NYC Rock 2011: The top 25 New York City bands

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

  • Photograph: Courtesy Press Here Publicity

    Yeah Yeah Yeahs

  • Photograph: Lino Brunetti

    Michael Gira of Swans

  • Photograph: Beth Levendis


  • Photograph: Courtesy of RCA Records

    The Strokes

  • Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth

Photograph: Courtesy Press Here Publicity

Yeah Yeah Yeahs

5. Yeah Yeah Yeahs

In a live set, Yeah Yeah Yeahs are truly a force to be reckoned with: frontwoman Karen O invariably rocks out in a Superwoman meets Egyptian princess getup, guitarist Nick Zinner backs up her alluring voice with his filthy, filthy riffs, and drummer Brian Chase feverishly drives songs forth with his precise beats. Since forming at the beginning of the century, the band has been deemed one of the pioneers of New York's rock revival. And its members still find time to participate in a number of local projects: Karen O produced a rock opera, Stop the Virgens (now running through October 28 at at St. Ann's Warehouse), while synaesthetic battery expert Chase is involved with a host of experimental neighborhood musicians, such as thorny free-improv combo Mary Halvorson and Jessica Pavone, and Jewish cantor--inspired collective the Sway Machinery.—Marley Lynch

4. Swans

Crawling from the darkest, most excessive recesses of the New York rock underground in 1982, singer Michael Gira and Swans made music that was simultaneously revolting and bewitching, personal and universal, tortuous and ineffably beautiful. No subject of pain, rage or degradation was off limits in Gira's bleak worldview, driven home by some of the city's most brutal collective playing to date. By 1997, after a stretch of mournful majesty, Gira's energy for the project was spent; he moved on to a more humane group, Angels of Light, while also fomenting outlier rock and avant sounds on his Young God label. Surprisingly, Gira reactivated Swans last year with a heroic disc, My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky; more surprisingly, his distinctive strains of melancholy and catharsis still pack as hard (and loud) a punch as ever.—Steve Smith

3. Anthrax

Virtually alone among a mostly California-based thrash-metal revolution, Anthrax bestrode the stage with a fury that kept it in good company with Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer, as well as a swing, a sass and an openness to hip-hop influences that was pure Noo Yawk. Caustic and charismatic, the band notched hit records with its original singer, Joey Belladonna, then continued to fight the good fight with his replacement, John Bush. After a dark stretch during the '90s, Anthrax roared back with a vengeance on this year's Belladonna-fronted Worship Music, easily among its strongest records. On stage this year, both alone and during the Big Four tour with its California brethren, Anthrax emerged as the only vintage thrash act that has yet to rest on its laurels.—Steve Smith

2. The Strokes

Just when the world was about to give up hope for rock music—don’t say you’ve blacked out the memory of Limp Bizkit, Matchbox 20, Creed et al—the Strokes emerged. Or rather, they appeared, almost as implausible as a mirage to a parched man crawling through the desert. The music was absurdly tight, crammed with hooks and grooves galore, and what’s more, the band’s five members were the coolest thing anyone had seen in years. The Strokes were a personification of all the rock & roll values that New York holds dear, from the song titles (“New York City Cops”) to the sound (an update on CBGB punk-pop) and the clothes (leather, Converse, skinny jeans). Of course, they burnt themselves out by their third album (the awkward First Impressions of Earth). But because this is New York, where you have no choice but to dust yourself off and move on up, the Strokes returned this year with the crisply rockin’ Angles.Sophie Harris

1. Sonic Youth

What were the odds that our Number One band would be teetering on the brink of oblivion at exactly the time this list is appearing? It seems almost unthinkable that Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon, underground rock's most fabled and creatively compatible married couple, just announced their separation, leaving the long-running group's status in limbo. ("Who gets custody of Lee Ranaldo and Steve Shelley?" one wag asked on Twitter.) Then again, friction and chaos seem to suit the saga of Sonic Youth, who arose from Gotham's grotty No Wave gutters to become the godparents of the alternative-rock revolution. Critical consensus seems to indicate that the quartet's best albums are long behind it, but when each new album is hailed by the press as a return to form, the real message is of a stunning consistency that spills over into the band's formidable live shows. Hail to the champions…but hopefully not farewell.—Steve Smith