Dance and electronic music saw a resurgence of storytelling in 2018. With the market remaining saturated by an overwhelming stream of weekly releases, the need to cut through the noise has never been more crucial to artists seeking to make an impact.
While dance music is still a singles-driven format, both newcomers and veterans rose to the challenge and delivered meaningful full-length bodies of work that signified new chapters in their respective careers.
Check out Billboard Dance‘s picks for the best dance and electronic albums of 2018 below.
10. Justice, Woman Worldwide
It’s been 10 years since Justice changed the face of dance music with their debut album †, and the French duo has been highly discerning with their releases in the years since. They unleashed their third album Woman in late 2016, but as soon as the LP was finished, they began work on a massive project: to remix, mash-up and completely re-contextualize their three-album catalog for an astonishing, state-of-the-art live tour which kicked off in March 2017. After six months of practice, the tour began, and the set continued to evolve on the road. The pair played between a near-endless array of synths and mpcs, designing some of the equipment themselves for the show’s specific needs. Justice recorded each set and remastered bits and pieces of the best recordings into one cohesive, perfectly-layered masterpiece, released on digital and vinyl as Woman Worldwide. The album has since been nominated for best dance/electronic album at the 2019 Grammys. — KAT BEIN
9. Lane 8, Little By Little
Daniel Goldstein is the mastermind behind Lane 8, the dynamic electronic project that has been at the forefront of a new wave of melodic house music. At the top of 2018, Goldstein released his second album, Little By Little, following his acclaimed 2015 full-length debut, Rise. Picking up on the promise of his earlier work, the album brought 10 polished originals to light, brandishing Lane 8’s signature, soothing synth work over delicate deep house beats. In a similar fashion to Rise, Goldstein enlisted a wide variety of vocalists for his sophomore endeavor, including Channy Leaneagh of Poliça and frequent collaborator Patrick Baker. Whereas his first LP found a home on Above & Beyond’s Anjunadeep, Goldstein made the conscious decision to release his new album on his budding independent label, This Never Happened. Racking up over 17 million streams on Spotify alone, the album cements Lane 8’s ability to craft hypnotic, melody-driven house music with a global appeal. — MICHAEL SUNDIUS
8. Alison Wonderland, Awake
Mental health became a huge part of the global music industry conversation in 2018, especially in the unfortunate wake of Avicii?’s suicide in April. But even before the world opened up about its internal struggles, Alison Wonderland fought to face her demons on record. The Australian DJ and producer poured her heart and soul into 14 expressive tunes on her second LP Awake. It’s explosive, it’s intimate, it’s daring, and it’s a new experimental watershed for its maker. The Trippie Redd-assisted “High” pushes the frontier for trap-influenced bass house, while “Church” (featuring Wonderland’s own inspired vocals) gives fans a hook-ridden sing-a-long they can feel in their souls. The singer-producer was publicly nervous to share the project, but has since been rewarded with incredible support from both listeners and musical peers — as well as a No. 1 debut on Billboard’s Top Dance/Electronic Albums chart. — K.B.
7. DJ Koze – Knock Knock
It’s hard enough to let 16 tracks play without losing listeners’ interest. It’s another feat entirely to concoct 16 ambient funk tunes and still walk away with one of the most enthralling, engaging electronic albums of the year. Knock Knock is a master-class in sampling and genre fusion. You can hear Koze’s hip-hop DJ roots in the beats of “Baby (How Much I LFO You)” and “Colors of Autumn,” featuring Arrested Development rapper Speech. His mastery of tech house is also evident, especially on grooves “Planet Haze” and “Muddy Funster.” Knock Knock blurs sonic barriers with vocal features from diverse artists like indie-folk favorites Jose Gonzalez and Bon Iver, Kurt Wagner of Tennessee alt-country outfit Lambchop, and more. It’s a lush and explorative offering you’ll want to dig in to. — K.B.
6. Above & Beyond, Common Ground
Above & Beyond’s impassioned tales and euphoric melodies have always elevated past dance music, leaping straight for the heart and soul of every listener. This personal, unguarded experience can be found on Common Ground, the group’s fourth studio album. They call upon their favorite singer-songwriters, like regular collaborators Richard Bedford and Zoë Johnston, for soon-to-be-classics like “Northern Soul” and “My Own Hymn,” along with earnest contributions like “Bittersweet & Blue” and “Always.” While one could argue the highs and lows of the LP are largely predictable, Above & Beyond are able to effortlessly convert each emotion — whether it be love, lost or desire — into immediate and euphonic choruses. The album peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 and went No. 1 on Top Dance/Electronic Albums, proving a successful follow-up to 2015’s We Are All We Need. Common Ground is a spiritual healer, one more reason why the progressive trance act has developed a dedicated fan base in the millions. — DAVE RISHTY
5. G Jones – The Ineffable Truth
Math never sounded so brutal as on this Bay Area wizard’s 11-track opus. G Jones is a man of few words, but he conveys miles of emotion on this experimental gem. It’s percussive and melodic, but it’s mostly a mind-warp of psychedelic time signatures and hits hard enough to force guttural “oohs” and “aahs” from anyone who listens. It’s an arresting project that demands listening from start to finish, and when you’re done, there’s hardly anything left to say. G Jones is currently on tour in support of The Ineffable Truth with a stark, blinding light show that’ll leave your jaw on the sticky club floor. If you’re looking for the bass music hero of tomorrow, he’s come today. — K.B.
4. Bob Moses – Battle Lines
When Tom Howie and Jimmy Vallance hit the stage together, they become the electrifying duo known as Bob Moses. Following the fusion of seductive basslines, sultry undertones and alternative instrumentals that appeared on their 2015 debut, Days Gone By, the duo proved their experimental nature is still alive on this year’s Battle Lines. The sophomore output brings gritty undertones to the surface through multi-layered melodies and dark, heavy beats, creating a record that discusses the importance of love, hope and the splendid mystery that the future holds. Bob Moses also share an introspective side on Battle Lines, with lyrics like, “Won’t you suffer for the angels to fly/ sacrifice to make it right?” from the lead track “Heaven Only Knows.” The pair close out their rhythmic record with an important piece of advice on “Don’t Hold Back” — “Just keep it rollin’ down that track/ even when you fear you can’t.” — EMINA LUKARCANIN
3. Jon Hopkins – Singularity
It took Jon Hopkins five years to follow up his groundbreaking Immunity album, but what came in its wake, Singularity, was well worth the wait. The English composer’s fifth album is everything we’ve come to love about Hopkins’ style: a transcendent body of work that glistens with textured sound design. Chaotic at times and fragile at others, the album expertly weaves together ambient, electronica, techno, and a myriad of other genres which evade easy description. To top it off, it’s been nominated for best dance/electronic album at the 2019 Grammy Awards — a deserving nod of approval for Hopkins’ remarkable creation. Singularity is a beautifully wrought vision of what electronic music can be, from an incredibly innovative mind. — M.S.
2. San Holo – album1
It’s hard to believe San Holo only began work on his debut album in January of this year. Now 12 months later, he’s about to wrap on what’s become one of the most critically acclaimed electronic music tours of the year. It would be unfair, though, to call Holo a simple DJ. album1 is notable for its innovative use of organic instrumentation and analog recording techniques. The Dutch artist rented an Airbnb in Los Angeles, working tirelessly for a few months. He recorded different guitar riffs and conversations, even street noises and nature sounds, each of which can be heard by discerning listeners in the layers of his folk-rock-house hybrid sound. The album, which soared to No. 7 on Billboard’s Top Dance/Electronic Albums chart, is emotional, cinematic and deeply personal. It’s a powerful listen, and there’s nothing like seeing San Holo rip a guitar solo while standing in front of his enthralling production, live on stage. — K.B.
1. RÜFÜS DU SOL – Solace
2018 saw the birth of a new RÜFÜS DU SOL. Bolstered by the success of 2016’s Bloom — the album which thrust the Australian three-piece into the international spotlight– the trio returned with their most sophisticated work yet: Solace. Tackling heavier lyrical themes and more experimental sound design, the album showcases a deeper side to the project. With clear-cut influence from emergent subgenres within the house world, the album is a decisive nod to the underground, while still retaining the infectious pop punch of previous outings.
Solace was not without its share of crossover success either: Four of the album’s tracks notably landed in the Hot/Dance Electronic Songs chart, with the album itself peaking at No. 6 in the Top Dance/Electronic Albums. The LP succeeded in bringing new visibility to their project while simultaneously showcasing the band’s ongoing maturation by delivering singles like “No Place” and “Underwater,” which attracted remixes from house icons like Adam Port, Lindstrøm, and Prins Thomas. Now in full bloom, RÜFÜS DU SOL earns this year’s No. 1 spot with Solace. — M.S.