Dance music has typically been defined by the single, but in 2013, the electronic dance music album made a comeback with a vengeance. From chart-toppers to critical darlings to fan favorites, the longplayer is alive and well. Here are the 20 Best Albums (and a few outstanding EPs) as chosen by our Billboard CODE critics.
AlunaGeorge, "Bodymusic" [Vagrant]
AlunaGeorge’s “Body Music” is what happens when the house music revival goes leftfield pop. How can we ever thank the Lawrence brothers of Disclosure for introducing the world to the unique voice of Aluna Francis and the glitchy ebullient beats of George Reid? Be it the sass of “Attracting Flies” or the yearning of “Your Drums, Your Love,” this is a debut that makes good on the promise of the duo’s previous EPs. Packing just enough punch amid its sweetness, “Body Music” so effortlessly disregards the how-to manuals for both pop and dance music creating an original sound unto its own.
Big Black Delta, "Big Black Delta" [Masters of Bates]
One-man-synth-band Jonathan Bates exploded onto blogs last year with “IFUCKINGLOVEYOU,” a cacophony of layered choral voices, drums and Bates’ own shriek that sounded as predatory as its title. His self-titled debut full-length continues in that vein, opening with a scruffy bit of industrial ‘80s pop politely called “Put the Gun on the Floor.” Bates recalls David Gahan and even Kate Bush, master/slaving all over dystopian electronic sounds, but never without a melody.
TOKiMONSTA, "Half Shadows" [Ultra]
One of the many attributes of TOKiMONSTA’s debut album is how the producer chooses to reveal her influences. From ‘90s hip-hop to contemporary bass music, “Half Shadows” never shines a full light on the source material, making for a wholly unique sound that keeps a listener’s attention rapt. Fans of the DJ’s breakneck club sets might have been surprised by downtempo tracks like the emotional “Clean Slate” or the hypnotic “Let It Go” featuring MNDR. Yet in lieu of pop-appeal remains an album of sonic wonder and originality, peerless in a field of copycats.
Classixx, "Hanging Gardens" [Innovative Leisure]
Plenty of DJs and electronic artists call Los Angeles their homebase, but few represent the city’s sunny rhythms, laidback tempo and eclectic vibes as well as native Angelenos Classixx have on “Hanging Gardens.” More than an album about a time or place, songs like “All You’re Waiting For” and “Holding On” soar with a relaxed confidence that belongs at a daytime party in any city. It’s one thing to produce an album that embodies a sound, but the L.A. duo has also left enough space on “Hanging Gardens” to inspire a scene. Wouldn’t it be nice?
Colette, "When The Music’s Loud" [Candy Talk]
Colette’s first full-length on her own Candy Talk label is an appropriately delectable confection. The veteran house DJ and classically-trained singer steps out of the club and deploys some vocal effects on a collection that reflect the versatility of her sound and her penchant for pop hooks, telling the story of a life spent at night. “When The Music’s Loud” is not solely a dancefloor record, but from bouncy opener “Best Of Days” to the come-on of “We Feel So Hot” Colette has made an album for the pleasure seekers of EDM and deep house alike.
Empire of the Sun, "Ice on the Dune" [Astralwerks]
After walking on a dream, Australia’s EDM embodiment of a Priscilla Queen of the Desert show came “Alive” with an unexpected festival anthem. Part of that success is owed to the group’s appeal for EDM DJs like Calvin Harris, Zedd and Tommy Trash, who remixed the originals, and played them liberally. While “Ice On The Dune” has plenty of tracks ready for listening out-of-the-box like “Disarm” and “I’ll Be Around,” it’s tunes like “DNA” and “Celebrate” that truly get their day in the sun during Empire’s own elaborate stage show.
Gesaffelstein: Aleph [Bromance/EMI]
Dance, welcome your new dark lord. French DJ/producer Mike Levy, aka Gesaffelstein, makes beats that sound like Front 242 gone Detroit techno, or if Trent Reznor made one of those recent Nine Inch Nails instrumental albums back in his leaner, meaner “Pretty Hate Machine” days. In addition to the noises of human suffering and pipe-thwack kick-drum beat-downs, Levy’s debut full-length implies an almost refreshing nihilism that rejects the sunshine and light of EDM in a sonic language it still understands.
Kastle, "Kastle" [Symbols]
Referencing ‘90s R&B and 19th century American literature, the artist born Barrett Richards produced an impressive debut. Leaving the hard knock bass of Kastle DJ sets on the studio floor and embracing a durability of songwriting, the self-titled LP is connects the sonic dots of the last two decades of electronic dance music as an inversion of EDM. His choice of featured vocalists - Ayah Marrar, Austin Paul, JMSN - shouldn’t be overlooked either. With precision and vision, Kastle knows what he’s doing and shows it on this album.
Kaskade: Atmosphere [Ultra]
Kaskade’s own vocals on the title track leave little doubt that “Atmosphere” is Kaskade’s most personal album yet. In a year when EDM’s zenith has been festival-obsessed and big-room happy, one of America’s top EDM artists made an album for headphones, connecting to a time in his catalog before anthems became a mainstay of his live sets. That’s a risk that shouldn’t go unheralded. At times ethereal and yes, atmospheric, Kaskade shows his love of soft melodies and his skill at building a soundwave. “Atmosphere” cements his role as a producer and artist and not just a DJ.
Robert DeLong, "Just Movement" [Glassnote]
Performing an album of electronic dance music by yourself with live instruments is practically unheard of. Still, it’s more than the anomaly of Robert DeLong’s live shows that make his debut album a standout. Dancey, song-based, and percussive, “Just Movement” is accessible enough for EDM-allergic hipsters yet electronically advanced enough for DJ enthusiasts. His skill as a multi-instrumentalist makes him an outlier, but the sincerity of his songwriting - on “Change (How You Feel)” and the title track - and the daring of his production - on “Global Concepts” and “Religious Views” - make DeLong a vanguard of electronic music’s future.