5 Must-Hear Rock Songs from the First Half of 2024

Rock ’n’ roll is supposed to be dead. Who needs human musicians when you can dial a prompt into AI and formulate a song with all the personality and emotion of a clogged toilet?

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Alas, some people still pick up the guitar and the artists below have opened the first half of 2024 with worthy rock jams. Even the waltzing ballads require a little volume.

Crank up whatever digital platform you prefer, and check out these five stellar rock tracks from this year.

“Panic Attack” by Judas Priest from Invincible Shield

“Panic Attack” begins with one of those long heavy metal intros, leaving the listener thinking, “Come on, just bring on Halford!” The wait is worth it by the time Rob Halford begins his legendary terrifying screams. He’s 72 and age hasn’t degraded his voice like many metal singers who’ve shredded vocal cords aiming for the sky.

The chorus to “Panic Attack” has a kind of “Breaking the Law” staccato. Judas Priest’s new song is anxiety-inducing and who knows if the title inspired the riffs or vice versa. The Birmingham, England, legends have cycled through numerous bandmates but longtime members Halford, bassist Ian Hill, guitarist Glenn Tipton, and drummer Scott Travis persist.

The clamor and the clatter of incensed keys
Can bring a nation to its knees
On the wings of a lethal icon, bird of prey

It’s a sign of the times when bedlam rules
When the masses condone pompous fools
And the scales of justice tip in disarray

“Don’t Do Me Good” by Madi Diaz and Kacey Musgraves from Weird Faith

Madi Diaz has the kind of clear and expressive voice that’ll carry you across the desert on a long drive out west. “Don’t Do Me Good” is a slow-burning breakup duet with Kacey Musgraves. Diaz and Musgraves sing a haunting ballad about the messy reality of loving someone even when it hurts. Unreciprocated love never sounded so exquisite.

Without the make-believe, the what-will-be will-be
What gives me the right to keep dreaming?
Without the dark maybe there would be no stars
Broken floating parts for us to believe in

“On the Game” by The Black Keys from Ohio Players

Patrick Carney called Noel Gallagher the “Chord Lord.” If you’ve sat with an acoustic guitar and strummed through an Oasis hit, you’ll understand what he’s talking about. Deceptively simple, but there’s always a slightly unexpected move like in “Slide Away” or “Don’t Look Back in Anger.” Well, the “Chord Lord” showed up again on The Black Keys’ brilliant “On the Game.”

When The Black Keys emerged amidst the garage revivalist bands in the early 2000s, you wouldn’t have guessed they’d be the ones to still be making great records decades later. But here they are with Ohio Players, one of their finest albums.

’Cause everybody’s on the game
They keep you howlin’ at the rain
It’s how we know we’re all the same, the joy, the pain
Everybody’s on the game

“Hell Is Near” by St. Vincent from All Born Screaming

The 10 songs on St. Vincent’s All Born Screaming could fill a list like this. “Hell Is Near” opens Annie Clark’s exalting, self-produced new album. Clark mentioned she tracked the vocal multiple times, not for perfection, but to reach the right emotional state. It’s one of her most powerful and moving vocal takes—that’s saying something in a catalog with “New York,” “Cruel,” and “I Prefer Your Love.”

Snubbed-out smoke in a pack from the Nowhere Inn
Water glass with the smudge of a lipstick stain
Box of nails, olive branch, and the holy ghost
Leave the rest, but come back for the marigolds

“Bending Hectic” by The Smile from Wall of Eyes

Though “Bending Hectic” appeared as a single in 2023, The Smile’s second album Wall of Eyes dropped in January. Jonny Greenwood opens the song with woozy arpeggios before Thom Yorke sings about driving off a cliff of an Italian mountainside. It’s an eight-minute epic that explodes into a fuzzy doom riff over drummer Tom Skinner’s Kind of Blue-jazz groove. If either album from The Smile appeared as a Radiohead release, they’d stand tall alongside their best work.

The ground is coming for me now
We’ve gone over the edge
If you’ve got something to say
Say it now

No one’s gonna bring me down, no
No way and no how
I’m letting go
Of the wheel

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Photo by Pedro Becerra/Redferns

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