There are thousands of bands in NYC, and new acts are forming or moving here every day. But there are only so many that are worth your (or our) precious time. Behold, the NYPress’ definitive list of the 20 best bands currently playing. You can disagree, but you’d be wrong.
1. ANIMAL COLLECTIVE
Mixing Brian Wilson–style production with a psychedelic freak-folk sound, Animal Collective has created the perfect mix of experimentation and pop and become the most talked-about band in New York.
Essential track: Fireworks
2. THE WALKMEN
Originally overlooked when bands like The Strokes and Interpol were getting all of the attention, The Walkmen, who rose from the ashes of the late, great Jonathan Fire*Eater, are finally getting the praise they deserve with the best album of the year.
Essential track: The New Year
3. TV ON THE RADIO
The band everyone loves, or loves to hate, has emerged as perhaps the greatest hometown draw around for live shows, and is topping everyone’s playlist with its latest record, Dear Science.
Essential track: Stork and Owl
4. SONIC YOUTH
For over 25 years, Sonic Youth has ruled NYC´s independent music scene, maintaining relevancy and continuing to release great albums. What other middle-aged band could have two members move to Massachusetts and still be cooler than anyone else in town?
Essential track: Teenage Riot
5. GOGOL BORDELLO
A true band of gypsies, their concerts are as crazy as a carnival and ten times as much fun.
Essential track: Wonderlust King
6. DEPARTMENT OF EAGLES/GRIZZLY BEAR
Sure, the New York Times gave DoE a big, sloppy kiss last month, and Grizzly Bear is the most
important thing in Williamsburg since multicolored Ray-Ban knockoffs, but sometimes there’s a good reason for that sort of adoration. n fact, these are two of the only bands in town we would brave a sold-out crowd to see.
Essential track: Teenagers by Department of Eagles, Little Brother by Grizzly Bear
7. MARNIE STERN
Not only does Marnie Stern play guitar like a fucking tornado, but her second album, the much
lauded This Is It and I Am It and You Are It and So Is That and He Is It and She Is It and It Is It and That Is That, despite its Miranda July–like name, might be the best thing we’ve heard all year.
Essential track: Transformer
Even if it didn’t feature an all-star cast, Battles would still be one of the most popular bands around thanks to frenzied live shows and last year’s Mirrored, the smartest-sounding rock record since Unwound stopped recording. Stay in school kids, if only to learn your math rock.
Essential track: Atlas
9. DIRTY PROJECTORS
After releasing Rise Above, a re-imagining of Black Flag´s essential Damaged, The Dirty Projectors
went from being totally unknown to being one of Brooklyn´s hottest bands.
Essential track: Fucked for Life
Since the early days of Company Flow, El-P has been one of the major forces in hip-hop. Between running hip-hop´s best label, Definitive Jux, with acts like Cage, Aesop Rock and Del The Funky Homosapien, and putting out his own brilliant 2007 record I´ll Sleep When You´re Dead, there’s no better name in NYC hip-hop. Sorry, Kanye.
Essential track: Up All Night
Sounding like they’ve come from another world, Yeasayer blends Eastern and African music styles with a contemporary indie sensibility, creating an authentic colorful sound all its own.
Essential track: No Need to Worry
12. PARTS & LABOR
A major force in the noise-rock scene, Parts & Labor´s music is far more than just noise: It´s anthemic, often evoking an experimental Hsker D.
Essential track: Ghosts Will Burn
Sub Pop knows just how good Rick Froberg´s (Hot Snakes, Drive Like Jehu) new project is—they just signed ‘em—and pretty soon so will all of NYC.
Essential track: Widow of My Dreams
14. LES SAVY FAV
Behind the greatest beard since ZZ Top and frontman Tim Harrington´s outrageous stage antics you’ll find the best post-punk band around.
Essential track: Patty Lee
15. LCD SOUNDSYSTEM
Over the years, dance-punk has been given a bad name, but LCD Soundsystem is out to change that.
James Murphy & Co. put their all into shows and records—hell, they’ve got three Grammy nominations behind them—and it pays off: nobody gets jaded New Yorkers dancing like this crew.
Essential track: All My Friends
16. THE NATIONAL
Even if you didn’t fall prey to the charms of Boxer, the record that, along with lots of whiskey, made last winter tolerable, you can’t deny the band’s power. The two sets of brothers (and one other dude) give great show, and even
though they hang out with Sufjan Stevens, they don’t seem like assholes.
Essential track: Apartment Story
17. APES & ANDROIDS
At once futuristic and a throwback, A&A are fun to listen to and put on a great live show (who doesn’t love props?) that mixes robotic sensibility with classic rock riffs. Besides, who doesn’t love operatic vocals á la Freddie Mercury or Ian Svenonius.
Essential track: Hot Kathy
18. MOTEL MOTEL
The debut record New Denver clocks in at an ambitious 72 minutes, and every single one of them is necessary listening. This is NYC´s best debut record of 2008.
Essential track: Coffee
19. DANGER MOUSE
There´s a good reason that people like Beck, Damon Albarn and The Black Keys have chosen to work with him. There may be no better producer in music right now.
Essential track: “The Mask” by Dangerdoom
20. MAGNETIC FIELDS
Stephen Merritt’s rotating combo of music nerds still manage to stay relevant due to forays into experimental territory (the letter “I”?) while maintaining a consistently oddball perspective.
Essential track: Take Ecstasy With Me
Not quite there yet, the following 19 bands are destined to one day
rule the NYC music scene alongside Sonic Youth (who seems eternal in
Jealous Girlfriends, So So Glos, These Are Powers, Crystal Stilts,
School of Seven Bells, Ford & Fitzroy, Asobi Seksu, Harlem Shakes,
Chairlift, Pela, Pains of Being Pure at Heart, O’Death, Free Blood, The
Forms, Oakley Hall, Gang Gang Dance, TK Webb, Blood on the Wall,