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20 Best Dance Albums of 2013

EDM’s standouts, from next-level retro-futurism to armchair headtrips

Dance Albums

Courtesy of ATP Recordings; Courtesy of Columbia Records; Courtesy of Island Records; Courtesy of Domino Records

The past year was maybe the most astonishing yet for electronic music, full of marquee triumphs and troubles, from the sold-out arena spectacles of Swedish House Mafia to the massive Electric Zoo in New York City, which might've been the festival's largest iteration had it not been cancelled midway thru after the MDMA-related deaths of two revelers. Most inspiring was the scene's musical creativity, which included Daft Punk's artisanal retro-future disco (so next-level it pretty much abandoned synths and drum machines), Disclosure's perfectly-turned club-pop hybrids, Fuck Buttons' dark anthems, and gorgeous armchair head trips by The Field and Jon Hopkins. Once upon a fairly recent time, all this would have been considered fringe music. Now, somehow, it's mainstream pop vernacular — even Kanye has become a kind of EDM act. What happens now? Who knows? But we expect it will continue to be dazzling, in a shiny-cyborg kinda way.

By Will Hermes and David Marchese

Classixx, 'Hanging Gardens'

Courtesy Innovative Leisure

20

Classixx, ‘Hanging Gardens’

The fizzy, elegant L.A. remixers (Phoenix, Madonna, Passion Pit) channel the throw-your-hands-in-the-air pleasure principles of '80s dance pop. "All You're Waiting For," with LCD Soundsystem's Nancy Whang, conjures Madge's rubber-bracelet debut; elsewhere there's the conga-handclap magic of vintage Latin freestyle. But the helium-balloon builds, primordial-ooze bass lines and thick-waisted beats are all 2013, just minus the stadium EDM overkill.

DJ Koze, 'Amygdala'

Courtesy Pampa Records

19

DJ Koze, ‘Amygdala’

An elegant mix of streamlined Teutonic techno beats, hip-hop jump cuts, oddball instrumentation, and warped vocals, including Rhye's Mike Milosh (swimming in a bubble bath of bells on the title track) and the late German actress Hildegard Knef (whose reading of Rodgers & Hart's "I Could Write A Book" suggests the trippiest Pal Joey revival ever).

Holy Ghost!, 'Dynamics'

Courtesy DFA

18

Holy Ghost!, ‘Dynamics’

Something like New York's answer to Phoenix (the band, not the city), these LCD Soundsystem associates focused their pop lens on their second LP, the upshot being a delicious balancing act of club-beats and song hooks. Inspirational low-rent New York lyrical shout-out: "This bodega's got a lovely basement!

Boards of Canada, 'Tomorrow's Harvest'

Courtesy of Warp

17

Boards of Canada, ‘Tomorrow’s Harvest’

The long-brewing fourth album by the revered, elusive Scottish duo is to '70s ambient prog rock (see Tangerine Dream, etc.) what Daft Punk's Random Access Memories is to '70s disco: a loving, evocative nostalgia trip decidedly framed by 21st century technology. Full of glittery analog textures and looping melody fragments, it's like watching the movements in a murky fish tank, flashes of beauty fighting their way through the gunk, and more moving for it.

The Haxan Cloak, 'Excavation'

Courtesy of Tri Angle

16

The Haxan Cloak, ‘Excavation’

Bobby Krlic's psychedelic beat canvases are 50 shades of black — and considering their glacial tempos, it might be rhythmically misleading to use the term "beat." Yet they are gorgeously bass-y, bulbous and fascinating. Ambient EDM to disappear into your hoodie by.

Factory Floor, 'Factory Floor'

Courtesy of DFA

15

Factory Floor, ‘Factory Floor’

If James Murphy's major innovation was bringing the burdens of an aging hipster's heart and curator's brain to bear on dance music, his DFA dudes in Factory Floor get over by adding an alluringly icy, metallic sheen to their post-punk influenced grooves. Throughout, Vocoder'd vocals intone gnomic questions ("Did you feel like you were going to/fall on the ground?") while industrial synths and disco drumwork move the music towards the singularity.

Rudimental, 'Home'

Courtesy of Atlantic Records

14

Rudimental, ‘Home’

Where other dance mavens compel a sweatily physical loss-of-self, Rudimental's Home lifts listeners to a more spiritual plane. Graced by soulful vocal guest spots by the likes of John Newman and Ella Eyre (on, respectively, standouts "Feel the Love" and "Waiting All Night"), the London DJ-production collective fuses glowing house and propulsive drum'n'bass with sanctified pop melody. If heaven is a dance party, this is what's playing.

Party Supplies, 'Tough Love'

Courtesy of Fools Gold

13

Party Supplies, ‘Tough Love’

In his production work for Action Bronson's Blue Chips mixtapes, Party Supplies (real name: Justin Nealis) uses Eighties MOR samples to add pop snap to Bronson's blunted storytelling. On Tough Love, with help from multi-instrumentalist Sean Mann, Nealis eschews swagger for swooning rhythms, winsome melodies and bubbly beats. It's dance music for introverts.   

Avicii, 'True'

Courtesy of Universal Island

12

Avicii, ‘True’

Hey, you got Mumford & Sons in my EDM! Swedish producer Avicii slyly celebrated electronic music's stateside boom by combining vintage roots music and energetic house beats. It's an exuberant cross-cultural good time, and thanks to anthems like "Wake Me Up," it never lets up.

Kavinsky, 'OutRun'

Courtesy of Mercury Records

11

Kavinsky, ‘OutRun’

Good dance music needs a beat more than it needs a concept, but OutRun, thankfully, is the rare example where the latter strengthens the former. Daft Punk pal Kavinsky's retro drum machines and pop-metal guitars are, on their own, enough to make butts and EQ needles wiggle. An attached teen-movie storyline about a thrillseeker resurrected from a fiery car crash who speeds around in a supernatural Ferrari Testarossa adds a layer of ridiculous fun.

Johnny Jewel, 'After Dark 2'

Courtesy of Italians Do It Better

10

Johnny Jewel, ‘After Dark 2’

The multi-tasking Montrealer behind Chromatics (whose recent Kill For Love opened with a hushed take on Neil Young's "Hey Hey, My My [Into The Black]" before morphing into trippy synth-pop) dons his dance rock alter-ego for a set of hook-studded Euro-trashy jams that can get Daft Punkier than the latest Daft Punk record. And unlike so many trigger-finger EDM producers, dude knows when to hold a groove and when to cut. Note to Arcade Fire: bet your homeboy could bring the remix fire.

Darkside, 'Psychic'

Courtesy of Matador Records

9

Darkside, ‘Psychic’

The bandname seems no accident: The new project by avant-techno savant Nicolas Jaar and multi-instrumentalist pal Dave Harrington works in colors conjuring mid-period Pink Floyd. EDM posing as prog-rock, or visa-versa, it's driven by humanoid drum grooves, handclaps and some surprisingly bluesy licks – "Paper Trails" sounds almost like a JJ Cale remix. Meanwhile, their free-download remix of the entire Daft Punk record was a bold act of shotgun digital impressionism. Together, the duo made a convincing argument that the Cold War between dance music and rock is ancient history.

DJ Rashad, 'Double Cup'

Courtesy of Hyperdub

8

DJ Rashad, ‘Double Cup’

This breakout set from the ambassador of Chicago's footwork club scene was one of the year's freshest-sounding dance LPs, ominous and decidedly futuristic. Yet the style shows deep ties to early house and Detroit techno, and echoes of '70s R&B and soul-jazz abound – just compare the analog keyboard vibe of "Pass That Shit" with that of Kool & The Gang's "Summer Madness," and you'll feel Rashad's roots. Then pass that shit, like the man says.

The Field, 'Cupid’s Head'

Courtesy of Kompakt

7

The Field, ‘Cupid’s Head’

A dark pleasuredome of submerged club beats, aching phonemes, and droning loops that distend and morph with the awesome intractability of crumbling glaciers, this was the year's most magnificently hallucinogenic EDM set. It's mostly about the bliss of beats, but not entirely: see "No. No…," a nine-minute trip into wildly abstracted negativity. And even that one is pretty positive.

Omar Souleyman, 'Wenu Wenu'

Courtesy of Sublime Requencies

6

Omar Souleyman, ‘Wenu Wenu’

A revelatory set of Syrian electro-pop by a veteran wedding singer-turned-cultural emissary/Bjork remixer, Souleyman pitches R&B woo with fierce Arabic fricatives and the occasional invocation of Allah. But for lay fans, his hookah-bar synths and digitized hand-percussion translate perfectly as top-shelf EDM belly dance music. Produced by Kieran Four Tet Hebden, it's a hot, matter-of-factly radical sound.

Four Tet Beautiful Rewind

Courtesy of Text Records

5

Four Tet, ‘Beautiful Rewind’

Four Tet's Keiran Hebden had a hand in two of the year's best dance sets, producing Omar Souleyman's latest alongside this lushly kinetic set. Having just celebrated the 10th anniversary of his folktronic Rounds with a deluxe reissue, he focuses squarely on the dancefloor here, but without compromising his deeply psychedelic loops and timbres. "Kool FM" turns house music hollers and turntable rewinds into a fractal of old-school reverie; "Buchla" is a smeary datastorm over a whirlpool of dubby beats. This music sent bodies pinwheeling at New York's Electric Zoo in September. But it works just as well through headphones on the bus.

Jon Hopkins, 'Immunity'

Courtesy of Domino Records

4

Jon Hopkins, ‘Immunity’

These gorgeous, glitchy, sexy, somber jams were the year's most addictive bedroom beats – EDM for those evenings when you'd rather curl up at home with a vapor pipe and your boo. Hopkins' drifting sense of melody recalls both Eno and the piano minimalism of Erik Satie. But he also likes forward motion and the sly schaffel beats of German techno. By the time the 4/4 kick drums materialize, you'll be dancing on the couch.

Fuck Buttons, 'Slow Focus'

Courtesy of ATP Recordings

3

Fuck Buttons, ‘Slow Focus’

Andrew Hung and Benjamin John Power's last set of gargantuan, uncompromisingly trippy electronic dance-rock was selected as part of the soundtrack for the London 2012 summer Olympics. Their third LP is way darker, but its journeys in tension and release are no less awesome, filled with tsunamis of corroded synthesizer noise and industrial beats (see the brutal opener "Brainfreeze"). These wordless anti-hero anthems may not impress the next Olympic Committee. But they'd make a perfect score for dystopian sci-fi films – and for life at the moment, which feels like roughly the same thing.

Disclosure, 'Settle'

Courtesy of Island Records

2

Disclosure, ‘Settle’

That remix of Jessie Ware's "Running" put them on the map. But on their debut LP, the brothers Lawrence (Guy, 21, and Howard, 18) brought house music's yin to dubstep's yang and effectively declared themselves heir to the tradition of The Chemical Brothers, Basement Jaxx and Daft Punk – marquee EDM duos as devoted to vocal-driven songcraft as to get-out-on-the-floor beat making. Highlights include the echo-warped Cockney flourishes of "White Noise," their buoyant collab with fellow newcomers AlunaGeorge (who also made a great dance-pop LP), and "When The Fire Starts To Burn," the year's best motivational club banger.

Daft Punk, 'Random Access Memories'

Courtesy of Columbia Records

1

Daft Punk, ‘Random Access Memories’

A monumentally ambitious, old-school concept LP filled with wonderfully WTF moments, from Julian Casablancas' vocoder soul to Paul Williams robo-schmaltz fantasia, this is a fantasy-baseball-style idealization of the sort of cratedigger disco that first inspired Daft Punk's sample-driven, game-changing house music. The record hot-wired Nile Rodgers' radio-ruling rhythm guitar, rebooted Pharrell's irresistible hip-hop soul, and basically did the time warp in a high-wire act of reverse engineering. (Daft Punk's work on Kanye's Yeezus, meanwhile, was another triumph.) You could say they stayed up all night to get lucky, and boy did they. But in truth, luck had nothing to do with it.

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