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AbsolutePunk.net's Favorite Dance Albums of 2013

Posted by: Ryan Dennehy (12/20/13)
When we unveiled the AbsolutePunk.net Top 30 of 2013 on Tuesday, you might have noticed an album that didn't quite fit in with the others. Our collective 26th favorite of the year, Jon Hopkins' Immunity stood out amongst the indie and emo records that the site loves most dearly. So Jake Jenkins and I have taken a leap of faith, and compiled a brief list of our ten favorite "dance" records of the year, along with our favorite song. The word is loosely applied here, encompassing everything from club music to headphones records that leave you emotionally catatonic. With all the free time the holidays afford us, why not take a few moments and try something new - maybe you'll find the song that convinces your friends that you should DJ your next party, or maybe you find a record that affects you emotionally in an unexpected way.
            
 
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06:02 AM on 12/20/13
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Ryan Dennehy
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Ryan's Picks:

The Field - Cupid's Head

Being pummelled with the same sound ad nauseum might not be everyone's idea of a fun way to spend 55 minutes, but The Field's brand of unending techno loops never tire. There's menace to them that stalks the dark corridors of whatever space they happen to be filling. Those same halls ring with the bells layered inside pulsing bass that hearken to a different sort of alarm. The disembodied, chopped vocals of "No. No" swirl and encircle before finally bursting apart and leaving the shrapnel to get caught in its own close-circuited system. This isn't music that anticipates relief, or even anything that's fraught with anxiety. It is permeated with knowledge of the impending, inexorable end. It captures in both form and sound the mindless minutae we repeat every moment of our lives on our way to our own conclusion. Cupid's Head takes you to the edge of windswept abyss and tells you that the chill isn't just on your skin - it's in your spine as well. There's still a tinge of hope, though - the closer "20 Seconds of Affection" emphasizes what comes before we reach that maliciously smooth transition out of our lives.

James Holden - The Inheritors

There's often a lot made of an electronic artist who brings the "organic" and "artificial" sounds together, as though the latter needs elements of the former to be legitimized. It's a wildly offensive view of electronic music, one that reduces it solely to its relationship with the analog and which denigrates the efforts of artists who make conscious, effective decisions to bleed one into the other. Without making too much of it, James Holden seems like he made a conscious effort - from the runes adorning the cover to the ceremonial summons "||: A Circle Inside A Circle Inside :||"- to evoke the relationship the artificial enjoys with the spiritual and the mystic. Distant, dim fires burn and beckon Holden - and he hurtles along the steel landscapes with a fanatical fervor toward some unattainable goal. The Inheritors reads as the scrawling of a man cursed by preternatural vision, one that is tethered to and perhaps even drawn from the warped, metallic woodwinds that open the album. It's discordant, feral, and impossibly propulsive even in its most tilted structures. It's the cultish madness of one man recorded, a reminder that God is a perfectly functioning machine.

Classixx - Hanging Gardens

Not to be "that guy," but with all the success Daft Punk enjoyed with Random Access Memories and the ubiquitous summer tune that engendered that success, I have to bemoan the lack of attention paid to Classixx’s debut. Hanging Gardens is far from a perfect album, but its own surefire cross generational party hit never stood a chance. "All You're Waiting For" features vocals from Nancy Whang, she of LCD Soundsystem, the band that could have been huge but chose not to be. Luckily she's more than capable of channeling her inner disco-diva on the track, yet remains not even a whole cut above the other guest vocalists or samples. Slapping you across the face with the question "Do you like bass" as a hook, Classixx cheekily don't make your enjoyment of the record dependent on your answer. In a year chock full of saccharine disco-pop revival records, Classixx managed to deliver one that ranks among the best.

Burial - Rival Dealer

The artists paradox: Change your sound palette and lose all your fans, or stagnate and lose them anyway. It's happened far too many times, and Burial had to confront the question after his singular classic Untrue. While many relished that records walk through the stormy streets of London, they often missed the joy Burial seemed to take in jumping and sloshing in the puddles. But he continued down the road many wanted, and managed to advance his sound to new, enthralling territory while still owning his own lane. The titular "Rival Dealer" does more to clarify Burial's predilection for raves than any track that's preceded it. With vocal samples that actually complete whole thoughts, one might be forgiven for being peeved that Burial didn't continue to lurk about in ambiguous emotional shades. Ultimately, the creator remains steeped in mystery; "Come Down To Us" could be the coming out of its creator or it could just exist to assuage the anxieties of the listener. Even if no one else accepts you, Burial does. Rival Dealer is a conversation, one that accepts and even encourages you to be honest with yourself and others. That may reek of cheese, but its one that many sorely need in their lives. Maybe the anonymous dubstep auteur is the confidante someone needs to gird themselves against the wearying onslaught of others.

Machinedrum - Vapor City

"Gunshotta" is the hulking update to the "Burial sound" (see above) that you never knew you wanted. It's hauntingly gorgeous, but also tailspins out of control before righting itself into the proper rhythm once again. It adds an element of exhilaration to a formula that almost never brushes against thrills. The vocal work on "Center Your Love" strives to life itself out of the haze of Machinedrum's waking life, but also seems to slip backwards each time it comes near. Vapor City traverses a surprisingly large number of styles and aesthetics (dream pop, footwork, dubstep) without ever losing a sense of consistency. In less capable hands, this could have been a mess, a half-assed knockoff of trends and established masters. Instead Machinedrum cherry picks what he likes best and makes it his own, as though to make it clear he can do anything he wants.

Favorite Song:

Future - "Honest (Ryan Hemsworth Post Rock Tears Bootleg)"
Slipped into a slapped together How To Dress Well mix, this remix sees the posterboy for emotional dance transform rap's warbling Future into something closer to Justin Vernon's vocodered indie rock than it really has any right to be.



Jake's Picks

Daniel Avery - Drone Logic

Daniel Avery is from London, one of the central hubs for UK dance music, and as you can imagine his music takes on a ton of influence from historical underground styles. Throughout his debut LP Drone Logic, Avery offers up a dose of techno, acid-house, and ambient music for an album that rarely lets up once the driving force is in motion. Despite its influences being rooted in retro styles, the album feels very modern. The compositions here are about as minimal as you'd expect, but the production applied to the sounds keeps the record feeling huge and ready for the club setting. There are a ton of dynamics here too, though, so you might find this album better suited for headphone listening. Whether listening in a club or at home, it's going to be easy to get yourself lost in the groove of songs like "Water Jump" and "These Things Never End," so it's best to just go along with it and enjoy the ride.

DJ Rashad - Double Cup

DJ Rashad has been in the footwork scene for awhile now, and with Double Cup the Chicago-based producer has given footwork exactly what it needs: A definitive album for the genre. Part of that comes from how technically crafted this thing is. The drum rhythms are skittery and mechanical and the vocal samples are chopped to sweet perfection, and tracks like "Feelin," "Pass That Shit," and the sinister "I Don't Give a Fuck" are just a few of the songs here that are sure to make your head spin. But the other part of the success of Double Cup as a definitive footwork statement is how accessible it is. Footwork isn't exactly what you would call "easy listening," but throughout the album DJ Rashad throws in shades of a myriad of other dance styles, including house, trap, acid, jungle and more. Double Cup has truly elevated the footwork genre to new heights, and DJ Rashad and his Teklife crew are among the top contributors to the current wave of left-field music coming out of Chicago.

The Haxan Cloak - Excavation

Let me preface this paragraph with a warning: you will not be able to dance to this album. As a matter of fact, this album will probably scare the living shit out of you. Excavation is the sound of a black hole collapsing in on itself in slow motion; an endless fall into nothingness. Bobby Krlic, aka The Haxan Cloak, set out to make an album revolving around the afterlife, and the result is perhaps the most unsettling album of 2013. Each build and drop hits even harder than the last, and the plunges down into the abyss feel like they're never going to end. At this point you're probably wondering how dance music fits into this. Let me explain: Excavation is the perfect example of the endless possibilities that dance music has and puts to rest any ideas of it being a limited style. Throughout the record, there are dance beats that bubble just underneath the surface, showing enough to reveal their identity but never fully coming forward to take over. The sounds effects drape over the beats in a state of constant free fall, constantly shifting and morphing the tracks until the beat fades into black and there's nothing left to hold onto. My advice? Listen to this album alone in the dark with headphones at least once. This record is almost guaranteed to move you.

Zomby - With Love

If you would have told me last year that it's possible for a 33 track double album to actually work as a full album front to back, I would have called you a liar. Leave it to Zomby to prove me wrong. There's basically no reason for With Love to succeed; not only is it a double album, but the songs can sometimes feel like half-baked ideas and disjointed in their placements on the discs. But this is all part of what makes Zomby who he is, which is a producer that likes to do things his own way without sticking to any kind of rule set. There are all kinds of sounds and styles scattered throughout the discs. It's very possible that this album has the highest number of different dance music genres executed on a record in 2013. Which, again, sounds like a complete and utter mess. But Zomby's technique of loop building and genre mashing keeps an identifiable voice and vision at the center of it all, and somehow With Love comes out sounding like a fully formed and cohesive project, even if its individual components don't.

Ryan Hemsworth - Guilt Trips/Still Awake

What would hip-hop production sound like if it was a little more tender, a little more self aware, and a little more introspective? The answer is Ryan Hemsworth, who spent 2013 dreaming up pop melodies to place over his slinky hip-hop beats for some of the most interesting and soothing electronic music of the year. Prior to this year, Hemsworth had worked with a number of blog rap artists such as Squadda B, Deniro Farrar, Shady Blaze and more, but 2013 was the year he really came into his own as a solo artist. His Still Awake EP, which came out in May, features five tracks of unabashedly emotional electronic music while his debut LP, Guilt Trips, found him refining his songwriting down to something a little more accessible while still exploring new spaces of hip-hop and future R&B. Make no mistake, though, his songs aren't only meant for quiet listens alone. I saw him twice over the summer, and his work lends itself nicely to a dance environment. Ryan Hemsworth makes versatile music that can accompany whatever mood you're in, all it requires is for you to be in a mood.

Favorite Song:


The Range - "Metal Swing"

The Range's "Metal Swing" has a lot of textural components that remind me of James Blake's earlier EP's, but the slow building beat that never gets too in your face suggests the kind of subtle power that Blake has shown on his two full lengths. That's not to say The Range sounds much like James Blake at all, but listen for yourself and try to pin this guy down. I bet you can't.
06:09 AM on 12/20/13
#3
incognitojones
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Love the loose definition, needs more youtube videos tho
06:10 AM on 12/20/13
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Sakarazu
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Need to listen to a few of these still
06:12 AM on 12/20/13
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Fourchordwonder
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I don't normally enjoy this genre of music at all, but I'll give a couple of these a shot. The description of the James Holden album seems especially intriguing.
06:51 AM on 12/20/13
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absintheparty9
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Not usually my cup of tea, but I'll check em out.
07:02 AM on 12/20/13
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phaynes1
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This is really great. Hope some people check this out.
07:11 AM on 12/20/13
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Hope some people find some new tunes to fall in love with through this. Thanks for reading
07:18 AM on 12/20/13
#9
QuietThings430
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IT'S ABSOLUTEPUNK NOT ABSOLUTECOMPUTERNOISE THEY JUST PRESS PLAY AND MAKE INTERNET DIAL UP SOUNDS

loljk. Really glad you put Classixx on here. Love that LP, seeing them next Friday opening for Zedd and I'm very very stoked to see how they sound live. I haven't listened to Burial's new EP yet but Come Down to Me might be my favorite song he's done since Archangel.

My two favorite dance albums this year are FM Attack's Deja Vu (http://fmattack.bandcamp.com/album/deja-vu) and SAINT PEPSI's Hit Vibes (http://keatscollective.bandcamp.com/album/hit-vibes). Anyone who dug the last Daft Punk album and is looking for stuff that's similar should definitely check these records out. Swindle's Long Live the Jazz was pretty excellent too.
07:20 AM on 12/20/13
phaynes1
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forest swords too

bc dancing is shaking from fear in your bed as you listen b4 sleep time
07:21 AM on 12/20/13
Jake Jenkins
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forest swords too

bc dancing is shaking from fear in your bed as you listen b4 sleep time
That's not dance music at all

It's also not frightening
07:25 AM on 12/20/13
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I don't normally enjoy this genre of music at all, but I'll give a couple of these a shot. The description of the James Holden album seems especially intriguing.
It might be a little unsettling at first because it's really just a left field record. It's so good though.
07:26 AM on 12/20/13
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IT'S ABSOLUTEPUNK NOT ABSOLUTECOMPUTERNOISE THEY JUST PRESS PLAY AND MAKE INTERNET DIAL UP SOUNDS

loljk. Really glad you put Classixx on here. Love that LP, seeing them next Friday opening for Zedd and I'm very very stoked to see how they sound live. I haven't listened to Burial's new EP yet but Come Down to Me might be my favorite song he's done since Archangel.

My two favorite dance albums this year are FM Attack's Deja Vu (http://fmattack.bandcamp.com/album/deja-vu) and SAINT PEPSI's Hit Vibes (http://keatscollective.bandcamp.com/album/hit-vibes). Anyone who dug the last Daft Punk album and is looking for stuff that's similar should definitely check these records out. Swindle's Long Live the Jazz was pretty excellent too.
Wtf is classixx doing opening for zedd
07:26 AM on 12/20/13
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Wtf is classixx doing opening for zedd
GETTIN PAID
07:27 AM on 12/20/13
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Cool list!

As someone that is just dipping his toes into EDM, does anyone have some beginner recommendations (not necessarily from this year - maybe I should start with some basics and work my way up to these?). So far I've just dabbled in the really mainstream stuff like Calvin Harris and Zedd, but I'm really enjoying it.

Thanks!
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