Electronic music may be largely a singles game, with artists able to create an identity, and fanbase, off just a few tracks. Thus the dance music long player is a special feat, as producers create not just a few minutes of fleeting sound, but an entire world in which listeners can immerse themselves into.
Dance music’s dramatic rise in mainstream popularity in the United States during the last decade has seen more and more artists trying to pull off this achievement, with many succeeding mildly and a select few creating bodies of work that serve as both artifacts of the era and projects that will endure far into the future. Here, Billboard Dance presents the 40 greatest albums of the decade.
40. Daniel Avery, Drone Logic (2013)
Drone Logic is one of those perfect albums that offers as much at home on your headphones as it does on the dance floor. Hailing from the rock and DJ worlds before he was a producer, Avery rerouted the post-acid house glut of the time to bring new ideas to old synth sounds. His brand of thumping techno comes with room to daydream and go deep, laced with acid squelches, writhing grooves and shoegaze textures that amount to a choose-your-own-adventure listening experience while he keeps you on the edge of your seat. — ANDREA DOMANICK
39. Mount Kimbie, Crooks & Lovers (2010)
2010 was a fertile year for U.K. bass music. James Blake rolled out three form-bending EPs, setting the stage for his breakthrough album. Skream, Benga and Artwork dropped their eponymous debut record as dubstep supergroup Magnetic Man. Trip-hop trailblazers Massive Attack emerged from the shadows with Heligoland. And, after meeting at university in London, Dominic Maker and Kai Campos made their first major pitch as Mount Kimbie. Despite its lean 35-minute running time, Crooks & Lovers is a slow builder, layering shuffling electronics, bass rumbles and far-off voices. With the distance of a decade, the album’s restraint is its greatest strength, although there’s real dynamism and heft to the likes of “Mayor” and “Carbonated.” In the years since Crooks & Lovers, Mount Kimbie have pushed outside bass music with the same understated, steady-does-it excellence. – JACK TREGONING
38. Jlin, Black Origami (2017)
Black Origami is an album that sounds like just that — layered, complex, menacing and greater than the sum of its parts. The Indiana producer born Jerrilynn Patton parlayed her footwork roots into a new dimension, forgoing traditional song structure in favor of finessing polyrhythms, ambient textures and industrial glitches into a constantly unfolding linear experience. Black Origami feels fundamentally alive — building, falling apart, recalibrating and never looking back, a gauntlet thrown by one of the most formidable composers of this generation. –– A.D.
37. Alison Wonderland, Run (2015)
When Aussie producer Alison Wonderland dropped “I Want U” in 2015, there was no doubt that she would be the trap genre’s next “it” producer. The track’s formidable drops bore a stark contrast to her own sing-songy vocals, a pairing that to this day results in audio-induced goosebumps. “I Want U” was the lead single on Wonderland’s debut album Run, which dropped on March 20th, 2015 via EMI Music. It was a triumph on many counts, peaking at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Dance/Electronic Albums chart the following month, shortly after Wonderland appeared at Coachella as the highest-billed female DJ in the festival’s history. The 12-track LP, which features guest stars like Wayne Coyne from The Flaming Lips and fellow Australians Slumberjack, showed the world that Alison Wonderland came to play — and after releasing her sophomore LP Awake in 2018 it’s safe to say the bass boss hasn’t slowed down since. — MEGAN VENZIN
36. Justice, Audio, Video, Disco (2011)
When French duo Justice’s self-titled or “cross” album emerged in 2007, a new wave of electronic music exploded onto the scene. Drawing gigantic crowds in mostly black leather jackets, Justice had established themselves as rocker-style icons among electronic music devotees. Tracks like “D.A.N.C.E” and “Waters of Nazareth” still continue to be DJ favorites. Then, in 2011, they released Audio, Video, Disco, a collection of high-energy dance tracks that were all instrumentally composed and performed. Describing the album’s vastly different musical style, Justice member Xavier de Rosnay said: “We wanted to create something very laid back and a bit countryside-ish. You know, daytime music…What we wanted to do was keep the beats, but make it more soft. One of the challenges of this record was to make it feel emotionally heavy without being aggressive. Like being soft and violent at the same time.” Mission accomplished. – MORENA DUWE
35. Washed Out, Within and Without (2011)
In a 2011 review for MTV’s now-defunct indie music vertical MTV Hive, music journalist Ian Cohen referred to Washed Out’s first proper album, Within And Without, as the moment chillwave grew up. Even if he hadn’t repeated his assertion in an anniversary piece marking a decade of the microgenre for Stereogum in June, the ensuing eight years and Washed Out’s subsequent output would have made the point for him.
Although the artist born Ernest Greene would lean into more overtly “chill” themes and sounds on follow-ups Paracosm and Mr. Mellow, the Georgia producer never sounded more calm or confident than on Within And Without. The album ably bounces between propulsive and pacifying, with the crisp percussion of cuts like “Amor Fati” comfortably sharing space next to the sensuality showcased on the Caroline Polachek-assisted “You and I.” The advent of genres like chillwave or records resembling Within and Without seems increasingly remote today: At least for most of us, there’s nothing plausible about leading a life of leisure in the uncertainty of 2019. — ZACH SCHLEIN
34. Nicolas Jaar, Nymphs (2015)
After making a splash at the start of the 2010s with the atmospheric single “Time For Us” and his debut album Space Is Only Noise, Nicolas Jaar perfected his moody, tension-riddled formula on the 2016 compilation Nymphs. A collection of singles released between 2011 and 2015, the seven-track Nymphs represents the most compact realization of Jaar’s abilities as a producer. Besides standouts “Don’t Break My Love” and “No One Is Looking at U,” the 13-minute epic “Swim” might be the best song in the Chilean-American artist’s discography. With every new element that’s introduced over its lengthy running time — from the techno hi-hats and immense kick drum to Jaar’s fragmented, appropriately aquatic vocals — “Swim” ups and ups the pressure until it can’t help but collapse upon itself. Although he released several great records over the course of the decade, Nymphs manages the miracle of capturing Jaar at his most ambient and his most danceable. — Z.S.
33. Baauer, Aa (2016)
Philly-born Baauer never wanted to be “an EDM producer,” so when his 2012 instrumental trap smash “Harlem Shake” became a viral dance meme, he had to set the record straight. His debut album hit four years later, showcasing undeniable talents in studio designer as well as emotional dynamics. Hard, stomping battle drums and exotic noise melt into the solemn, hymnal “Church,” then it’s straight into the body slaying beats and bass of “GoGo!” He brings cocky but sensual R&B, funky grooves, and downright evil beats. “Sow” and “Day Ones” are two of the meanest, most sophisticated tunes of the whole electronic trap movement. He got ill features from all corners of the Earth, including Future, Pusha T, M.I.A., G-Dragon, TT The Artist, Rustie, Novelist and Leikeli47. The album is smoky, steamy and exotic, showing why Baauer was so much more than a one-hit wonder. Underrated. — KAT BEIN
32. Tycho, Dive (2011)
While IDM, or “intelligent dance music” — casually defined as electronic music made for listening at home rather than for dancing — certainly distances itself from EDM, there are a few select IDM records so prominent that their impact across the genres could not be ignored. Tycho’s Dive is a standout, and while enchantingly downtempo and without question a better fit for listening during a sunshine picnic rather than at a nightclub, the tranquil warmth and richness achieved by Scott Hansen’s dedication to exploring analog sounds and hardware would serve as an inspiration and influence for future electronic explorations to come, especially in the worlds of house and techno and even for later developments within live electronic crossover groups.
Largely created on the Minimoog, Dive reportedly took nearly five years to create thanks to Hansen’s digital aversion, a refreshing take and standout reason why Dive seemed to capture the attention of the masses during an era of rapid-fire productions and releases. With tracks like “Coastal Brake,” “Daydream,” and “A Walk,” Hansen’s magic is in his ability to express the shared feeling of human experiences: creating a sound for nostalgia, capturing the enlightenment of achieving patience, and the wonderment of the unknown. — VALERIE LEE
31. Holy Ghost!, Holy Ghost! (2011)
Of all the great DFA Records releases of the 2010s, Holy Ghost!’s self-titled debut LP may be the most evocative of a particular time and place. Birthed from the ashes of Alex Frankel and Nick Millhiser’s previous group Automato, the duo’s first full-length as Holy Ghost! compiled previous singles and new material to produce an eminently danceable document of Williamsburg nightlife in the late 2000s and early 2010s.
Across the album’s 10 tracks, including a heartfelt tribute to late drummer Jerry Fuchs and the dizzying after-hours journey of “Hold On,” Holy Ghost! showcases the people and places that made NYC’s indie-dance scene such a compelling community to be a part of. It’s a bygone era that Frankel and Millhiser themselves would later reminisce about on 2019’s wistful record Work. And while that specific moment in youth culture may be over, Holy Ghost!’s blissful marriage between disco-inspired drums and shimmering synth-pop lives on. — Z.S.
30. Tokimonsta, Lune Rouge (2017)
Who can flip a rude beat and still make it sound sweet? Who can hit you in the late-night feels then turn you around and have you backin’ up in the club? Tokimonsta is a real smooth groove queen with heaps of street cred and starry-eyed wonder. The Los Angeles producer made a lot of noise with her third studio album, earning a Grammy nomination for best dance/electronic album and a ton of headlines in the process. The album is impressive for its warm synthetic moods and hyphy rhythms, but it’s downright mind-blowing when you hear its creator underwent two brain surgeries and temporarily lost her ability to understand music just before making it.
Lune Rouge is thus certainly a triumphant record, but it’s not an album that lingers on the past. Singles “Don’t Call Me” with Yuna and “Bibimbap” are perfect pastel R&B ear drops, “We Love” with MNDR is sophisticated summer breeze dance-pop, and “No Way” wth Isaiah Rashad, Joey Purp and Ambre is hip modern boom-bap soul. All of it is tied together by Tokimonsta’s low-lid electronic grooves. — K. Bein
29. Kaytranada, 99.9% (2016)
Like many of his peers, Canadian producer Kaytranada kickstarted his career on Soundcloud with a bevy of edits of other people’s tracks, including Janet Jackson’s “If,” Missy Elliott’s “Sock It 2 Me” and Teedra Moses’ “Be Your Girl.” Over the next few years, he leveled up to working with vocalists directly, strengthening a collaborative spirit that culminated in his 2016 debut album, 99.9%, which features veterans and then-emerging artists like Craig David, Goldlink and Anderson .Paak. Stylistically, it’s a little bit of everything — dance, hip-hop, R&B, funk and soul with a lick of jazz — but impeccably and curatorially so, instilling warmth and youth that feels fresh yet familiar, like a record you’ve been rinsing for half your life. Put it on in the club, in the car, or when you’re doing nothing at all: 99.9% feels and sounds like a classic. — KRYSTAL RODRIGUEZ
28. Hot Chip, One Life Stand (2010)
The next time you need a pick-me-up, search YouTube for Hot Chip and Wiley’s performance of ‘Wearing My Rolex’ at Glastonbury 2008. It’s the perfect three-minute distillation of the band’s ability to spark joy. (Also priceless: frontman Alexis Taylor bouncing like an excited schoolboy alongside the grime legend.) Hot Chip had three LPs behind them in 2008, but we hadn’t seen all their moves. Enter One Life Stand, the gleaming midpoint in a career that’s now seven albums deep. One Life Stand saw Hot Chip embrace sincerity with lush, open-hearted songs that are sometimes intimate (“Brothers”) and often anthemic (behold the one-two punch of “I Feel Better” and “One Life Stand”). Before this album, you could argue Hot Chip cared most about catchiness. On One Night Stand, they chose catharsis. — J.T.
27. Zedd, Clarity (2012)
Fans of early 2010s electro house were already familiar with German producer Zedd, but the rest of the world got properly acquainted in 2013 with the release of his debut LP, Clarity. The certified Platinum album featuring the lead single of the same name would go on to dominate radio airwaves and festival grounds for years to come. Though the single — which bears memorable vocals by British singer, Foxes — remains Zedds most successful to date, the pop-centric LP is home to a slew of hits, including “Spectrum” featuring Matthew Koma (with whom Zedd would Twitter beef with down the line) and ‘”Lost at Sea,” sung by none other than One Republic’s Ryan Tedder. Also tacked at the end of the album is a sensational electro remix of Skrillex’s “Breakin’ A Sweat” (in which the dubstep virtuoso samples The Doors), which gets the blood pumping perhaps even faster than the dubstep-focused original. — M.V
26. Flying Lotus, Cosmogramma (2010)
At the turn of the decade in 2010, producer, DJ and jazz royalty Flying Lotus, aka Steven Ellison, the nephew of Alice and John Coltrane, flipped the electronic scene on its head with Cosmogramma. An amalgam of irregular jazz beats featuring melodies reminiscent of his aunt’s famous harp pieces (like Cosmogramma‘s opening track “Clock Catcher”), breathy and crackly ethereal hip-hop beats (like “Zodiac Shift”) and funky skat-fueled tracks (like “Do the Astral Plane”) makes this album a one-of-kind experimental masterpiece tha nimbly repped the Los Angeles beat scene from which it emerged. A completely mind-melting, disorienting and gut-shifting opus, Cosmogramma is one of the most inspiring, exciting and far-out electronic compositions of the decade. — M.D.
25. Deadmau5, 4×4=12 (2010)
Deadmau5’s fifth studio album was career defining. Released at the end of 2010 via a trifecta of powerhouse labels — Virgin Records, Ultra Records and his own Mau5trap — 4×4=12 is a demonstration of the masked producer’s seemingly boundless range. He redefined electro house sounds in dancefloor melters like “Some Chords” and “Animal Rights” (a song he produced with Wolfgang Gartner), before taking the audience on an unexpected ride in tracks like “Raise Your Weapon,” where progressive builds give way to skull crushing dubstep drops. The album was a huge commercial success, landing the ‘mau5 on the Billboard 200 where the LP peaked at No. 47 on Christmas day. The title is a bit of a head scratcher, but fans who regularly tuned in to Joel Zimmerman’s Ustream channel would discover it was actually a lighthearted attempt to poke fun at himself, after he mistakenly said that his live setup had 12 banks instead of 16. Blunders aside, the Grammy Award-nominated album was clearly built by a mathematical mastermind. –– M.V.
24. Gesaffelstein, Aleph (2013)
For the better part of a decade, Gesaffelstein has been one of the most quietly influential forces in pop music, infusing aggressive rhythms and sinuous melodies into hits for the likes of Kanye West, The Weeknd and Pharrell. Though his solo outputs have been few and far between, Gessy threw down the gauntlet with 2013’s Aleph, an unfettered work of dark, rough-hewn techno that amounts to the platonic ideal of what it means to be “hard” in electronic music. With less-is-more arrangements and hip-hop inflections, the album transcended genre appeal, trimming the pop fat from the electro craze spurred by the likes of Justice and the Bloody Beetroots, and injecting renewed momentum in a sound otherwise left for dead in the Sahara tent. — A.D.
23. Aphex Twin, Syro (2014)
It’s a bird, it’s a blimp, it’s… Aphex Twin? When a bright green blimp with the notoriously private producer’s logo was spotted in the air in August 2014, it was the unexpected first sign that a new Aphex Twin album, his first since 2011, was coming. Unlike with his other work, Syro isn’t a collection from Richard D. James’ vaults, but of more recent tracks. It immediately immerses listeners in an alien world full of stutters, glitches, whirs and unintelligible voices. Some tracks however, like “produk 29 ” and “syro u473t8+e [141.98][piezoluminescence mix]” are pretty accessible, even lovely. Still it stuck out when it was nominated for best dance/electronic album at the 2015 Grammys, among LPs by Deadmau5, Mat Zo, Little Dragon and Royksopp and Robyn. Syro won, and in true Aphex Twin fashion, he no-showed the ceremony. — K.R.
22. Darkside, Psychic (2013)
Who doesn’t love an eerie fall funk album? Psychic is the only full-length LP Nicolas Jaar and guitarist Dave Harrington made as Darkside. That’s unfortunate, as the project is compact, spooky and perfect, as the duo goes deep, wide and fundamentally moody throughout the album’s expansive eight tracks. As cracking leaves and creaking doors giving way to plaintive clavichords, Jaar bleeds atmosphere and rhythm into an unholy playground for Harrington’s piercing guitar work. “Paper Trails” is an easy single, but it only hints at the dark brilliance at play when you let the needle slink all the way across the vinyl. It may not move you as immediately as some others on this list. But like any worthy bump in the night, Psychic will sneak up on you. — D.O.
21. Caribou, Our Love (2015)
The opening track of Our Love, “Can’t Do Without You,” opens with its titular refrain repeated so softly that it sounds like a lullaby sung for a sleeping baby. On his Grammy-nominated sixth album, the producer born Dan Snaith digs deep into his feelings following the birth of his daughter in 2011. For a title that sounds so sweet, the LP also grapples with the emotion’s tangled nuances, in the longing kaleidoscopic pop of “Second Chance” featuring Jessy Lanza, coping with the loss of a close friend on “Julia Brightly” and the what-do-we-do-now weariness of “Back Home.” The only way this album possibly gets better than it already is, is when Snaith and his band perform it live, expanding each song into a magical jam session that crescendos with such force and emotion you half-expect your heart to explode. — K.R.
20. Jon Hopkins, Singularity (2018)
What happens when an electronic prodigy uproots from London to Los Angeles, then dives into meditation, freezing baths, desert treks and the mind-expanding possibilities of magic mushrooms? 2018 gave us the best possible answer in Singularity. Jon Hopkins cornered his niche as a trainspotter’s favorite with 2013’s Immunity, but its long-awaited follow-up took him to a new plane. Conjuring both wide-open skies and the shared sweat of a dancefloor, Singularity can be an overwhelming listen. The tracks stretch and bend (only ”Echo Dissolve” comes in under five minutes), with layers building and building to often thrilling crescendos. This is an album that flits from the tranquil, new-agey “Feel First Life” to the gently bubbling “Luminous Beings” to the 10-minute steam engine “Everything Connected,” rightly described by Hopkins as “a massive techno bastard”. This is spiritual enlightenment with a racing pulse. — J.T.
19. James Blake, James Blake (2011)
James Blake’s 2011 debut is fascinating to consider in the context of everything that came after it. With each subsequent album, the producer and singer has built out his sound, fine-tuning his voice and the elaborateness of his vision. (See the 17 tracks on 2016’s The Colour In Anything.) He’s also stepped out of his shell as a studio partner for the likes of Beyoncé, Jay-Z and Kendrick Lamar. Taken in that trajectory, James Blake is remarkably stripped-down and vulnerable. For most, this was the introduction to James Blake: a melodious yet fractured voice, filtered through a dubstep clubber’s lens. On these 11 songs, he treats his voice as an agile, easily manipulated instrument, pitching it up and down or adding echo and loops to conjure multiple James Blakes. Few albums from this decade demand the intimacy of headphones quite like this one – “To Care (Like You)” or “Limit to Your Love” are meant to envelop you. – J.T.
18. DJ Koze, Knock Knock (2018)
The human mind is an imperfect machine, especially when it comes to memory. Hence Knock Knock, a journey through the influences and field-recorded moments of the German producer DJ Koze’s life, by the sounds of it, one blissfully misremembered. Here, a downtempo beat is liable to be overwritten by a stuttering car horn and come out on the other side as a Bon Iver sample. As bats–t as that sounds, the beats are as ear-catching as what gets caught in the producer’s mental machinery. “Illumination,” for example, casts trip-hop singer Roisin Murphy over a mesmerizing sample. Just as you get caught in its tunnel, the bittersweet funk loop of “Pick Up” wheels you away. Poets do it all the time, but few electronic music producers can order chaos that stands taller than the sum of the experiences. On Knock Knock, Koze does it for 78 minutes straight. – DYLAN OWENS
17. The Chemical Brothers, No Geography (2019)
The Chemical Brothers have made three albums this decade, and they saved the best for last. It’s highly irregular for a veteran act’s ninth album to be among their finest work, but No Geography is that outlier. For a pair of dyed-in-the-wool gear nerds nearing 50, it’s remarkable that Ed Simons and Tom Rowlands pulled off an album this vital and charged with fun. For starters, No Geography features one of the most exhilarating opening runs of any recent dance album. From ”Eve of Destruction” through ”Got to Keep On,” you’ll barely catch your breath. The songs were made in “a tiny makeshift studio” using equipment sitting in Rowland’s attic since the duo’s breakout albums, Exit Planet Dust and Dig Your Own Hole. Approaching the process with anything-goes freedom, they avoided big-name guests, relying primarily on Norwegian singer Aurora. Often, that back-to-the-roots approach falls flat. For The Chemical Brothers, it sent their sound stratospheric. – J.T.
16. Eric Prydz, Opus (2016)
A characteristic almost exclusively unique to electronic music is the oftentimes hilariously unequal timeline of a producer’s career in relation to the eventual (if ever) arrival of their debut album. Case and point: Eric Prydz. All throughout his prolific career, the Swedish producer has masterfully toed the very difficult line between keeping his underground cred while still opening doors to welcome the commercial masses. He experienced a pop crossover early in his career with his 2004 hit “Call on Me,” continuously releasing progressive house anthems like “Proper Education” and “Pjanoo” through the years, while also staying on the cutting edge of developing mind-bending visual shows.
But it wasn’t until 2016 that he finally released a full-length studio album, the double-LP Opus. The massive record featured 19 tracks — including “Every Day,” a single first released back in 2012. Prydz’s preference for the grandiose is on full display with his signature progressive songs like the title track and “Liberate,” but that same energy is dialed in ever so carefully with dexterous details and layered emotions elsewhere on “Moody Mondays” and intro track “Liam,” in ways only the skilled craftsman could achieve. — V.L.
15. Porter Robinson, Worlds (2014)
“I genuinely don’t want to be playing electro bangers anymore,” Porter Robinson told Billboard during a 2014 interview. Then just 21 years old, the producer was hailed as a rising star in EDM’s new generation, having toured with Tiësto and having been hand-picked to launch Skrillex’s OWSLA imprint with his 2011 Spitfire EP. But he quickly tired of the scene, punctuating his pivot away from the complextro sound through which he made his name with his debut album, Worlds. The LP is a mix of electropop, Japanese vocal chops, video-game-esque chirps and ambient-leaning soundscapes. Traces of Robinson’s EDM past — euphoric melodies and beaming synths — linger, but in a way that sounds more intimate and tender, like a festival set for one.
When it came to the performance, Robinson pushed himself to perform live. He sang, played keys and hit drum machines with emphatic movement. The Worlds album and tour became the blueprint for a generation of young producers to follow, many of whom still embody Robinson’s stage presence and live production. It was a game-changer across the board, and Robinson still celebrates the achievement with Worlds concerts at select engagements. — K.R. & K. Bein
14. Four Tet, There is Love in You (2010)
During the making of his fifth studio album, There is Love in You, Four Tet tested his tracks on dancefloor audiences during his DJ residency at the famed (and now closed) nightclub Plastic People. But most of the producer’s work here sounds more suited for after a long night than during, when the sun’ first light peeks above the horizon in all its hazy glory and your feet hurt too much to be dancing, anyway. (The only glorious exception is the percussive stunner “Love Cry,” which should absolutely be played in the dark with the sole intention of winding up a dancefloor just to unravel it.) There is Love in You feels more like a workout for the mind and soul with its many textures and chopped vocal samples — no matter how many times you listen to it, there’s always a new layer to discover, a gift that keeps on giving. –– K.R.
13. Flume, Flume (2012)
A young Australian producer named Flume made his big debut in 2012, cutting through the noise with his fresh take on electronic music with R&B flair. It wasn’t a new concept, per say, but it seemed a necessary one to revisit after a few years of electro and dub-tinged EDM dominated the umbrella term of “dance music” in the early 2010’s. Flume had begun fiddling around with production as a teen, later releasing his self-titled album when he was 21 on the first laptop he’d ever purchased.
Flume was comprised of tracks that charmed with the ease of a well-seasoned producer with thoughtful textures and smooth rhythm play, including the swinging, gospel sample-led “Holdin On” and the unlikely “Sleepless,” which managed to beat out One Direction for the No. 1 spot on the Australian charts during its single release. While Flume had captured Australia’s attention, it wasn’t until the following year when the album released in North America that he become a full-fledged superstar, and poster child for the first wave of post-EDM sound exploration. — V.L.
12. Skrillex, Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites EP (2010)
Skrillex has released an impressive amount of music in an impressive array of styles since 2010’s Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites. But it was this EP — and its bombastic title track in particular — that not only presented the producer’s singular sound to the world, but served as shots fired for the dance scene at large, as his juggernaut bass and alien melodies blew open the doors for bass music and electronic music culture at large in the United States. — K. Bain
11. Grimes, Visions (2012)
Pop music was floating along in its all melodic familiarity until Grimes came along and threw the wrench that is Visions into the gears. The artist born Claire Boucher effectively brought experimental into the mainstream, refrying pop hooks with techno beats, warped rhythms and ethereal vocals belied by her own uncompromising songwriting. Veering from a couple minutes to four-plus in length, each track serves the vision of an album’s album, serving up gut-punch familiarity with futurist ambition. Nearly eight years on, there’s still nothing quite like it. — A.D.
10. Jack Ü, Skrillex & Diplo Present Jack Ü (2015)
Trap music was privy to a high-profile bromance back in 2015, when scene kings Skrillex and Diplo joined forces to form Jack Ü. Producers of this caliber need no introduction, however the superduo’s only LP bore a self-titled presentation: Skrillex & Diplo Present Jack Ü. Perhaps the album — which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Dance/Electronic Album charts in February 2014 — should have been called Skrillex & Diplo Present Jack Ü feat. The Biggest Pop Stars on the Planet. The album is like a time capsule — a peek at who was lava hot when it dropped — with names like AlunaGeorge, Justin Bieber and 2 Chains all claiming credits.
The lead single, “Take Ü There,” became an instant summer hit thanks to Canadian Songstress Kiesza, whose soaring vocals elevated the bouncy, moombah-laced production. But that was only the beginning. The Biebs made us swoon in “Where Are Ü Now,” and the chiller, bedroom bass stylings of “To Ü” kept things poppin’. It was one of the most profound fusions of electronic music and pop at that time, and yes, they took the umlaut extremely seriously. –– M.V
9. Nicolas Jaar, Space Is Only Noise (2011)
Amidst the saturated layers and id-fueled tempos that defined much of electronic and dance music in the early ’10s, a young producer named Nicolas Jaar cut a path towards a different way of listening. Space Is Only Noise captured that elusive nexus between the cerebral and visceral, massaging deceptively simple rhythms, intimate vocals and bleeding reverb into the negative space surrounding them. The result is a record that flirts with the edge of oblivion: Jaar wields silence and restraint as instruments unto themselves, an experiment in tension and apprehension that’s as sinister as it is intoxicating. — A.D.
8. David Guetta, Nothing But the Beat (2011)
The early 2010’s might have seen the beginning of a handful of future EDM superstars’ careers, but lest we not forget that David Guetta was one of the very first — and arguably and controversially, the best — to ever do it… and by “it,” we mean to pioneer dance music’s foray into pop culture. By 2011, Guetta was on his fifth album release with Nothing But the Beat and already in the second chapter of pioneering the crossover genre with massive hits and collabs released with stars like Akon (“Sexy B*tch”), The Black Eyed Peas (“I Gotta Feeling”), Flo Rida (“Club Can’t Handle Me”), and Kelly Roland (“When Love Takes Over”).
Guetta was smoothly riding the wave of frenzy for electro house pop songs with the release of Nothing But the Beat, which featured a roster of A-List rappers and singers like Snoop Dogg, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, Chris Brown, Flo Rida, Usher, and Sia. Songs like “Where Them Girls At” and “Turn Me On” became instant go-tos for nightclubs around the world, and the shining star of the was the empowering anthem, “Titanium.” The collaboration with Sia became a hit not only at festivals and across the rave scene, but also on the radio, also launching Sia back into the spotlight as a singer and pop star rather than her preferred role behind-the-scenes as a songwriter, thanks to Guetta allegedly using her demo vocals for the actual track. — V.L.
7. Avicii, True (2013)
By 2013, there were few people in the world that didn’t know Avicii. “Levels” was, and still is, the most iconic EDM song and a given across Top 10 charts around the world, and the young Swedish producer was launched into superstardom from there on out. In 2013, during his headlining performance at Ultra Music Festival, with less than 30 minutes of his performance remaining, he stunned the world when he stopped the music and brought a live band on stage. Sounds of bluegrass, soul, and even country music played to the disgruntled crowd, who were yearning for his more signature melodic progressions and colossal electro climaxes. At the time, his performance was written off by fans, critics, and even fellow producers as a bizarre decision and an utter failure.
Avicii responded to the criticism on Facebook, confidently explaining that “people will soon see what it’s all about.” By the time True was released, he certainly had lived up to the promise. “Wake Me Up,” which he debuted at that now historic UMF performance, would eventually become a darling and daring example of what electronic music could be, if only a producer could be fearless and inventive enough to try. — V.L.
6. Daft Punk, Random Access Memories (2013)
French touch pioneer Daft Punk’s first two albums, Homework and Discovery, were made entirely on personal computers and basic equipment inside the duo’s home studio. Third album Human After All was made in a studio, but in the span of like, two weeks. The group enjoyed monumental success with its Alive concert album in 2007, and after working with a full orchestra on the Tron: Legacy soundtrack, the robots decided they’d do something crazy and give real instruments a try.
RAM, as it’s affectionally shortened, pays tribute to late ’70s and early ’80s disco, funk and soul, limiting the amount of electronic pieces used to select drum machines, a custom modular synth and vintage vocoders. Having earned the prestige of a legacy act themselves, Daft Punk got their idols in the studio to record live riffs and vocals, turning their favorite sample sources into original sounds. They gave modern musical minds a retro sheen. They paid homage to Giorgio Moroder and revived his career. They even finally won the Grammy for album of the year in 2014. Random Access Memories is not the bombastic EDM Daft Punk spawned. It is a luxurious and psychedelic journey of cinematic sound. — K. Bein
5. LCD Soundsystem, This Is Happening (2010)
LCD Soundsystem is oxymoronic. It’s a dance outfit fronted by a middle-aged man. It’s party music about how much of a drag real life is. It both rages against the dying of the light and the coming of the morning. If it were a person, it’d be the 3 a.m. hanger-on at a house party, dancing alone in the kitchen. In 2010, James Murphy had ostensibly decided to go home, and This Is Happening was intended to be LCD Soundsystem’s big au revoir. “It’s the end of an era, it’s true,” Murphy sings near the end of its bombastic opener, all-but spelling out the band’s impending dissolution. True to form, the ending was a fake out — LCD said goodbye with a massive Madison Square Garden show in 2011, only to return in 2017 with American Dream.
For seven years, however, This Is Happening made for an ideal swan song. Its gargantuan opener “Dance Yrself Clean” contains one of the decade’s most iconic drops, and the set even contained a slightly more conventional alternative radio single in the form of the post-punk riffer “Drunk Girls.” At its best, the LP has Murphy trying to cram the mess of life into a 4/4 rhythm. “Home” made a perfect ending then, a meditation on the pull of the party from the necessary struggle of being a damn adult. It made mid-life crises sound fun, if only for an hour. — D.O.
4. Calvin Harris, 18 Months (2012)
Some albums perfectly capture a mood and a time, and Calvin Harris’ landmark third LP, 18 Months, is the absolute authority on quality genre-smashing EDM in the early 2010s. It’s the benchmark for what the cascading synths, gut-twisting grooves and hands-in-the-air atmospheres could and should have been. It’s the album that made Harris a crossover star, the first time he let other divas sing toplines. Kelis, Ellie Goulding, Florence Welsch and Ne-Yo all make stellar appearances. Of course, it’s “We Found Love” with Rihanna that pushed Harris to the top of the Hot 100, changing his life forever. Still, it’s the good old “Feel So Close” featuring his own syrupy rasp that melts our heart most. It puts us right back there in the booth of our favorite college club, singing along in the faces of the friends we’ll never forget, throwing our fists to the sky like we’d be 24 forever, and as long as this plays, some part of us is. — K. Bein
3. Jamie xx, In Colour (2015)
Jamie xx’s debut solo album is perhaps better remembered for its singles than how it coheres as a whole. That might have something to do with the potency of its big tunes: coming after the whispered atmosphere of the producer’s work with the xx, clubby cuts like “Gosh” and “Hold Tight” were a welcome swerve. Then, of course, we got “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times),” the closest Jamie xx has ever come to an outright pop hit.
But much of the color to be found on the album occurs around its edges, like the thematic pairing of “Stranger in a Room” and “Loud Places” featuring the xx vocalists Oliver Sims and Romy respectively, or the producer’s own late-night adventures on ”Obvs” and “The Rest Is Noise.” In Colour set up Jamie xx as one of the scene’s most in-demand DJs, with a blur of clubs and festivals slowing down his solo output. It’s about time for more good times. — J.T.
2. Justice, Woman Worldwide (2018)
Ask any of the popular producers from the 2010s who inspired them to make electronic music, and at least half of them are gonna tell you that Justice changed their life. The Metallica-loving disco fiends hit the stage in ’70s prog rock haircuts to play theatrical sci-fi maneuvers in the dark. For nearly 15 years, Justice honed in on a sound and style that is all at once bold, brutal and beautiful, and it all came together in perfect harmony on its 2018 live album Woman Worldwide. The stunning 15-track LP remixes and recontextualizes more than 20 Justice songs from across three albums into a suddenly new body of work, perfectly capturing the mood and mystique of the electro mavericks. The hour-and-24-minute piece was honored with the Grammy for best dance/electronic album in 2019, and the group later released a film for the dazzling stage performance, Iris: A Space Opera. — K. Bein
1. Disclosure, Settle (2013)
EDM became formulaic almost upon point of contact, with a million would bes hacking Ableton to try and become the next Avicii or Calvin or Swedish House Mafia or Skrillex. Disclosure wasn’t trying to be anyone, instead using their 2013 debut album, Settle, to pay homage to house music’s origins while offering the electronic music youth movement music dually deep and effervescent. Start to finish, Settle scintillates, kicking off the party with the hyphy earworm “When a Fire Starts to Burn” before introducing an all star lineup of guest features including Sam Smith (“Latch”) AlunaGeorge (“White Noise”) Jessie Ware (“Confess to Me”) and Ms. No More Drama herself, Mary J. Blige (“F For You.”) Even the godfather of dance, Chic’s Nile Rogers, gives the project his blessing via his appearance on “Together.”
In the time Settle was released, dance music’s generation gap was becoming more apparent, with veteran scenesters who had forged the sound and culture in many cases lamenting how their once underground scene had gone the way of corporate sponsored festivals and commercial syncs. Meanwhile, most of the new generation didn’t understand the historical context of the world in which they were entering. With Settle, Disclosure helped bridge this division, making music sturdy enough to gain the respect of old-school house heads and fresh enough to catch on with the kids. (Which, at ages 19 and 22 upon Settle’s release, Disclosure’s Lawrence brothers certainly were.) While the grownups might not have understood or really appreciated dubstep, and the kids probably hadn’t listened to the entirety of the Sasha and Digweed catalog, with Disclosure everyone could gather in the festival tent and get to the essential point, which was getting down together. –– K. Bain