As the saying goes, America invented rock ‘n’ roll and Britain perfected it. Every decade or so, a wave of young bands comes charging out of the soggy, overcast United Kingdom and ricochets around the globe with sneering abandon, recalibrating how we listen to rock music and charting a course for the next 10 years. From the British Invasion in the ‘60s to punk in the 70’s to new wave in the ‘80s to Britpop in the ‘90s to the garage revival in the ‘00s, we’ve enjoyed 60 years of reliably progressive music from the other side of the Atlantic. With the second decade of the 21st century nearing a close, we’re smack in the middle of the next wave.
Plenty of bands over the past few years have achieved success on foreign shores, including Wolf Alice, alt-J, Royal Blood, The xx, Glass Animals. But that’s just the first line. A gaggle of exciting new British bands are poised to catch fire, hailing from the tiny Scottish town of John o’ Groats all the way to London. The bands we’re highlighting here are eclectic and can’t be described with a handy blanket term like Britpop or new wave, and that’s a good thing. They are some of the best new folk, post-punk, garage rock, experimental, alternative, punk, indie rock, psych and krautrock artists kicking around at the moment. Here are 15 UK bands to watch out for.
1. Neon Waltz
Hailing from northern Scottish town of John o’ Groats, Neon Waltz deftly infuses their music with the atmospheric beauty of the Scottish coastline. This six-piece’s distinct sound comprises grand, echoing percussion; majestic, glistening keyboards; warm, harmonious lead vocals, and melodic guitars with entrancing tones that feel both familiar and original. Though the band hasn’t made the trip to America yet, they released their shimmering debut album, Strange Hymns, via Ignition Records last year, and they’re currently working on a new EP.
One of the UK’s most talked-about new bands from one if its most talked-about new scenes, Shame (pictured top) have the potential to make 2018 their year. The five-piece post-punk crew from South London are turning heads with their youthful anger and explosive energy mixed with charming, self-deprecating humor, orchestrated by charismatic frontman Charlie Steen. Their debut album, Songs of Praise, was released this month via Dead Oceans to widespread acclaim (check out Paste’s review here) and they embarked on a huge North American tour this month.
The garage-rock revival led by the likes of Franz Ferdinand, Arctic Monkeys and The Libertines may be long gone, but this young band from Dublin—yes, as a reader rightly pointed out, they’re Irish and not British, but we’re including them for proximity’s sake—doesn’t seem the slightest bit concerned. Otherkin are a quartet that makes no-nonsense, two-to-three-minute garage rock/punk tracks born for rock radio. If this were 2004, they’d be gracing the cover of every rock zine. Otherkin released their mouth-watering debut album, OK, via Rubyworks last year, and hopefully 2018 is the year the ‘Kin play in the states. They’re in their true element when they play live, particularly frontman Luke Reilly, who’s one of the finest crowd-surfers you’ll ever see.
4. Black Honey
If cinematic rock or infectious pop is your bag, then Brighton’s Black Honey is for you. Led by badass frontwoman Izzy Bee Phillips, they’ve cranked out some of the catchiest pop/rock tracks of the past few years, with sassy, voluminous pop vocals and distorted guitars best suited to old Western flicks like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. They haven’t played in the U.S. yet, but their debut album is expected to drop sometime this year and they’ve already scored support slots at home for the likes of Royal Blood and Queens of the Stone Age.
5. Honey Lung
Honey Lung might be young and lacking an extensive back catalogue, but their records contain some of the best guitar work and songwriting in recent memory. The quartet’s debut EP, Kind of Alone, was released in 2016 and followed by two new singles, “Sophomore” and “Stuttering Mind,” last year, with incredible results. Kind of Alone is a five-track fuzzy masterpiece with melodic guitar riffs and grungy, gravelly lead vocals from frontman Jamie Batten. While “Sophomore” follows in a similar vein, “Stuttering Mind” marks calmer, new territory for the band, who have stated their desire to emulate the DIY lo-fi of acts like Sparklehorse, Elliot Smith and (Sandy) Alex G.
6. Catholic Action
One of Glasgow’s finest new guitar bands, Catholic Action already began their U.S. invasion at last year’s SXSW, and evidently it went well considering they’ve been invited back for this year’s festival. The quartet released their debut album, In Memory Of, last year via Modern Sky and it’s got “catchy guitar pop gems” written all over it. Their euphoric record is also full of charming, intelligent lyrics from frontman and co-producer Chris McCrory, no-frills guitar riffs, sharp drumming and some of the catchiest rock basslines you’ll hear. Songs like the Blur-y “L.U.V” and “Breakfast” will reverse any preconceived notion that guitar music these days is homogenous or predictable.
This London quartet also have their sights set on America, having announced their first North American shows in support of Pale Waves this March and April. INHEAVEN released their self-titled debut album last year via [PIAS] Recordings to critical acclaim and they’ve also released a new single this year, “Sweet Dreams Baby.” Their album is equally escapist and rooted in reality, with an overarching feeling of nostalgia, teenage dreams and romance as well as the resounding, rebellious beat of defiant political protest. “Drift” and “Sweet Dreams Baby” exemplify the band’s hazy, dreamy alt-rock, while “Treats” and “World on Fire” exemplify the youthful, punk spirit that 2018 desperately needs.
Hampshire indie-rock trio Blaenavon had a big 2017. They released their critically acclaimed debut album, That’s Your Lot, via Transgressive and Canvasback; they supported alt-J in the UK; they supported Circa Waves and White Reaper in the U.S.; and they scored slots at last year’s Glastonbury, Lollapalooza and Osheaga festivals. That’s Your Lot is a triumphant mix of delicate ballads (“Swans”), indie-pop bangers (“Orthodox Man”), upbeat, funky guitar tracks (“Lonely Side”) and earth-shattering, climactic rock (“I Will Be the World”).
Another of Scotland’s finest, WHITE are a Glasgow quintet that bleeds glitter and oozes ‘80s new-wave and post-punk. Last year, they released their debut album, One Night Stand Forever, via Gentlemen Recordings, deftly juxtaposing slick, hi-fi production, synths and electronic percussion with dirty, provocative vocals, guitar riffs and attitude. Frontman Leo Condie reaches for high notes that most male lead singers can only dream of, and the band’s brand of disco-tinged post-punk will surely push even the most reserved audience members to the dance floor. Get this band to the states ASAP.
The most experimental band of this bunch is South London six-piece HMLTD. The first thing you’ll notice is their outlandish, androgynous look, but their sound is as interesting (if not more) than their appearance—a concoction of aggressive, in-your-face post-punk and electronic trap beats and synths. Surely on paper, a band of six straight white males dressed as ‘70s glam rockers that play post-punk crossed with trap music makes no sense and shouldn’t work. But it does. HMLTD’s DIY mentality, stage theatrics and unusual social-media marketing led them to sell out shows at London’s famed 100 Club, Scala and Moth Club. They haven’t released an album yet, but tracks like “To the Door” and “Satan, Luella & I” made several best-of lists last year.
11. Vinyl Staircase
This unsigned band has only a debut single to their credit, but if you’ve seen them live, you know why they’re on this list. The Guildford four-piece released their debut track “German Wings” last year and it’s one of the strongest debut singles in recent memory. The song’s soothing, psych-tinged vocals slowly hypnotize until the tension-building guitars commence and peak with a crunchy solo of epic proportions. Vinyl Staircase just dropped a new single this week, “Cherry,” from their forthcoming EP of the same name.
12. King Nun
London quartet and Dirty Hit signees King Nun have more raw energy in one fingertip than most alternative rock bands these days have in their entire bodies. Though there’s no debut album to speak of yet, tracks like “Hung Around”, “Sponge” and “Speakerface” display a level of excitement and grit that mainstream rock often lacks. The band got signed a few years ago when they were just teenagers, and after hearing their stop-start, blues-rock stomper, “Hung Around,” there’s no question their label made the right call. King Nun toured with labelmates Superfood and Pale Waves and scored a slot at last year’s Reading and Leeds festival, so there’s a lot of momentum behind this band. Word on the street is that they have an EP set for release this year.
13. Declan Welsh & The Decadent West
Glasgow’s third and final inclusion on this list, Declan Welsh & The Decadent West had an impressive 2017 with tracks like “Nazi Boys,” “No Pasaran” and “Useless.” Frontman Declan Welsh’s vindictive punk poetry, sung in an unmistakable Scottish accent, is featured on tracks like “Nazi Boys” and “Mirrors,” but his latest track, “Useless,” opens the door for a completely new sound. “Useless” shows Welsh’s softer side with its sweet indie-rock balladry, vulnerable lyrics and uplifting, anthemic chorus. The band is currently working on a new EP.
14. Palm Honey
This Reading quartet are one of the more left-field bands on this list. Their unique sound could be categorized as everything from psych-pop and synth-rock to krautrock, space rock and prog rock. Their debut EP, Tucked Into the Electronic Wave, released last year, was one of the finest of the year, featuring standout tracks “Stick the Knife In” and “Going Normal.” The four-track EP is a mystical, memorable journey comprising cosmic synths, saxophone solos, insecure lyrics, meticulous guitar riffs and musical tangents that would signal their next release, “Starving Hysterical Naked.” In a lot of ways, Palm Honey are the antithesis of most guitar bands these guys, as evinced by the two-part, nine-minute jam, “Starving Hysterical Naked.”
15. White Room
The latest release by this Brighton five-piece and signee’s to Liverpool’s famed Deltasonic Records was a double EP and a concept record of sorts entitled Eight, released last December. The double-EP contains touches of ‘60s classic psych (the group is named for a Cream song, after all), rock and contemporary synth-pop. Jake Smallwood and Josie McNamara intermingle vocals brilliantly, as on the devilishly catchy chorus of “Stole the I.V.” The EP’s kaleidoscopic, escapist lyrics mixed with dreamy soundscapes via distorted guitars and transcendent synths make for an overwhelmingly compelling listen. White Room have supported the legendary Paul Weller back in the UK, and hopefully their first U.S. shows aren’t too far off.