NYC Rock 2011: The top 25 New York City bands

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

  • Steely Dan

  • Photograph: Mark Seliger

    The Hold Steady

  • The National

  • Dirty Projectors

  • Photograph: Victoria Will

    TV on the Radio

Steely Dan

10. Steely Dan

As slick, technical and glossy as Steely Dan's music is, the hitmaking duo could only have come from New York; even without knowing the back story, you could ascertain this from the Dan's gift for urban storytelling and the fact that it rocks so hard. (Tell us you've never head-banged to the guitar solo on "Reelin' in the Years."). Both Donald Fagen and Walter Becker were born outside the city, but moved to Brooklyn after college to hawk songs in Manhattan—which is when the NYC worked its magic on the pair. A move to L.A. to record 1977 album Aja only spurred the pair's obsession with our city; more recently, Steely Dan has reclaimed its New Yorkiness with a series of roaringly successful live runs at the Beacon Theatre.—Sophie Harris

9. The Hold Steady

Nostalgic rock & rollers the Hold Steady bear a clear attachment to Minnesota, their home before they regrouped in Brooklyn, because of the many Twin Cities tales they weave throughout their discography. But the band didn't formally exist as-is until relocating to New York, where frontman Craig Finn's eloquent narrative-style lyrics and vocals really took shape. The great bar band sounds equally good in an arena of thousands as coming out of a jukebox; its beat poetry will always appeal to the city's music nerds just as its classic-rock anthems will charm boozy good-time seekers. Even after cultivating a cultish fan base and opening for the Rolling Stones, members of the brainy quintet remain connected to our city's beloved underground music scene—Finn, for instance, will be performing in John Wesley Harding's kaleidoscopic Cabinet of Wonders at City Winery on October 28.—Marley Lynch

8. The National

The anticipation leading up to the National's latest album, High Violet, fueled the band's transition from being one of Brooklyn-by-way-of-Cincinnati's favorite underdogs to the sudden saviors of indie rock. Everything about the National felt different, from Matt Beringer's baritone vocals—so luxurious to ears overexposed to a constant stream of twee tenors and falsettos—to its neo-gothic, obsessive attention to poetic, ornate songs about office work and financial debt. A year later, as it rolls toward six consecutive shows at the Beacon Theatre this December, the five piece has solidified its position not only as a hardworking band of brothers made good, but a rock & roll outfit at the peak of its powers.—Sharon Steel

7. Dirty Projectors

It was always clear that Dirty Projectors leader Dave Longstreth had big ideas. Cue 2005's The Getty Address, the former Yale composition student's rock opera about Don Henley, or Rise Above, a 2007 album that couched Black Flag lyrics within entirely new settings. But it wasn't until 2009's Bitte Orca that the Projectors ascended to the upper ranks of NYC rock. The album juxtaposed bracingly weird art pop—those spiky guitars! those ear-tweaking harmonies!—with a funky beat and hummable hooks. (At the Williamsburg Waterfront in '09, people took "Stillness Is the Move"—one of the great NYC songs of the aughts—as a booty-shakin' cue, and the song also inspired an only-in--New York collaboration with Solange Knowles.) Critics and fans swooned, and the band became ubiquitous, performing with Bjrk at Housing Works, covering Black Flag at the Our Band Could Be Your Life tribute at Bowery Ballroom, and spawning alt-singer-songwriter darlings Nat Baldwin and Angel Deradoorian. For any aspiring local group hoping to have their rarefied cake and eat a sugary pop confection too, Dirty Projectors is the model to shoot for.—Hank Shteamer

6. TV on the Radio

With its throbbing basslines, pealing brass and ticking-timebomb drums, TVOTR's debut album, Desperate Youth, Bloodythirsty Babes (2004), was the kind of record for which you'll always remember the first time you heard it, when you thought, What the hell is that?And so it goes (and keeps going), album after album. Though producer Dave Sitek has decamped to Los Angeles, the remaining members remain firmly Brooklyn-based. As singer Kyp Malone told TONY recently: "I hear some people bag on Williamsburg and Brooklyn for so long, and it's like, guess that's why people keep movin' here, [Laughs] cause it sucks so bad."—Sophie Harris