Billboard's 10 Best Dance/Electronic Albums of 2016: Critics' Picks

Inez and Vinoodh
   

The advent of streaming all-but-ensures that dance music will remain a singles-driven market, but the artist album will always carry a certain allure in the space. It's a rite of passage, a fully-formed vision, an attempt to create something enduring amid a sea of disposable singles.

As much as a ten-album assortment will allow, this ranking corresponds with our staff-wide picks and aims to represent the best releases drawn from a diversity of styles and sounds beneath dance/electronic music's expansive umbrella. With limited real-estate to work with, our critics elected to avoid redundancy between this ranking and our best dance/electronic songs list.

From commercial juggernauts to underground innovators, here are Billboard Dance's picks for the best dance/electronic albums of 2016.

10. Kygo - Cloud Nine

After a stellar initial run of hit singles, headlining festival performances, and a well-received shift to live performances, fans were all but begging for a full-length Kygo release. Cloud Nine sees the Norwegian producer's tropical-tinged style and elevates it with grander orchestration, full-bodied musicianship, and well-placed, laid back vocal features. It reinvented the “Happy Birthday” song, no small feat, and with John Legend of all people. With singles including “Carry Me,” “Stole the Show,” and “Firestone,” the 15-track LP begat an impressive five charting hits, ultimately topping the Dance/Electronic Albums chart and peaking at No. 11 on the Billboard 200. - Kat Bein

 

9. Baauer - Aa

If anyone still thinks “Harlem Shake” when they hear the name Baauer, you've got to put them on the path of righteousness and force feed them the 13-track deliciousness of Aa. It's a brilliant debut that showcases the producer's diversity and overall musical competence. It flows gracefully through genres and moods, and to ensure you don't lose momentum, Aa comes in heavy with the superstar features in the back half. Stay tuned for bars from M.I.A., TT The Artist, Pusha T, Future, and others, plus production credit from Rustie. - Kat Bein

 

8. Justice - Woman

It's been five years since the French electronic duo released any music at all, and nine years since it blew minds with its seminal debut LP, †. Hopes were high for Justice's third album, and Woman only exceeded the expectations. It plays like a final thesis statement on '70s disco groove and denim rock attitude. It's both shiny and guttural, the perfect mix of fan-favorite and the progressive jams of Audio, Video, Disco. Not sure if you should call it a comeback, but excitement for Justice hasn't been higher in almost a decade, so call it what you want. Can't wait for the world tour. - Kat Bein

 

7. Jubilee - After Hours

She may reside in New York City, but Jubilee's heart will always be in Miami. She's been in the game reppin' the Mixpak crew for years, but After Hours marks the producer/DJ's first full-length release. It's a love letter to her south Florida childhood, all booty-shakin bass rhythms and '90s aesthetics. The cover is ripped straight from some “art” you might have seen in your mom's all-white bedroom back in the day. Titles like “Sawgrass Expressway” and “Opa Locka” call out the local landscape as much as the synthetic textures and incessant beats call on the city's character. - Kat Bein

 

6. Eric Prydz - Opus

There's not a kick drum or synth note out of place on Eric Prydz's thunderous, sweeping, mostly impeccable sophomore album. Few producers who aim for this sort of awe-inspiring grandeur — he named the record Opus, after all — are also this deft with the details. Prydz neatly weaves together driving '80s synth pop, the occasional galloping vocal cut, and plenty of fodder for trance festival main stages. After an 18-track onslaught, he ends with his grandest statement yet: the baroque title track, which stretches past nine minutes but never truly seems to reach a satisfying peak. It's a savvy cliff hanger to raise anticipation for his next record, and maybe extra incentive to catch Prydz on his recently announced Epic 5.0 tour. - Elias Leight

 

5. Tycho - Epoch

On his fourth album as Tycho, Scott Hansen refined his brand of elegant, synth-heavy, instrumental rock and buffed it to a radiant gleam. It's no surprise that Tycho plays a regular sunrise set at Burning Man: on Epoch, warm puddles of bass, wafting guitars, and gently insistent percussion combine to offer a tuneful — if temporary — antidote to a year of tumult. When Hansen released Epoch with little warning, it shot to No. 1 on the Billboard Top Dance/Electronic Albums chart, proving plenty of fans were craving this, even if they didn't know it was coming. - Elias Leight

 

4. Nicolas Jaar - Sirens

After forays into psych-rock (Darkside) and theoretical film scoring (2015's Pomegranates), the Chilean-American artist finally delivered a proper full-length follow-up to his 2011 breakthrough Space is Only Noise. While it clocks in at a modest six tracks, the release feels far longer due to its stunning stylistic variance. Opener "Killing Time" commences with a slowly shifting soundscape of metallic samples, eerie white noise and distorted choral arrangements to set up "The Governor," a foreboding bass-driven number with rhythmic verses and clattering percussion. The album's clear highlight comes in "No," whose post-apocalyptic cumbia churn combines with politically-charged Spanish lyrics to convey one of Jaar's strongest statements to date. - Matt Medved

 

3. Flume - Skin

The Sydney producer told Billboard  that his sophomore album's aim was to have a "unique fingerprint in the electronic music world." That's no small feat for the arguable standard-bearer of the future bass movement, already aped and imitated ad nauseum. But Flume (real name: Harley Streten) succeeded in pushing his sound forward on Skin, walking between worlds with well-crafted radio anthems (“Never Be Like You” ft. Kai and “Say It” ft. Tove Lo) and diverse left field offerings (“Wall Fuck” and “When Everything Was New"). The 16-track LP peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard 200 and painted a sonic portrait of an artist in transition, balancing hitmaking and innovating with impressive poise. - Matt Medved

 

2. Kaytranada - 99.9%

"When I make a good beat, I'm possessed," Kaytranada told Billboard in May. "I'm not on Earth!" The Haitian-born, Canadian-bred producer may as well have been on the Mars Mission during the studio sessions that produced his diverse and freewheeling debut album. Boasting a forward-thinking features list destined to boggle minds in a few years' time (highlights include Anderson .Paak, Vic Mensa, Phonte, AlunaGeorge and Craig David), 99.9% is a delightfully undefinable melting pot of gritty house, slinky soul and throwback funk set atop an unimpeachable broken-beat bedrock. Kaytranada may just be the most intriguing artist currently straddling the stylistic divide between dance and hip-hop. - Matt Medved

 

1. Anohni - Hopelessness

Though released in May, Anohni's bleak and politically-charged debut album feels right at home in America's divided, post-election climate. On the ambitious 11-track outing, produced by Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never, the transgender English artist unapologetically grapples with pressing global issues, from climate change ("4 Degrees") and drone warfare ("Drone Bomb Me") to the death penalty ("Execution") and an outgoing president with unfulfilled promises ("Obama"). "The idea was to create a Trojan horse that would be seductive to the ear,“ she told Billboard in May. "Then the content could be imparted more stealthily.” Social awareness has never been more sorely needed in electronic music, and Anohni has provided a brilliant blueprint for artists to emulate in the coming Trump era. - Matt Medved