In the days of disco, dance music was born from bands. You had guitar players strumming wild rhythms, drummers kicking out hefty beats and soulful singers ripping catchy hymns in neon-lit churches of the night. DJs quickly learned to mix those records with dexterous groove, and soon the DJ became the ruler of the dance floor. But the past decade saw the DJ go from a skilled master selector to more of a figurehead. Suddenly, there was talk of prerecorded sets, too many hands in the air and big light shows as distractions. Dance music needed to return to its roots, get back in touch with the source, and in 2017, it came home.
Seven out of our 10 best dance albums of 2017 come from live performers and producers, if not just straight-up bands. These records also reflect a growing sense of emotional urgency in dance music, a need to open up honestly about personal struggles and growths, whether that be reflected lyrically or solely in the music. Cinematic moods, worldly influence and experimentation also won big from clubs to concert halls and on the radio.
Of course, dance music ain’t dance without a bit of party. There’s still lots of room for funk and pop appeal. All in all, it was a cool year for the album format and those who thrive within it. Check our critics’ picks for the best dance albums in 2017 below.
10. Petit Biscuit – Presence
If Petit Biscuit isn’t on your radar yet, his debut album Presence provides 14 reasons why that should change. The French producer makes a scintillating entrance with his buttery smooth LP, leading with a cinematic record titled “Creation Comes Alive.” Listeners will be hooked by his warm and cozy atmospheres, not to mention the tasteful features from Lido, Bipolar Sunshine, Cautious Clay and others. Petit Biscuit dips into future bass and chill house throughout the project while making a conscious effort to present diverse soundscapes — whether it be the starlit sound design of “Gravitation” or the daytime nature elements heard in “Waterfall.” While “Sunset Lover” is the clear standout record from Presence, we recommend taking a listen to the collection from start to finish. — Dave Rishty
9. Emancipator – Baralku
“Music takes me to places, and each song is a spirit island on which its soul lives infinitely,” says Emancipator, real name Doug Appling, when speaking about the tracks on Baralku. Each record has a clear, definitive setting, presenting an immersive and sensory experience for the listener. Take “Udon” for instance — the production incorporates space blips, hypnotic ambient pads and voice recordings in Japanese. Baralku is not your typical album. Its imagery and left-of-center sonic choices can perhaps even classify it as an aural and visual experiment for fans. –– Dave Rishty
8. Illenium – Awake
The phrase “sophomore slump” may exist for some artists, but not Illenium. The Colorado-based producer has experienced triumph after triumph over the past few years, especially with the release of his debut LP Ashes in 2016 and most recently, his 13-track Awake album. Tracks like “Crawl Outta Love,” “Fractures” and “Beautiful Creatures” are just a few examples that beautifully represent his euphoric sound. Not to mention his “Feel Good” collaboration with Gryffin and Daya, which experienced plenty of love from dance radio and Spotify with nearly 70 million streams to date. Other acts to take part in Illenium’s glimmering LP include MAX, Dia Frampton and his go-to collaborator Said The Sky. — Dave Rishty
7. Calvin Harris – Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1
After following blockbuster 18 Months with pretty much the same formula on Motions, Calvin Harris returns to his chameleonic roots with a new groove. Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 takes the radio-reigning sounds of tropical tempos and poolside vibes and spins them through a colorful cotton-candy machine with a dash of sweaty club floors and bedroom eyes. He keeps the affair star-studded but lends a ’70s air to the affair. This is a love-making album for women who wear gold pant suits and men who believe in the tenants of vinyl. Lead single “Slide” with Frank Ocean and Migos, who somehow made trappin’ sound easy, is a perfect example of a feel-good anthem. “Feels” is cute enough for your parents to love but cool enough for the kids. “Fakin’ It” brings some ’90s drums into the mix for extra bounce. The album topped the Dance/Electronic Albums chart in July, when hot tub parties hit their peak, but we’re rockin’ it still. — Kat Bein
6. Four Tet – New Energy
In a a galaxy far, far away, you might find U.K. producer Four Tet‘s sonic voyage soundtracking interstellar afterparties, presumably off his latest transcendental masterpiece New Energy. Launching the project with singles like the dialed-in “Planet” and lounge-meets-runway builder “SW9 9SL,” the cosmic maestro’s ability to teleport space ravers between uncharted worlds is further indication his productions are birthed from the inside of a galactic battleship. Bridge tracks like “Gentle Soul,” “10 Midi” and the static-y “Tremper” provide breaths of air allowing listeners to temporarily unmask their proverbial space helmets before strapping in for the next awe-inspiring adventure. It’s no wonder Four Tet’s wizardry is rarely brought to life in the performance landscape; he’s unreachable in a distant dimension. — Jordan Diaz
5. Cashmere Cat – 9
This Norwegian producer is first and foremost a DJ. From 2006 to 2009, he repped his country in the DMC World Championships as DJ Final. His juggling, bouncy approach to decks informs his wild, jumpy sonic style, and if you catch him onstage today, he still mixes pop and Jerseyclub, hip-hop and electro noise into an ecstatic patchwork of booty-death. He turned heads with 2012 debut EP Mirror Maru and helped invent future bass sounds and styles taken for granted today. A couple years later, he was producing for Charli XCX, Kid Ink, Tinashe, Miguel and some guy named Kanye West. It became cool to buy Cashmere, and everyone expected his debut LP to be a statement of pop’s future. Cashmere did not disappoint, but instead of bringing his sound to the masses, he dared to ask how far the masses would follow his sound. He paired The Weeknd, Ariana Grande, Selena Gomez and more with dark, wintry, sparse rhythms. The brightest song and namesake of the album eschews its pop facade with an industrial mosh pit of a hook. This album proves Cashmere Cat did not come to be changed by the game. He came to change it. — Kat Bein
4. The xx – I See You
The xx’s singers Oliver Sim and Romy Madley-Croft have known each other literally their entire lives. Their mothers were childhood best friends, and they met the band’s electronic percussionist Jamie xx when they were about 8. The band’s first album exploded to popularity before they graduated high school. They grew up together, became stars together, and with stardom come pitfalls. Drugs, alcohol, parties. It wears you down. I See You is an incredibly intimate portrait into their lives. It tackles Sim’s coming to terms with his alcoholism. It tackles the band’s coming to terms with his apologies. It may be the band’s most vulnerable record, and yet, it’s also the band’s first real club effort. Its musical direction was more strongly steered by Jamie xx following his successful debut solo LP In Colour. It’s also the first album The xx recorded outside its English home-base studio. It was recorded in cities around the world, from New York to Los Angeles, London to Reykjavik and Marfa, Texas. All this travel, exploration and honesty was met with huge approval from fans and critics. I See You topped the Album Sales chart in early February. — Kat Bein
3. Mura Masa – Mura Masa
Hailing from the English Channel island of Guernsey, the 21-year-old producer — born Alex Crossan – earns his first-ever Grammy nod for this delightfully varied debut album, whose genre-defying sound reflects his “geographical isolation” in its R&B, trap and future bass flirtations. However, the eponymous LP’s 13 tracks are anything but empty, sporting marquee features like A$AP Rocky, Charli XCX, Desiigner and Damon Albarn.
Supported by six singles, Crossan’s first full-length effort made both critical and commercial waves upon its July release via Polydor, Interscope, Downtown and Anchor Point Records, peaking at No. 6 on the Top Dance/Electronic Albums chart and even cracking the Billboard 200 at No. 192. — Matt Medved
2. Bonobo – Migration
Released on tastemaking indie imprint Ninja Tune in January, the British multi-instrumentalist’s sixth album spawned a global live tour and a series of conceptual music videos for standout collaborations including “No Reason,” featuring Nick Murphy, “Break Apart,” featuring Rhye, and “Bambro Koyo Ganda,” featuring Moroccan band Innov Gnawa, which is also up for best dance recording.
Channeling the transience of three years spent on the road touring for 2013’s The North Borders, the Grammy-nominated Migration has been critically hailed as Bonobo’s most cohesive release to date. The 12-track outing is also his most commercially successful, topping the Top Dance/Electronic Albums chart and peaking at No. 59 on the Billboard 200. — Matt Medved
1. ODESZA – A Moment Apart
Since first turning heads with their 2012 debut LP Summer’s Gone, the Seattle duo has evolved into one of electronic music’s most eclectic headliners. ODESZA’s cinematic third album is one of the rare electronic releases that never flags over its full-length course with a conceptual cohesion that establishes it as far greater than its constituent parts.
Boasting collaborations with the likes of Leon Bridges, Regina Spektor and RY X, A Moment Apart debuted at No. 1 on the Top Dance/Electronic Albums chart and peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard 200. The group’s sprawling 16-track effort marked the first LP to see joint release through Ninja Tune’s Counter imprint and their own Foreign Family Collective label. In June, the artists announced an ambitious world tour that included stops at Los Angeles’ STAPLES Center and New York’s Barclays Center. — Matt Medved