While dance/electronic music still remains a singles-driven market, the album is an important rite of passage for producers looking to prove themselves as artists and create a fully-realized body of work outside of the club and festival formats’ creative constraints.
But few dance/electronic artists can afford to pull a Drake or Beyoncé in dumping all their album tracks unceremoniously onto the Internet. More often, the dance/electronic album’s release comes as the culmination of a careful timeline, preceded by a series of singles to maximize press opportunities in a crowded climate.
As albums are not dropped lightly in this space, it’s no coincidence that the majority of our selections represent the first full-length efforts by their parent projects, while most of the others follow multi-year droughts. Representing a diversity of styles, here are our picks for this year’s 10 best dance/electronic albums:
10. Rockwell – Obsolete Medium
Drum ‘n’ bass’s best-kept secret delivered his first full-length this autumn, showcasing the London native’s immaculate production style on 15 slick and frenetic tracks. From the nihilist rampages of standouts “Bait” and “Rave Cult” to “Technoir’s” atom bomb 808s, Obsolete Medium may be the year’s most exciting dance album you haven’t yet heard.
9. Nico Stojan – Twisted Manners
As a resident at Berlin’s legendary Bar 25, Stojan became a dance counterculture favorite with marathon melodic house sets that channeled his diverse jazz, soul and world music influences. Over the course of three years, he distilled his pensive brand of shaman house and classical sax and clarinet training into a debut album freed from the dance floor format. Yet Stojan’s DJ sensibilities still define Twisted Manners, which flows between near-dawn burners (“Blue Hour,” “Dedicated”) and pressing beat poetry (“Tortured Paper”), ushered along by moody, groove-borne instrumentals (“Schatz Altah,” “Matinee).”
8. Disclosure – Caracal
Caracal didn’t match Settle’s sea-changing force, but shame on anyone who expected it to. Howard and Guy Lawrence are only 21 and 24, respectively, and it’s only natural that they’d want to flesh out their own sound before once again reshaping the scene’s. Their Grammy-nominated sophomore effort may not have a “Latch,” but with old pal Sam Smith being joined by such star power as Lorde and The Weeknd, as well as underrated newcomers like Nao and Jordan Rakei, there’s plenty to keep dance fans coming back.
7. The Chemical Brothers – Born in the Echoes
The seminal UK duo’s first album in five years may not be as stylistically enterprising as 2010’s Further, but it exhibits the unapologetic independence that has helped them remain relevant for more than two decades. Rather than emulating the modern dance music being made by a generation they helped inspire, the vets take us back to the big beat era — getting the “Galvanize” team back together for Q-Tip-fronted single “Go” and layering analog urgency beneath the suicidal musings of St. Vincent‘s Amy Clark on “Under Neon Lights.” But the Grammy-nominated LP actually excels in its more understated moments, such as reflective closer “Wide Open” and the ethereal release of “Radiate.”
6. Hudson Mohawke – Lantern
A Kanye West favorite who also moonlights as one-half of super-duo TNGHT, the Scottish producer spread his solo wings this year with an impressively unclassifiable 14-song effort that showcases his attention-deficit ear for sonic adventure. Lantern is anything but a fluid listen, veering between instant-classic jams (“Ryderz, “Scud Books”), soulful slabs of layered synthscape (“Indian Steps” ft. Antony and the Miguel-fronted “Deepspace”) and experimental meanders (“Lil Djembe”) — not to mention cheery chip tune anomaly, “Shadows.” It’s a dizzying degree of stylistic variance to process at first, but Mohawke’s undeniable talent makes it difficult to keep one’s distance.
5. Floating Points – Elaenia
Despite facing lofty expectations, Manchester’s ?Sam Shepherd did not disappoint with his nuanced debut album. Filtered sax stabs introduce the quirky, synth-heavy “Nespole,” which ushers in the nearly eleven-minute epic “Silhouettes (I, II, III),” a freewheeling electronic jazz odyssey around which the rest of the release unfurls. Weaving the squelching modular synths of “Thin Air” into beat-less ballad “For Mamish” ahead of the swelling “Percoration Six’s” truncated finale, Floating Points finishes off one of the year’s most unique and evocative offerings in fittingly eclectic fashion.
4. Nero – Between II Worlds
The UK outfit kept fans waiting for four years following stellar debut Welcome Reality, but no one’s complaining now. Nero’s sophomore album represents an important step forward in their continued maturation arc from a drum ‘n’ bass DJ duo to a multifaceted live electronic trio. On the sweeping and conceptual album, the band give early fans just enough headbanging fodder in “Dark Skies” and “Tonight,” while showing off their evolving songwriting sensibilities with Alana Watson’s alluring vocal hooks on tracks like “Into the Night,” “Two Minds,” and “The Thrill.”
When Skrillex and Diplo dropped their much-anticipated Jack Ü debut during a live-streamed 18-hour house party in February, there was a palpable sense of excitement among dance fans that the release could be game-changing. And in many senses, it was. While the album’s other tracks were overshadowed by “Where Are U Now’s” crossover and Justin Bieber’s comeback bid, their impact was not ignored within the scene. Jack Ü’s genre-defying, broken-beat brilliance set the tone for the year to come, inviting widespread imitation of dynamic numbers like “Take U There” ft. Kiesza and “To U” ft. AlunaGeorge, while “Holla Out” helped launch the career of one of 2015’s breakout stars in SNAILS.
2. Bob Moses – Days Gone By
The Vancouver duo delivered on the promise of EPs past by fusing thoughtful songwriting with melancholy and melodic house music on their first full-length outing. Over the course of 10 songs, singer/guitarist Tom Howie veers between narrative (“Tearing Me Up”) and nostalgic (“Before I Fall”) above producer Jimmy Vallance’s pensive synths and minimal rhythms to inspiring effect. Silencing critics who attack the genre for lacking lyrical depth, Days Gone By represents the best of where dance music is headed.
1. Jamie xx – In Colour
When The xx’s silent member announced his first solo album in March, few expected it to speak quite this loud. Jamie xx’s Grammy-nominated In Colour is not only the year’s most cohesive electronic release, but also one of its most imaginative. The brilliant 11-track assortment seamlessly segues between after-hour laments (“Loud Places”), whimsical synthscapes (“Sleep Sound”) and an unlikely standout Caribbean collab (“I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” ft. Young Thug and Popcaan), all with one acknowledging eye towards dance music’s rave-checkered past and another fixed firmly on the future.