2016 has incurred a renaissance of full-length albums. As dance music becomes further commercialized and single-driven in certain sectors, numerous skilled producers put forth thoughtfully-crafted LPs that prove dance music hasn’t sacrificed substance for the sake of style. This year, veterans and rising stars alike dedicated precious time in the studio to deliver extraordinary albums. Baauer and Zhu graced their devoted followers with debut albums, while Flume and Rufus Du Sol put out masterfully-woven sophomore efforts.
Due to the wealth of superb albums released in 2016, narrowing down the year’s best albums was a painstakingly difficult task. There were a number of stellar albums which did not make this list, but deserve recognition, such as Eric Prydz’s magnificent Opus and Mr. Oizo’s delightfully bizarre All Wet.
Below, we’ve compiled the ten innovative, stylistically diverse, and viscerally evocative albums that we believe shone most brightly amidst a formidable pool of contenders.
10. Sasha – Scene Delete
Sasha’s latest 21-track LP, entitled Scene Delete, is a project that truly wears its heart on its sleeve. Taking pause from his signature progressive and techno-laden club tracks, the legendary Welsh producer leveraged the blissfully introspective Scene Delete to showcase his longtime-subdued ambient and downtempo production proclivities.
Using the compilation series Late Night Tales, Sasha’s post-minimalist modern classical-influenced album features emotive piano and string sequences that evoke feelings of relatable melancholia in tracks such as “Shelter” and “Cassette Sessions D.” “Warewolf” is another standout single, as the track carefully layers tender, ethereal soundscapes over infectious breakbeats. Sasha drew upon a seemingly uncharacteristic stylistic vision while compiling Scene Delete, and the end result proves the risk of doing something different was well worth taking.
– Anna Laurash
Standout Tracks: “Pontiac,” “View2,” “Rooms”
9. Tycho – Epoch
Few releases this year displayed as much command over the album as a form than Tycho’s fifth full length effort, Epoch. Too often producers put out LP’s that come off more as a collection of singles than a complete unit, but Tycho is not most producers. The ambient master crafted an intricate, detailed, and masterful work that, when taken as a whole, becomes vastly more than the sum of its parts.
Though the album’s forté is its entirety, that is not to say that the songs on Epoch cannot stand on their own. On the contrary, each of the album’s 11 songs is almost bafflingly well written, with catchy, moving melodies; rich, luxurious sound design; and deft, assured arraignments that crystalize into one of the best albums of the year.
– Patrick Hooks
Standout Tracks: “Epoch,” “Horizon,” “Division”
8. Baauer – Aa
With the “Harlem Shake” meme and resulting popularity now far from relevancy, the viral hit’s creator rises from the earworm’s ashes to immortalize his prowess in bass music. Enter Aa, Baauer’s debut class="il">album that encompasses his culmination as an electronic trap trailblazer, and his crossover journey thereafter.
Aa blasts off with an instrumental intro, led by the junglelike “GoGo!” and sprinting at full speed until the hip-hop inspired “Sow” switches it up. Collaborations take hold of the latter half, with M.I.A tapped for the ferocious “Temple,” and Pusha T and Future serving up a dope connection on “Kung Fu.” Though the producer’s debut class="il">album comes after trap’s heyday, Aa serves as the electronic branch of the genre’s most essential full-length feature to date, proving that musical fluidity yields great finesse.
– Kim Reyes
Standout Tracks: “Sow,” “Temple,” “Kung Fu”
7. GRiZ – Good Will Prevail
Who knew that all it would take to put soul back into electronic music was a little live instrumentation? GRiZ’s fifth studio album arrived in September like a shot in the arm, full of raucous bass, ebullient horns, and more irresistible funk than any other release this year. Every moment of ‘Good Will Prevail is bursting at the seams with an infectious, seemingly limitless energy, and each song seems like an attempt to outdo the last in danceability and exuberance.
It is no accident that every cut on the album, aside from “Feelin’ Fine,” is a collaboration. To help his album prevail to its greatest potential, GRiZ called upon a strong cast of contributors, including Big Gigantic, Cherub, and Sunsquabi. While some releases may have been more conceptually ambitious or boundary breaking, with Good Will Prevail, GRiZ and company did exactly what their figurehead intended – they threw the year’s best party.
– Patrick Hooks
Standout Tracks: “Wicked,” “PS GFY,” “Good Times Roll”
6. Zhu – Generationwhy
After the immense success of Zhu’s EPs The Nightday (2014) and Genesis Series (2015), the once-mysterious producer has finally lifted the veil on his identity with his most multi-faceted release to date, Generationwhy. Zhu’s debut studio class="il">album marks a departure from his signature underground sound, ditching heavy house for catchy melodies like the jazzy “Cold Blooded” and the sultry “In the Morning.” The producer chronicles his first exploration of a new spectrum of dance and pop music, as seen the upbeat “Numb” and fresh-faced “Hometown Girl.”
At first listen, fans of his previous work wouldn’t categorize this as classically Zhu, especially in the class="il">album‘s closer, its eponymous single. Ultimately, Generationwhy highlights his growth from experimental beginnings to full-scale musical artistry, confirming Zhu’s right to remain in the spotlight, still cloaked in enigma yet front-and-center, once again commanding and receiving our full attention.
– Kim Reyes
Standout Tracks: “In the Morning,” “Palm of My Hand,” “Generation Why”
5. Rüfüs Du Sol – Bloom
While the first studio album from Aussie trio Rüf style="text-decoration: underline;">üs Du Sol debuted at number 1 in Australia back in 2013, it was their 2016 sophomore album, Bloom, that catapulted the group to global esteem. The 11-track LP, released on Odesza’s Foreign Family Collective, features a brilliant balance of live instrumentation and electronic music. Drawing upon the trio’s nu-disco influences, some of the LP’s biggest successes, such as “Brighter,” “Like An Animal,” and “Say A Prayer,” encapsulate the trio’s penchant for seamlessly combining soulful vocals, melodious synth chords, and entrancing beats that work together to wholeheartedly pull listeners into the album.
From one track to the next, Bloom takes listeners on a journey filled with with genuine human emotion and airy production sequences. This auditory-driven emotion is perhaps best represented with the album’s wistful hit “Innerbloom” – a single that not only stands as a work of melancholic perfection on its own, but also received numerous revered remixes from the likes of Sasha, Lane 8, and What So Not.
– Anna Laurash
Standout Tracks: “Like An Animal,” “Innerbloom,” “You Were Right”
4. Boys Noize – Mayday
Boys Noize’s Mayday is a veritable techno masterpiece. As its title suggests, much of the album is thematically cataclysmic. The dystopian lyrics and caustic production of the titular track echo the tumult which pervades the world’s political climate. Indeed, Oliver Stone selected “Mayday” as part of the official soundtrack for his non-fictional Orwellian film Snowden because of its sonic relevance. More important than the album’s social relevance, however, is the music itself.
Boys Noize has proven his status as a versatile producer throughout his storied career. In Mayday, the producer reaffirms his ability to transcend the status quo across stark stylistic contrasts. Thunderous tracks such as “Overthrow” and “Dynamite” match the quality of the album’s more mellifluous songs, such as the mystifying “2 Live” and the recherché “Starchild.” Ultimately, Mayday is as clamorous as it is beautiful; it is as innovative as it is nostalgic. Alex Ridha’s fourth album is not only a tour de force — it is his magnum opus.
– Will McCarthy
Standout Tracks: “Overthrow,” “Starchild,” “Rock The Bells”
3. Kaytranada 99.9%
Kaytranada originally found his footing by releasing music online, mostly through his SoundCloud, which currently hosts an impressively large collection of original productions and remixes. The 24-year-old has already established his career by producing for big name rap and hip-hop artists like Vic Mensa, Taleb Kweli, and Freddie Gibbs. However, Kaytranada only just released his debut album, 99.9%, this year. Comprised of mostly collaborations, 99.9% opens with two instrumentals, “Track Uno” and “Bus Ride,” before cruising into “Got It Good,” a smooth R&B stunner with famed vocalist Craig David.
Kaytranada floats through 99.9% on a foundation of funk, linking up with AlunaGeorge and GoldLink on the bewitching dance floor single “Together,” and reuniting with Anderson .Paak on the silky and syrupy “Glowed Up.” The producer closes his first full-length feature by working with Little Dragon on the captivating “Bullets,” leaving 99.9% to drift out as an ideal album to keep on repeat. Kaytranada’s debut has garnered high acclaim across the board, and the producer’s well-deserved recognition has likely only just begun.
– Kim Reyes
Standout Tracks: “Got It Good,” “Together,” “Glowed Up”
2. Flume – Skin
After making fans wait an agonizing four years from the release of his first album, Flume overcame the immense pressure of expectations which accompanies second albums to deliver Skin, an astoundingly accomplished opus that showed the Australian luminary pioneering sounds lightyears beyond his peers. Defying the legions of imitators that tried to replicate his earlier styles, Flume made Skin into such an ambitious, assured, and cohesive work of vision that it flouts any attempt at mimicry.
It is no small testament to his skill as an artist that Flume could put songs as Top-40 accessible as “Say It” on the same album as compositions as experimental and complex as “Wall Fuck,” yet have nothing seem discordant or out of place. Flume’s sophomore LP didn’t just push the envelope, it rewrote the rules and exceeded all expectations on its own turns. Skin is transcendent, utterly unique, and one of the absolute best albums of the year.
– Patrick Hooks
Standout Tracks: “Say It,” “Tiny Cities,” “Never Be Like You”
1. Justice – Woman
Five years after the release of Audio, Video, Disco, Justice have emerged from the studio with Woman, a revitalization of their last class="il">album‘s funky spirit, amped up to the next degree of disco. The 10-track feature grooves through a textured audible experience, commencing with the cinematic “Safe and Sound” and continuing with the roaring “Alakazam !” Vocal-heavy tracks like the crooning slow-jam “Stop” and retro-pop throwback “Randy” usher Woman into another dimension, with “Heavy Metal” sounding most reminiscent of their 2007 debut, Cross.
The class="il">album finishes with “Close Call,” a doting instrumental that extends Woman’s vigor beyond its end. In ending their hiatus that seemed like a lifetime, Justice triumphantly returned and exceeded expectations, giving fans a taste of the sweet masterpiece that has the duo breathing new life back into nu-disco, for an electronic milestone akin to man discovering fire. Needless to say, Woman was worth the wait. Because of its expert composition, unyielding fluidity, and cultural impact, we’ve selected Woman as our top album of 2016.
– Kim Reyes
Standout Tracks: “RANDY”, “Safe and Sound,” “Close Call”
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Honorable Mention: deadmau5 – W:/2016ALBUM/
Despite the highly self-critical deadmau5 discounting his eighth studio as being “slapped together,” W:/2016ALBUM/ was undeniably one of 2016’s most highly-anticipated albums – and rightfully so. With W:/2016ALBUM/, Zimmerman reaffirms his status as a progressive house innovator while also demonstrating his progression as an artist by experimenting with new genres.
The album’s wide-ranging tracklist features everything from Essential New Tune-earning “4Ware,” a single that demonstrates Deadmau5’s classic melodic chord progressions at their best, to the trance-influenced “Three Pound Chicken Wing,” to the glitch-hop, ‘80s inspired midtempo track “Whelk Then” – and each does its respective genre justice. Demonstrating the producer’s strive for forward-thinking originality, W:/2016ALBUM/ evokes both nostalgia and a sense of curious excitement, coupling revered vintage Deadmau5 with a retro-influenced sound that may indicate what Zimmerman has planned next.
– Anna Laurash
Standout Tracks: “No Problem,” “Three Pound Chicken Wing,” “4Ware”