NYC Rock 2011: The top 25 New York City bands

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

  • Photograph: Courtesy Cantora Records


  • Photograph: Jake Schreier

    Francis and the Lights

  • Photograph: Elvis Maynard

    David Johansen of New York Dolls

  • Sharon Jones

  • Oneida

Photograph: Courtesy Cantora Records


20. MGMT

Andrew Van Wyngarden and Ben Goldwasser of MGMT were definitely the odd men out at Columbia Records when they were signed by the major label back in 2006. The pair of young rockers initially got together at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, but they rose to true—and extremely rapid—fame as Brooklynites when they released their psych-pop masterpiece, Oracular Spectacular. The boys then shocked listeners with a revamped sound on their sophomore LP, last year's Congratulations, which featured less-than-radio-friendly art-rock songs, yet retained the same psychedelic influences. Though its buzz-friendly blend of '60s psychedelia and current electronic rock has the requisite hipster cachet, MGMT has also won the support of pop-rock pillars such as Paul McCartney and Radiohead. Catch the group at Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum November 10 and 11.—Marley Lynch

19. Francis and the Lights

Every rock scene needs a fascinating enigma, and Francis Farewell Starlite currently has the NYC market cornered. An R&B-steeped, piano-loving, crazy-dancing craftsman with a broad array of classy influences—from Prince to Elton John, whose "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters" Starlite covered at a brilliant Le Poisson Rouge solo show this past February—he's cracked the big time (in 2010 alone, he opened for Drake, MGMT and Ke$ha) while at the same time retaining an aura of pure mystery. Performing with a mutable but always-intense band ("Jump Back" Jake Rabinbach, 2011 NYC's budding Larry Carlton, is the sole fixture), Starlite has built up serious word-of-mouth buzz—check out one of his increasingly rare local shows and note how many people know every word. While his last effort, It'll Be Better, was a cult hit, we expect that he'll soon become the toast of the town.—Hank Shteamer

18. New York Dolls

Until recently, the New York Dolls seemed like a band you'd read about in the history books (or on Web lists like this one!), or as part of a museum exhibit dealing with how cool NYC was decades before you arrived. By the early aughts, younger listeners were more likely to recognize frontman David Johansen for his offbeat acting career (Scrooged, anyone?) than as the Jagger-ish leader of this loudmouthed '70s-era glam-punk crew. Improbably, a mid-aughts Dolls reunion turned out to really matter: The 2006 comeback album One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This turned our heads, and this year's Dancing Backward in High Heels was better still—not so much a punk record as a misfit take on Phil Spector--ish pop, shot through with Johansen's lovably grizzled downtown obnoxiousness. The Dolls recently braved a tour with Poison and Mtley Cre, bringing their scuzzy yet bighearted NYC stylings to party animals nationwide. We're proud to call them our ambassadors.—Hank Shteamer

17. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings

Yes, we know, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings are a soul band, but but they've made our list for two very compelling reasons. First, because they rock—they'll make you sweat and dance like you've got ants in your pants. And second, because the band's home, Daptone Records, is one of very few remaining real indie labels. Formed by Gabriel Roth and Neal Sugarman, Daptone is not owned by the Man, and still operates from a townhouse in Bushwick (Daptone's House of Soul). Daptone artists like the Menahan Street Band, Naomi Shelton and Charles Bradley play together on records and on shared bills all over town—raising merry hell at tiny local venues and resplendent city palaces alike.—Sophie Harris

16. Oneida

Like the Utopian sect for which it snatched its name, Brooklyn band Oneida is all about a quixotic quest for communal vibes. Mixing influences from krautrock, psychedelia, electronica and even more esoteric sources into a signature sound, the restless quintet cemented its reputation with consistently high-level interaction and canny improvisation; not just any band could make up a set lasting eight hours or more on the fly, as Oneida has done twice this year alone. Still fewer could make that scenario something worth celebrating. And with Brah, a custom imprint on the influential Jagjaguwar label, Oneida has bolstered its milieu with important releases by Parts & Labor, Company, Shinji Masuko and others.—Steve Smith