NYC Rock 2011: The top 25 New York City bands

Hear and now: TONY ranks the city's best rock groups.

  • Photograph: Courtesy Tell All Your Friends PR

    Les Savy Fav

  • Photograph: Timothy S. Griffin

    Liquid Liquid

  • Stephin Merritt of Magnetic Fields

  • Krallice

  • The Walkmen

Photograph: Courtesy Tell All Your Friends PR

Les Savy Fav

25. Les Savy Fav

You never know what inanimate objects frontman Tim Harrington is going to hump between songs at a Les Savy Fav show—or what he's going to wear. A cape of feathers? Moon boots? A fan's double-D bra? Sufjan Stevens's prissy stylist could learn a thing or two from Harrington, whose unfuckwithable stage presence is only one reason to fall in love with this art-rock band, which formed in 1995 and has been championing the DIY spirits of its roots ever since. Les Savy Fav recently headlined at the Music Hall of Williamsburg's sweaty four-year anniversary show, where it debuted much of the material from their fifth record, Root for Ruin. Harrington shoved his head through an umbrella at one point, and the charged joy in the air that night was another notch on the bedpost for these indie-punk veterans.—Sharon Steel

24. Liquid Liquid

The insistently throbbing, instantly recognizable two-note bass riff of "Cavern," a track from Liquid Liquid's 1983 EP, Optimo, would be enough to guarantee this prescient mutant disco-punk band a permanent spot in the New York City rock canon, even if it was the Sugar Hill Gang's version as the backing track for Melle Mel's hip-hop classic "White Lines (Don't Do It)" that secured the track's enduring fame. Of course, there's more where that came from, as the group's gangly, skeletal funk and vocalist Salvatore Principato's indistinct yelp laid the foundation for any number of latter-day indie dance-rock acts. Rare live dates show that Liquid Liquid still brings the tight-ass funk, and lately the band is finally reaping what it sowed: In 2009, it played Lincoln Center with Rhys Chatham's 200-guitar ensemble, and in April it opened LCD Soundsystem's farewell gig at Madison Square Garden.—Steve Smith

23. Magnetic Fields

The Magnetic Fields, creative expressway for the prolific singer, songwriter and producer (not to mention former TONY Music writer) Stephin Merritt, is a New York band whose career spans more than two decades. The indie quartet's sound is impossible to categorize, running the gamut from dancey electro-pop (Holiday and other early albums) to noisy postpunk infused with the spirit of the Jesus and Mary Chain (Distortion) and pure-pop masterpieces (the epic three-disc 69 Love Songs). Who knows what's in store for the band's next album, due in 2012? Only in New York could a band with so many relentless guises be alive, well and celebrated.—Marley Lynch

22. Krallice

There's nothing strange these days about seeing NYC metal popping up on indie-rock blogs. As much as local diehards would hate to admit it, their scene is in the midst of a moment. On the bright side, many of the buzz-garnering bands are making genuinely weighty music: Fashion has bowed to them, rather than the other way around. Krallice, a quartet that has paradoxically seen its cachet increase as its output has grown ever more elaborate and uncompromising, comes at black metal from an odd avant-garde angle—no surprise given that lightning-fingered guitar conceptualist Mick Barr is a core member. With shadowy Europeans like Ulver as spiritual kin, Krallice hints at something ancient and mythological, but there's something staunchly New York about its corpse-paint-less presentation. Like our city, it has no room for styling or rhetoric—just weighty, labyrinthine epics as dizzying and ingenious as the NYC subway system. Take it from Hunter Hunt-Hendrix of controversial local black-metal sensations Liturgy, who told TONY, "They're probably a better band than we are."—Hank Shteamer

21. The Walkmen

The Walkmen exploded onto New York City's buzzing garage-rock scene in the early 2000s, staging their first concert at East Village institution Joe's Pub and building their own analog studio in Harlem, Marcata Recording. Though that rehearsal space has since been lost in a Columbia University acquisition, the atmospheric five-piece's soul-tinged, languid alt-rock sound remains integral to our fair city's sonic landscape, providing influence to countless rising local bands (most notably, the White Rabbits). Maybe they don't realize it, but they have certainly become the elder statesmen of the NYC rock scene.—Marley Lynch