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20 Best EDM and Electronic Albums of 2017

Footwork frenzies, futuristic hip-hop, nostalgic lo-fi house and more

EDM’s economic bubble continued to float on throughout 2017, as upper-crust artists jetted between festivals, casinos and meet-cutes with celebrity vocalists. The “global market” rose again to $7.4 billion in 2017, and Forbes is still aggrandizing superstar DJs. But this year, the artistic action was not about bigness. With ever-splintering global scenes and styles, there was no dominant trend and that was a very good thing. The amount of fascinating electronic and/or dance music in 2017 was staggering – the thrilling dance-floor eccentricity of Lanark Artefax; the overwhelming orchestral ambience of Gas; the thumb-piano street jams of Sierra Leone’s Kondi Band; the riotous bedroom mash-ups of Nidia and plenty more.

Stormzy ‘Gang Signs & Prayer’
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Stormzy, ‘Gang Signs & Prayer’

While American rap further explores the druggy recesses and third-generation abstractions of Atlanta trap, South London grime king Michael “Stormzy” Omari stomps into the cipher. Gang Signs‘ sophisticated sound, overseen by multi-instrumentalist and former Craig David guitarist Fraser T Smith, evokes a conflicted mise en scène – street and gospel, cutting and compassionate, brash and humble, indomitable and vulnerable. The darting woodwind riff and spare bass punctuation of “Shut Up” (co-produced by XTC) give the MC’s rolling flow a languid tension; the snare snap and strings of “Don’t Cry for Me” (by Wizzy Wow) urge on Stormzy’s regretful look at his Croydon home; single “Big for Your Boots” (by Sir Spyro) skips with glee; and the sinister slither of “First Things First” (by Mura Masa) frames a gruff confession – “Dark times, niggas dying in recession/You was fighting with your girl when I was fighting my depression.” C.A.

Equiknoxx, 'Colon Man'
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Equiknoxx, ‘Colón Man’

While Jamaican dancehall and its booming sound have informed every aspect of pop, hip-hop and R&B, the Kingston-based production duo of Gavin “Gavsborg” Blair and Jordan “Time Cow” Chung add much-needed heat to modern dance and bass music. Even without a fierce deejay atop their jagged riddims, the duo show that staggering thumps, cavernous negative space and the weirdest of noises can still make a club banger. Birdsong or Kola Champagne bubbles, UFO tractor beams or clacking tin cans, Equiknoxx know how to deploy weird noises to make deep space dancehall. A woozy, experimental ride. A.B.

Nídia, 'Nídia é Má, Nídia é Fudida'
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Nídia, ‘Nídia é Má, Nídia é Fudida’

Lisbon-born, Bordeaux-based DJ/bedroom producer Nídia Sukulbembe, formerly known as Nídia Minaj, is a prodigious avatar of batida, the latest mutation of sweat-beading-on-your-synths dance music pinballing out of Portugal and across the Afro-diaspora. Her second album’s title roughly translates as “Nídia is Bad, Nídia is Dope,” and opening track “Muihier Profissional” is a controlled rat-a-tat fanfare announcing her as all of the above. Frantically giddy like splintered reggaeton, Nidia’s syncopated bursts come at you fast, but so does her emotional core. On “I Miss My Ghetto” (specifically, Lisbon’s Vale De Amoreira neighborhood), she splashes a vocal hiccup across mournful piano chords and digitally scrambled congas to create an eerie, time-shift effect like Chicago footwork. Nídia’s ability to deftly fracture global dance styles into glowing postcards is her unique gift to the world. C.A.

Daphni, 'Joli Mai'
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Daphni, ‘Joli Mai’

On his second album under his dance-floor-oriented alter-ego Daphni, Canadian producer and DJ Dan Snaith (also known as Caribou) offers extended versions of songs he debuted earlier this year on his excellent Fabriclive mix. Where that collection featured 11 of these 12 songs in brief snippets (restlessly stitched together with Snaith’s edits of songs by Container, Jamire Williams, Luther Davis Group and Pheeroan Ak Laff), Joli Mai allows the tracks to stretch out and leisurely throw their hands into the air. The punch of live-sounding drums and shimmery synths fuel songs like “Poly” and “Carry On,” while vocal loops provide the hooks to stompers like “Xing Tian,” “Tin” and “Hey Drum.” M.R.

Kondi Band, 'Salone'
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Kondi Band, ‘Salone’

One of 2017’s most charming debuts was this collaboration between Sorie Kondi, a blind street musician from Sierra Leone’s capital city Freetown, and Milwaukee-raised producer Chief Boima, the son of Sierra Leonean immigrants. Kondi sings in Krio (Sierra Leone’s lingua franca) and plays lilting melodies on his namesake instrument, the kondi – a thumb piano that bounces and percolates with an irrepressible energy. Boima adds subtle beats, loops and synths (or occasionally horns, on “Geibai Gpanga Ne Gna”) to craft distinctive Afro-house tracks. Mesmerizing and irresistibly funky, Salone is a compelling addition to the global dance floor: Freetown and your ass will follow. M.R.

Traxman, 'Tekvision'
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Traxman, ‘Tekvision’

Of all the Chicago footwork architects from the frenetic genre’s first wave of worldwide exposure, Cornelius “Traxman” Ferguson has proven to be the hardest rocking – the most willing to make mincemeat of heavy metal riffs. His fifth-or-so album explores a new type of harshness thanks to tweaking the minimalist textures of vintage electronic music – “Tone Deaf” is like a pulsating sine wave turned into funky morse code, “Whop Line” is a piercing wobble sent howling and wiggling onto the dancefloor. Tracks like “Gone Girl” are a more familiar return to tweaking classic pop songs, but his stuttering work – presumably his quick fingers on an MPC – leaves busted-sounding glitches and skips. C.W.

Lanark Artefax, 'Whities 011'
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Lanark Artefax, ‘Whities 011’ EP

Glaswegian producer Calum MacRae, a.k.a. Lanark Artefax, might have only released a handful of his alien techno tracks – a little over an hour of music since 2015, and this four-song EP serving as his total output for 2017. However, he’s already found his way into DJ sets from both Björk and Aphex Twin. His music – full of high-voltage shocks, bewildering sonic details and tempo-defying noises – connects the dizzyingly abstract IDM of early Nineties groups like Autechre with the crowd-pleasing boom-tick of modern architects like Rustie and Hudson Mohawke. But on this EP MacRae also shows off a highly attuned sensibility in finding the evocative, heart-stirring center of ambient music, as on the choir-like closer “Voices Near the Hypocentre.” A.B.

Jlin, 'Black Origami'
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Jlin, ‘Black Origami’

A dizzying, disorienting, delirious clatter of hyperreal, synthetic sounds. Rhythmically, Gary, Indiana-based producer Jerrilynn “Jlin” Patton creates polyrhythmic cyclones similar to the high-octane Chicago dance music known as “footwork,” but her textures are purely avant-garde, an airbrushed sound with buzzing thumb pianos, clipped vocal flickers and hi-definition virtual reality noise that wouldn’t sound out of place from experimental artists like Ryuichi Sakamoto, Oneohtrix Point Never, the PC Music crew or collaborator Holly Herndon. C.W.

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