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20 Best EDM, Electronic and Dance Albums of 2014

From FlyLo to ‘Syro’ — the best in beats

Dance Albums

In 2014, dance music continued its expansion, ignoring the boundaries that once divided regions, genres and fans. Duck Sauce added drops to doo-wop, Bunji Garlin used trance and trap to make his soca music hit even harder and Fatima Al Qadiri created an album of sonic dispatches from an imaginary China. EDM still ruled the fields, but even that opened up: Skrillex's Recess contained hip-hop and two-step and Bassnectar built pretty songs on bass blasts. From Big Freedia's New Orleans bounce to Basement Jaxx's warm house to Todd Terje's sonic pool parties: It's list time! 


Traxman, ‘Da Mind of Traxman Vol. 2’

Traxman's 2012 debut full-length for British label Planet Mu was an ambitious flashpoint for Chicago's footwork scene of ankle-breaking beats and dances — the veteran DJ/producer collaged an all-encompassing portrait of where the music had been and where it might go. Da Mind of Traxman Vol. 2 zooms in on the stark core of his relentless snip-and-tap sampling — warped soul vocals, sputtering percussion, slipping in and out of sync, sometimes playfully, sometimes harshly, doubling back, digging at the groove obsessively. "Make Love to Me" deftly lacerates warm woodwinds and a keening female voice, then peppers them with rhythmic pellets; "Let It Roll Geto" throws a party by bashing a snatch of Eurhythmics "Sweet Dreams" to bits; and "15416" flips a chant, a wail, a trumpet bleat and typewriter snares into a beautifully agitated shuffle. C.A.

Fatima Al Qadiri

Fatima Al Qadiri, ‘Asiatisch’

The debut album from Brooklyn's Fatima Al Qadiri is an exploration of Chinese music in the same way that Las Vegas' New York-New York Hotel & Casino is an exploration of metropolitan life. A concept record ostensibly about orientalism in the grime scene, Asiatisch constructs chillingly artificial worlds that sound somewhere between PlayStation blips, Oneohtrix Point Never cheese-synths and cut-ups of Chinese poetry. The Mandarin cover of "Nothing Compares 2 U" finds a new layer of false-nostalgic beauty in a year when artists are still covering "Wicked Game." C.W.

Andy Stott

Andy Stott, ‘Faith in Strangers’

Subtlety reigns supreme here, but U.K. veteran Andy Stott is a master of gleaning maximal effect from minimal means. On his fourth full-length, the Manchester experimentalist turns forbidding sounds into beautiful artifacts. Like the statue on the cover, the music on Faith in Strangers stretches and blurs; much of it haunted by the presence of Alison Skidmore, a breathy, spectral vocalist who commands attention even when she's not actually singing. The best tracks ("On Oath," "Science and Industry," "How It Was") match her hovering voice with beats that pound away. A.B.


Moodymann, ‘Moodymann’

For his remarkable seventh studio album, legendary Detroit house maverick Kenny Dixon Jr. sounds like he blazed up on a lazy Sunday afternoon with his collection of jazz, soul, funk, gospel and house records (including old Moodymann jams) and got deep into his feelings. Bits of movie dialogue, woozy mumble-brags, murder stats, drug kingpin lore and rhetorical asides like, "Are y'all mad I'm a loco Detroiter?" color in the spaces between peerlessly inventive tracks. "Lyk U Use 2," a bittersweet shout to a lost love which constantly tweaks its sample's tempo; an appropriately disorienting remix of Lana Del Rey's "Born 2 Die"; the mood-shifting techno-pop impressionism of  "IGUessuneverbeenlonely" (with Junior Boys' Jeremy Greenspan); and the dark, racing spoken-word musing of "Freeki Muthafucka." And that's only a fraction of the trip. C.A.

Bunji Garlin

Bunji Garlin, ‘Differentology’

Much of 2014's most fun-loving, forward-thinking EDM came from Trinidad, where Machel Montano got sentimental over synths and Fay-Ann Lyons added big drops to her soaring ballads. Still, few people anywhere in the world pushed popular dance music harder than Lyons' husband, Bunji Garlin, the 36-year-old soca star who ran his home country's carnival celebrations with the trance-touched "Truck on D Road" then dropped an A$AP Ferg trap remix in time for New York's Labor Day celebrations. Differentology, his album-length mission statement, advocates for any music that will make the crowd move and gets a hand from Major Lazer, who contribute a festival-ready remix of the title track. N.M.

Todd Terje

Todd Terje, ‘It’s Album Time’

With tracks name-checking leisure suits and DeLoreans, Norwegian producer Todd Terje's vision of the future comes filtered through the past. It's Album Time is equal parts robo-disco and Miami Vice synth jams, complete with a few krautrocky excursions into outer space. In a year of endless drops and tough-guy posturing, Terje's soundtrack for the swingers of yesteryear soothes ragged nerves. A.C.

Aphex Twin

Aphex Twin, ‘Syro’

Though the annoying viral stunts felt hopelessly modern, on his first album in 13 years, Richard D. James partied like it was 1995 — a time when his music was possibly the most futuristic thing around. It's all there, like an old, very eccentric friend — the familiar drum stutter, the blorping bass lines that distend like Flubber, the venomous acid riffs, even the pastoral Satie-style piano closer. Though everyone from Skrillex ("Doompy Poomp") to Deadmau5 ("Superbia") to Thom Yorke ("Nose Grows Some") borrowed a little of Aphex Twin this year, this reliable comeback record was 64 minutes of the real, unfiltered glitchy deal. C.W.


Caribou, ‘Our Love’

Dan Snaith's sixth Caribou album startled fans by, well, not startling them. Snaith, a master of the dramatic departure, picked right up from the deep tech-y, house-y vibes explored on 2010's Swim. Gone were most of the willfully obscure, psych and IDM leanings of early Caribou fare, and in their place a healthy dose of slinky R&B inflections. Over slow-bubbling grooves, the album glows with warmth, wistfulness and melancholy nostalgia. A.C.


Skrillex, ‘Recess’

Though best known for his over-the-top, into-the-gut bass blasts, Skrillex has long played DJ sets that situate original tracks amid classic hip-hop, pan-genre dance records and Toto's "Africa." Recess, his first proper LP, tells that story, filtering the speaker-blowing dubstep through 2 Step and K-Pop or chopping it into compelling, glitchy oddities like "Doompy Poomp" and "Dirty Vibe." The sound might be less focused, but the artist behind it is more zeroed in than ever. N.M.

Flying Lotus

Flying Lotus, ‘You’re Dead!’

For a thematic descent that begins with death's onset, and careens into the darkness that follows, Flying Lotus' fifth album breathes life in saturated Cinemascope. Unleashing jazz-fusion fantasias — reminiscent of the Ornette Coleman band during guitarist James Blood Ulmer's tenure and the spiritual meditations of FlyLo's great-aunt Alice Coltrane — the Los Angeles beatmaker addresses the passing of loved ones with colorful bursts of woodwinds and breathless programming. On "Never Catch Me," Kendrick Lamar rips an anxious soliloquy over lasering beats; and "Dead Man's Tetris," featuring Snoop Dogg, gets disoriented and blackly comic. The album moves from keyboard cloud-drifts to IDM frippery to goofball asides (with FlyLo in his rapping guise Captain Murphy) to "The Protest," where celestial voices intone, "We will live on forever," as strings and piano give way to a kick/snare headnod. The sound of rebirth. C.A.

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