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5. Arcade Fire
Imagine the alternate path Arcade Fire could have charted in 2013. It would have been remarkably easy—the Montreal group could have churned out a decent enough The Suburbs soundalike, glided along on the coattails of their critical reputation, sleptwalk through an arena tour, and still lapped up respectable sales and heaps of acclaim. Instead, treating 2013 as what has been endlessly likened to its Achtung Baby moment, the group upped the street art-inspired publicity factor, sneakily materialized in several cities performing secret shows as “The Reflektors”, and emerged with an ambitious and dancey technophobic panic attack of a double LP. That it’s all worked has resulted in the Arcade Fire’s most commanding year this side of Funeral Zach Schonfeld
4. David Bowie
After 2003’s Reality Dame David of Bowie all but vanished into thin air. Where was he? Did he ever really exist? Had he been a mass hallucination? Suddenly after ten barren, bitter and bleak years of ‘Bowie-free’ pop atrocities he appeared from the ether one January morning. A thin grey duke, dapper as we remembered but serenely sombre. A nation wept with joy and sadness. Twerking. American Idol. The deification of the Village idiot. Twitter feuds. Bieber. Our dead-eyed, insatiable desire for infamy. “Where Are We Now” indeed? We had properly fucked up. What followed in 2013 was a formal and ‘for-your-own-good’ spanking in the name of Proper Pop Genius. The Next Day album (sassy, swaggering, schmokin’), the BBC doc Five Years (in which the Dame invents and nukes pop several times over annually) and the V&A exhibition David Bowie Is (which reminded us Dave is, basically, everything). Sir Bowie forgive them, they know not what they do. Oh and for God’s sake take us with you when you go next time. Matt James
3. Vampire Weekend
Vampire Weekend is better than whichever band you think is good, for two reasons: they made the most expensive sounding album of the year, and they can make it sound pretty much the same onstage. Considering the sheer amount of sonic crap they snuck onto Modern Vampires of the City, it’s amazing the Weekends can reproduce their songs live without any apparent trickery. YouTube videos reveal a stage heavy with gear, yes, but also players blessed with chops and adept at grooves. Credit for their sound world goes mostly to keyboardist and co-producer Rostam Batmanglij. When a crack live band is lucky enough to have a resident studio whiz like Batmanglij, there’s little they can’t get away with. He’s their Lindsey Buckingham, their Jimmy Page, and yes they’re in that company because wow, have you heard this thing? A couple boring songs, but they’re tucked away near the end and they’re both better than “Moby Dick”. Josh Langhoff
2. My Bloody Valentine
That My Bloody Valentine ended up on a list of the best artists of 2013 means that the pioneering band overcame the burden of history. If following up a modern classic like Loveless wasn’t a daunting enough task to begin with, My Bloody Valentine upped the degree of difficulty and the burdens of expectations by waiting almost 22 years to do it. What’s more, it was hardly a drama-free two decades-plus in-the-making for that mythical next album, with years of false starts and misinformation, with hopes reignited and dreams broken each time Kevin Shields sent out a cryptic missive that something new would materialize soon. Stoked by urban legends of monstrous budgets, malfunctioning equipment, and breakdowns, the stature of My Bloody Valentine only grew in the interim, surpassing any acclaim accruing to the group while it was actually in business.
So when word spread online on a Saturday evening in February that My Bloody Valentine had finally released its third album, it seemed all-too-appropriate that the servers couldn’t handle the traffic, making those last few hours feel like the longest ones yet. But after you could actually download and absorb it, you realized that My Bloody Valentine lived up to the hype: m b v was a feat in itself simply because its rewards outweighed the risks, considering the band started from the no-win situation of creating a work that couldn’t be better than what came before it and was much more likely to be a letdown. What’s impressive is that m b v is an accomplishment on its own terms that made you forget all the backstory once it enveloped you in its blanket of melodic fuzz, though that’s only the second most unlikely surprise from My Bloody Valentine in 2013. Arnold Pan
1. Daft Punk
The duo behind Daft Punk, French musicians Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, are perhaps the most anonymous of all musicians presently at work. They only appear on their albums and in public hidden behind helmets and outfits that render them as human robots, and, in the past, have rarely given interviews or done television. That all changed in 2013 with the release of the group’s first non-soundtrack album in eight years, the excellent Random Access Memories. The duo was seemingly everywhere: from being on the cover of Rolling Stone and granting an interview to the magazine to touring Amsterdam with Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) to being featured in fashion spreads for Vogue and CR Fashion Book (the latter saw the duo posing with actress Milla Jovovich) to getting into a well publicized spat with Stephen Colbert for being a no-show on The Colbert Report to getting their own Formula One race car.
The publicity machine for Random Access Memories was well-oiled and memorable, and elevated the public profile of this electronic music duo, making them one of the most talked about outfits of the year. That they turned in one of the year’s and perhaps decade’s (so far) best overall records makes Daft Punk worth gabbing about and, with a deluxe edition of Random Access Memories on the way with a whopping price tag of $275, it looks like we’re not finished with either the album or the band, either. Zachary Houle