." They've found their sweet spot and they're absolutely owning it. -- TAYLOR WEATHERBY

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?21. All Time Low, Last Young Renegade

All Time Low sent their previous effort, 2015’s Future Hearts, all the way to No. 2 on the Billboard 200 -- a career-best for the Maryland rockers -- so they came out swinging on their 2017 follow-up. Their seventh LP (and Fueled By Ramen debut) was their boldest record yet, with additional synths and production gloss helping frontman Alex Gaskarth's vocals sound more versatile than ever before. Songs like "Nice2KnoU" and the title track reassured older ATL fans that they haven't lost sight of their feistier side, but hypnotic tracks such as "Afterglow" and Tegan & Sara team-up "Ground Control" showed they're not afraid to keep pushing boundaries. Last Young Renegade showed a fearlessness that's necessary for a rock band in 2017; album No. 8 is already looking rosy. -- T.W.

20. Power Trip, Nightmare Logic

One year too late for the 30th anniversary of thrash's biggest year but just in time for the global chaos of 2017, Power Trip's Nightmare Logic arrived as an eight-track, 32-minute swing of the axe against against oppression and apathy, delivered with the old-school muscle to really get that thing wedged in there. "'Human being' has lost its meaning when you refuse to fight," frontman Riley Gale declares in "Waiting Around to Die," and if his bellows don't spur you to action, the thundering drums and blood-raining guitars behind him certainly will. -- A.U.

19. Slowdive, Slowdive

They say that you have your whole life to write your debut album -- then, depending on who you ask, you've got two years (or less) to write each subsequent follow-up. Slowdive doesn't play by these rules: The U.K. shoegaze legends waited 22 years to release their fourth studio set, a mesmerizing self-titled effort that effortlessly transported indie rock devotees to dream-pop's early-'90s heyday. But the story surrounding the album’s release isn’t solely what makes the album deserving of applause -- Slowdive delivers eight stunning tracks, the featherweight majesty of which was largely absent from the 2017 alt-rock discussion. Let's hope we don't have to wait another two decades to hear from them again.  -- XANDER ZELLNER

18. Mastodon, Emperor of Sand 

Over their nearly-two-decade run, the venerable metal giants have battled with brawny choruses (2014’s Once More 'Round the Sun) and won over genre diehards by casting their progressive, face-melting nets far and wide (2004’s Leviathan). Mastodon stayed sharp on its seventh studio album by flexing on both ends: Drummer Brann Dailor and bassist Troy Sanders trade vocals across the syrupy hooks of rock radio hit “Show Yourself,” while Dailor’s virtuosic kit work and the maniacal guitars of Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher guide listeners through a menacing concept album about a man destined to die wandering in the desert. -- C.P.

17. Alvvays, Antisocialites 

Like Pixy Stix or Jolly Ranchers, candied noise-pop is an enthralling genre prone to quickly diminishing returns -- there’s a reason the majority of the pioneering C86 acts didn’t enjoy lengthy, artistically relevant careers. So the follow-up to Alvvays' excellent self-titled 2014 debut seemed like a prime contender for sophomore slump syndrome. But instead, Antisocialites not only topped the Toronto quintet's first LP but emerged as one of 2017’s most durable rock albums. “Plimsoll Punks” alternates between twinkling jangle pop and fuzzy punk, while “Lollipop (Ode to Jim)” is a storming Jesus and Mary Chain homage with one of the year’s most quotable couplets: “Alter my state/ To get through this date.” -- JOE LYNCH

16. Code Orange, Forever

Shout out to the 2018 Grammys finally getting it right. We’re not talking about the hip-hop-focused, gender-diverse palette across the Big Four categories here, but the best metal performance field, where seminal bands often get nominated just for showing up, but this year -- alongside the above Mastodon record and deserving releases from August Burns Red and Body Count -- the Grammys really wowed us by nominating Forever, the scrappy, scalding major label debut from the gender-diverse Pittsburgh quartet Code Orange. Wielding three vocalists (drummer Jami Morgan and guitarists Reba Meyers and Eric Balderose), Code Orange bellows and blisters through 34-minutes of mountainous hardcore, leaving little but scorched earth in its wake. Through all the choppy, stop-start carnage, melodic outlier "Bleeding in the Blur" -- featuring strikingly clean vocals from Meyers -- beams through the clouds at track four and offers a jarring glimpse of a new world for Code Orange to conquer. -- C.P.

15. Algiers, The Underside of Power 

Algiers sounded like little else in 2017, a distinction that goes well beyond their lengthy list of influences. The singularity of the post-everything rockers’ socio-political fervor was especially impressive, considering the hordes of recently-woke artists populating our post-2016 election world. Truth is, Algiers had been decrying destructive capitalism and institutionalized racism since the start of the decade, and by the time 2017 rolled around, their time-traveling brew of cross-disciplinary influences was especially piercing. Few others are seeking influence from the Clash, Suicide, '60s soul, Black Panthers credos, and zombie film soundtracks, so that helps, too. See: the scintillating title track -- Algiers' most fully-formed pop statement to date -- where a slithering Motown bass line guides a subterranean, post-punk fascist-fighting manifesto towards combustion. Toss in production from Portishead’s Adrian Utley, mixing from Sunn O)))’s Randall Dunn and ex-Bloc Party drummer Matt Tong joining as a full-time member, and you have one of 2017’s most criminally slept-on records. -- C.P.

14. Sorority Noise, You’re Not As _____ As You Think

The magic in Sorority Noise's third studio album You’re Not As _____ As You Think lies in the fact that it tackles deeply troubling topics, and presents them in a way that’s easy to digest. This is no more evident than in the set’s opening track, “No Halo,” which takes us into the mind of frontman Cameron Boucher as he copes with the death of a close friend. The song delivers a catchy chorus juxtaposed with heartbreaking lyrics that present a time when Boucher was struggling. That feeling, along with nine other tracks tackling depression, loneliness and addiction -- set to amp-rattling, shout-along catharsis -- makes this album one of the best albums to come from the pop-punk and emo world this year. -- X.Z.

13. Waxahatchee, Out in the Storm

Out in the Storm is Waxahatchee’s fourth LP, but Alabama-born singer-songwriter Katie Crutchfield has yet to slip into a holding pattern. Yes, the mellow richness in her voice hasn’t changed, her unique phrasing remains the same, and her lyrics are as honest and affecting as ever, but Waxahatchee’s sound doesn’t so much evolve as it seems to dart off on fascinating detours with each release. “Silver” boasts some of Crutchfield’s finest harmonies and quite possibly her most irresistible groove yet (the care put into the bass lines is obvious on Storm), while “Brass Beam” sounds like Liz Phair delivered with a Southern rock slant, and “Hear You” is a mesmerizing, moody rocker grounded in synths and regrets. At a brisk 32 minutes, Out of the Storm leaves you eager to head back into the squall once it’s over. -- J.L.

12. LCD Soundsystem, American Dream

LCD Soundsystem celebrated its resurrection this year with American Dream, the dance-punk band’s fourth studio album and its first in seven years. The record’s 11 tracks consider somber themes of aging, death, and loss, but the music soars with spiky guitars, jubilant rhythms, and synthesizer lines that bring either fluidity or fragmentation. “But truth be told, we all have the same end,” James Murphy muses over a squishy, bouncing beat on “tonite.” Maybe your American Dream is a quaint house and a white picket fence, or maybe like Murphy, it’s marriage, a kid, a wine bar, and getting the band back together. Whatever it is, Murphy reminds us that no one ever gets out of here alive, so perhaps it’s best to grapple with our anxieties over mortality on the dance floor, alongside friends, while the music rings out. -- CHRISTINE WERTHMAN

?11. Jay Som, Everybody Works

On Everybody Works, the promise that Bay Area singer-songwriter Jay Som (a.k.a. Melina Duterte) showed on lush BandCamp debut Turn Into and exhilarating one-off single "I Think You're Alright" crystallized into one of the year's most spellbinding rock full-lengths, whose hushed fuzzscapes belie one of the genre's most assured pens and strongest new voices. Don't forget about Duterte's guitar work, though -- whether buzzsawing their way through "1 Billion Dogs" or swaying queasily underneath "(Bedhead)," it makes her productions just as consistently indelible as her compositions. -- A.U.

10. Harry Styles, Harry Styles 

No longer a boy and without a band of bros by his side, Harry Styles emerged as a solo rock star in his own right. Led by grand introduction “Sign Of The Times” (“They told me that the end is near/We gotta get away from here”) he sings with such vagueness that he could be referring to the end of One Direction or the end of the world as we know it. Some would argue the those are one in the same, but this probably isn't the album for them -- rather, Styles’ self-titled debut made clear he was trading teenage pop hooks for more mature songs both in terms of lyrics and production. On the LP, he addresses everything from past loves (“Two Ghosts” and “Ever Since New York”) to the woes of being alone on the road (“Woke up alone in this hotel room/Played with myself, where were you?” he admits on closing track “From the Dining Table”) proving that, designer suits and worldwide fame aside, he’s not much different from many other young adult men. The end may have neared, but as it did, Styles strategically created a fresh start -- and in the absence of his band, found himself. -- LYNDSEY HAVENS

9. Japandroids, Near to the Wild Heart of Life

No one would've criticized Japandroids for not laying everything on the line after 2012's euphoric Celebration Rock. But after a four-and-a-half-year breather, Brian King and David Prowse swing for the fences yet again, Near to the Wild Heart of Life matched its predecessor in ebullient energy and singalong hooks and even introduced new electronic wrinkles in Japandroids' signature drum 'n guitar repertoire (the seven-minute epic "Arc of Bar"). Alongside the necessary growth, the cult heroes succeeded in delivering a long-awaited LP that was still Japandroids through and through; we look forward to the rock 'n roll mythology of "No Known Drink or Drug" and "North East South West" driving the duo's sets for years to come. -- K.R.

8. PVRIS, All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell

The Massachusetts-bred synth-rock trio followed the energetic promise of its 2014 debut White Noise with a ten-song LP that was focused, stylish and heavy. On their ambitious second statement, PVRIS echoed Nine Inch Nails’ fury, Florence + The Machine’s supernatural intrigue, and Thirty Seconds to Mars’ arena-sized hooks, all the while acknowledging dance music's influence over the pop charts -- the little electro flourishes that make "Winter" and "What's Wrong" truly shine are evidence of that. Lyrically, AWKOHAWNOH details frontwman Lynn Gunn's struggles for early-20s contentment amidst a three-year whirlwind of on-the-road self-discovery. She and bandmates Alex Babinski and Brian MacDonald promoted that first record on the Warped Tour; by this year's follow-up, they'd transcended the specificity of their scene, while holding onto its clear-hearted, unbridled emotion. -- C.P.

7. Charly Bliss, Guppy

Don’t be fooled by the bubbly, sticky-sweet garage rock of Brooklyn four-piece Charly Bliss -- this band bites. The quartet's debut Guppy spikes its ‘90s-era sound with sharp wit, examining the injustices of girlhood through everything from a sour date (“Am I the best, or just the first to say yes?”) to the death of a lover’s dog (“does he love me most now that his dog is toast?”). The result is both devastatingly honest and surprisingly funny -- a tough combination to nail, but one which which would make 1994 Rivers Cuomo proud here. -- TATIANA CIRISANO

?6. St. Vincent, Masseduction

Annie Clark wasn’t lying back in September when she announced that her fifth album as St. Vincent would be her most personal yet. The guitar-shredding pop-rock genius holds nothing back on the 13-song offering, delving into kinky sex and gender identity (“Savior,” “Sugarboy”), drug addiction (“Young Lover”), power (“Fear the Future”) and even the ironies of her own celebrity (“Happy Birthday, Johnny”). All this comes together over a futuristic soundscape that synthesizes machine-like clatter, heartbreaking strings and arena-ready guitar hooks into a sonic mushroom cloud that should've overshadowed alternative radio for months already. -- T.C.

5. Portugal. The Man, Woodstock 

Portugal. The Man had a hell of a year. For starters, the Portland-by-way-of-Alaska alternative-rockers are responsible for one of 2017’s biggest crossover hits, the Hot 100 top 5-crashing “Feel It Still.” The funky, bass-driven track may have the most mainstream appeal off Woodstock -- it earned them their first Grammy nomination -- but the rest of the album is more aligned with what longtime Portugal. The Man fans know and love, with a sprinkle of pop spice. From the psychedelic and synth-laden “Easy Tiger” to the downtempo, lyrically eye-opening “So Young,” the album is a family of songs all surely related, but each with its own identity in terms of varying tempos, experimental production and vocal arrangements, allowing for both John Gourley’s falsetto and Zach Carothers’ husky lower-register to take center stage. Woodstock sees Portugal. The Man sounding fresh as ever, 13 years and eight albums into their career. -- L.H.

4. The War on Drugs, A Deeper Understanding 

The War on Drugs’ 2014 commercial breakthrough Lost In the Dream found the Philly outfit reaching new levels of pristine studio sheen while continuing to mine the sounds of ‘80s classic rock, and on this year’s A Deeper Understanding, the band leaned further into providing Disintegration-level sonic depth and clarity to songs that sound like they were written by some ethereal, vagabond cousin of Springsteen. While Dire Straits remain an obvious reference point for Adam Granduciel’s songcraft and the band’s exacting musicianship, his vocals here have a husky resonance -- not unlike Dylan’s pipes when he emerged from his gospel haze in the mid ‘80s -- previously unheard on War on Drugs albums. Technically speaking, Deeper is a marvel of craftsmanship, but it’s the shimmering, enveloping production that makes it a soothing delight. -- J.L.

3. MUNA, About U 

MUNA could not have arrived at a better time -- as the world crumbled (and continues to do so), the pop-rock trio came crashing in with a healing dose of love, unity and acceptance. But if anything, About U is ironically an introspective look at oneself: “There’s a few bad things I’ve done,” vocalist Katie Gavin admits on opening track “So Special,” stating from the start she’s no saint -- a trait that makes her feel all the more trustworthy. Over the course of the recent USC alums' stellar debut LP, they navigate heartbreak (“Crying On The Bathroom Floor”) and rally one another to be defiant -- best heard on the shimmering “Loudspeaker,” when Gavin declares, “Every time I don’t shut up/ It’s revolution.” Taken as a whole, About U doesn’t aim to ease the pain of dating or being a 20-something in 2017; it rather soaks in it, proving that as long as the right people are by your side, you can get through anything. -- L.H.

2. Priests, Nothing Feels Natural 

It’s a testament to Priests’ Nothing Feels Natural that you don’t once stop and think, “oh, this is the latest politically-minded Washington, D.C. punk band in a storied history of Washington, D.C. punk bands” while listening to their peerless LP debut. The musicianship is just too tight, the genre melanges too effortless and the simmering fury too vital for the music to seem part of a narrative -- like any effective punk album with a social conscience, it makes you feel the ennui and the outrage more than it makes you think about it. 

It helps that the music is simultaneously their most sophisticated and accessible yet. From Luke Stewart channeling the wild freeform jazz of Steve Mackay a la the Stooges’ Fun House on album opener “Appropriate” to Katie Alice Greer’s sneering consumerism send-up (“I thought I was a cowboy because I smoked Reds”) over the ebullient surf bounce of “Jj” to the funk-dance-punk of “Suck,” Nothing proves the groove is as essential to taking on The Man as the message itself. -- J.L.

1. Paramore, After Laughter 

Hayley Williams and Paramore could've had all the pop radio success they could get their hands on with the follow-up to 2013's Paramore, which earned the band its first top 10 on the Hot 100 and an additional top 30. The state of radio in 2017 may have had other plans, but that doesn't stop After Laughter from being somehow poppier -- let alone of an altogether better quality -- than songs like "Ain't It Fun" and "Still Into You." Together with Taylor York and the newly rejoined Zac Farro, Williams matches despondent lyrics with sunny hooks that delve deeper into the '80s than the band ever has. It's easily Paramore's most cohesive effort, its best-produced, its catchiest, its most relatable -- and it's a triumph that an album with this much anxiety can make you feel so good each listen, like escapism without the happy-go-lucky parts. We'll still be bumping this one even when things inevitably -- right? -- get better. -- K.R.

Billboard Year in Music 2017