NYC Rock 2011: The top 25 New York City bands

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

  • Matt and Kim

  • Antlers

  • Vampire Weekend

  • Photograph: John Shearer

    Avey Tare of Animal Collective

  • Buke and Gass

Matt and Kim

15. Matt and Kim

Indie promoter Todd P gets huge kudos as a DIY beacon in the local community, but he deserves some credit for performing another important function: talent scout. Out of all the bands that have graduated from the Brooklyn loft scene to way-above-ground renown, none started more humbly than the duo of Matt Johnson and Kim Schifino. A beyond--down-to-earth couple—he on keyboards and vox, she on drums and unwavering full-face grin—Matt and Kim started out playing Todd P--booked loft gigs with art-punky outfits like Japanther and Aa. These days, the band tours constantly, records for Fader's in-house label and plays the occasional TV spot, charming mass audiences the same way they used to win over rooms full of skeptical BK indie kids. Yet Johnson and Schifino remain unaffected; you can still hear the joy in their sunny odes to youth, friendship and the 24/7 adventure that is New York City.—Hank Shteamer

14. Antlers

In 2009, Antlers released Hospice, a haunting, critically acclaimed concept album about watching a terminally ill child die. The band's collection of ambient dirges instantly became beloved to hordes of New Yorkers in search of something that would make their urban depression feel meaningful again. Few could find any fault with Antlers' crippling miniature symphonies, with singer-guitarist's Peter Silberman's silvery falsetto or with the band's impeccable live show, which translated all the headphone intimacy of the album into an ecstatic concert setting. Antlers' follow-up, Burst Apart, is somewhat more polished but no less elegantly dark. All we can hope for is that whatever pain Silberman has inside of him never gets fully resolved, because in his anguish there might be a lifetime of records that elevate sorrow into exquisite beauty.—Sharon Steel

13. Vampire Weekend

Vampire Weekend's self-titled debut album drew a bunch of comparisons to Paul Simon's Graceland (yawn) on account of its twinkly African-sounding guitar lines—but what Vampire Weekend really has in common with Simon is a tendency toward a romantic, poetic representation of New York City, grit and all. On their first album, the wet-behind-the-ears Columbia grads updated Simon's bodegas and angelic architecture to bus routes and campus strolls; on 2009's sophomore album, Contra, the city had fully seeped in, from parkside horse-drawn carts to brain-freezingly cold winters. And via a unique, often perplexing combination of charm, mannalike melodies and cleverness, Vampire Weekend continues to get fans around the world singing along to the most unlikely refrains; at a way-sold-out Bowery Ballroom show in 2010, the audience united as one to sing along with NYC hymn "Horchata": "I'd look zygotic in a balaclava."—Sophie Harris

12. Animal Collective

Animal Collective kept popping up as the punch line to all of Hipster Runoff's best gags over the last couple of years, thanks in part to the band's free-spirited hippie oeuvre and whimsical recording monikers (Panda Bear, Geologist, etc). Still, these psychedelic pop revivalists have earned all of the hysterical, neon-and-glitter laurels they've been gifted. 2009 saw the release of the band's breakthrough, Merriweather Post Pavilion, a progressive album of sound experiments that walked the line of space pop and bizarre electro-jam collages. And with it came mentions on endless best-of lists, a tightly wrought live show thanks to an extended tour, and a collective sigh of gratitude that AmCo left Baltimore to become our very own.—Sharon Steel

11. Buke and Gass

TONY championed Buke and Gass long before the duo, comprising Aron Sanchez and Arone Dyer, stopped by our HQ to play two of the stellar tracks from their 2010 Brassland full-length, Riposte. The pair first played together in Hominid, a noisy post-punk outfit that disbanded and set them adrift; in 2008 they reunited and began tinkering with instruments, modifying a baritone ukulele and a bass guitar to create two instruments that generate an enormous melodic tension, aided by Dyer's rapturous vocals. Buke and Gass's strange and fluid compositions are suffused with pop hooks, yet sound like nothing you'd ever hear on FM radio—or even AM radio, for that matter. Sanchez and Dyer have commanded the stage at the Bang on a Can Marathon, an expansive avant-music fest, and shared an exclusive, intimate Valentine's Day bill with Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson; close your eyes at a show and you'll be convinced they've got as many members up there as Broken Social Scene. Sometimes the best music is also the best edited.—Sharon Steel