You know what we like most about dance albums? The best ones transcend fashion.
For all this decade's rises and falls, voguish sub-genres and fleeting über-trends, the bandwagon never made it to LP town. And you know why? Because making an album is tough. Incredibly tough. For an artist to convey their very musical fibre on an 80-minute or less canvas, takes a great deal more skill than downloading the latest sample CD and ticking the relevant boxes. Which is exactly why the album format sorts the essential from the inconsequential.
All of our below twenty displayed the necessary flair to elevate themselves above any undercurrent faddism, and, in the case of our #1 album, simply did what many were trying to do this year, but better.
20. Moderat - Moderat [BPitch Control]
They made their mark more fully in the live arena
, but it's clear that Moderat would be nothing without the music. A mash-up of two distinct sounds, Apparat's refined melodic sense somehow worked perfectly against Modeselektor's standing-on-the-edge-of-control rambunctiousness. In its finest moments, though, Moderat
got to a place where it didn't sound like Modeselektor + Apparat, but rather simply like Moderat.
19. Peverelist - Jarvik Mindstate [Punch Drunk]
Bristol's Tom Ford is a bit of a music nerd, but don't hold that against him. That's exactly what makes his music so vibrant. Rather than simply taking in the sound of the city and spitting it back out in a dubstep style, Jarvik Mindstate's patience and melodic knack is the work of a producer unconcerned with genre, and instead focused on creating forward-thinking music, regardless of where it's categorized.
18. Black Jazz Consortium - Structure [Soul People Music]
Black Jazz Consortium in person is much like his music sounds: Modest, unassuming and almost serene in its simplicity. Listen closer, though, and the rhythms begin to reveal their complexity, the structures that seemed so important at first begin to fade—only to be taken over by newer ones. In a genre where only a handful of producers got beyond the surface this year, BJC was among those who went deeper.
17. Brock Van Wey - White Clouds Drift On And On [echospace [detroit]]
The naked emotion of Brock Van Wey's oeuvre has been almost uncomfortable to listen to. Despite its abstract nature, you don't need to see the song titles—"I Knew Happiness Once"—to understand the intense feelings that birthed them. Thanks, then, go to Intrusion for commissioning an entire full-length—and for transforming it so capably on a second disc dub that nearly equaled the original.
16. Ben Frost - By the Throat [Bedroom Community]
Ben Frost's live shows have become a thing of legend
, and on his second full-length for Bedroom Community he offers hints as to why he almost always (literally) shakes the foundations of the venues that he plays in. Unlike its predecessor, By the Throat
also showcases a producer that is finding comfort in maturity, more fascinated by complexity than brute force—and is all the better for it.
15. Dinky - Anemik [Wagon Repair]
sounded little like her 2008 Vakant effort May Be Later
. Her sound palette broadened to include things other than an imagined dance floor, all you had to do was look at the two album covers to see their essential difference, with Anemik
's success coming largely from the fact that it was a relaxed and colorful tapestry of sound that had no trouble reveling in the spaces between things.
14. Lawrence - Until Then, Goodbye [Mule Electronic]
Some people regarded Lawrence's Until Then, Goodbye as simply more of the same from the Hamburg producer, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Stretching out in the full-length format, Lawrence revealed delicate miniatures that only casually touched on his beloved house music, and dance tunes that only barely got up enough energy to dance. Contemplative and arresting, it was among his finest works yet.
13. Black Meteoric Star - Black Meteoric Star [DFA]
Gavin Russom's debt to Krautrock and minimalists is clear. But his secret weapon is that the pounding, unyielding epics that make up Black Meteoric Star are fist-pumping dance anthems. In Russom's hands, that chord change that comes every few minutes is a revelation, the break of what seemed like a drum machine on auto-pilot is ecstatic, the extreme length of his tracks the essential key to their success.
12. The Field - Yesterday And Today [Kompakt]
The Field's gauzy loops now feel like old hat, which is why his second album's success felt like such a surprise. But Axel Willner had plenty of new tricks up his sleeve, most notably recording the whole thing in a Swedish school house with friends. It's something that you can easily hear, his sound now looser, more live and as vibrant as when we were first wowed by From Here We Go... two years ago.
11. Fuck Buttons - Tarot Sport [ATP Recordings]
The strength of Fuck Buttons' dance credentials lies in how little they know about the stuff. Andrew Hung and Benjamin John Power are two indie kids, fascinated by the pulverizing effects of noise and the power of repetition. That these are the bedrocks of techno—and that Andrew Weatherall was behind the controls of Tarot Sport? Well, that was mere accident. But what a beautiful accident it was, eh?
10. 2562 - Unbalance [Tectonic Recordings]
What made dubstep the most fascinating sound of 2009? Versatility. The four "dubstep" records on this list have little to do with one another, each producer coming at the scene from a different perspective. Take 2562, for instance, whose techno touch infected Unbalance with a forward momentum, driving the album's short tracks to feel almost like pop songs, ripe for some Utopia where Joker tops the charts.
09. Redshape - The Dance Paradox [Delsin]
The masked man of techno may not be much of a mystery anymore, but how he comes up with the music that he does remains so. It is, after all, unfathomable how you make classicist techno of the sort that Redshape trades in sound fresh. The producer's debut full-length nonetheless pulled it off, revealing that the secret may perhaps lie in the oldest idea of all: a live drummer.
08. Ben Klock - One [Ostgut Ton]
Dark and...dark, techno and...techno, Berghain and...Berghain. You'd be hard-pressed to say that Ben Klock's One had much versatility, but much like Shed's Shedding the Past, when Klock balanced the elements, there were few better this year. Elif Biçer's vocal turns "Goodly Sin" and "OK," especially, were builders that rode the high-wire tension of contrasting elements to electrifying ends.
07. Matias Aguayo - Ay Ay Ay [Kompakt]
Few titles fit as perfectly as Matias Aguayo's Ay Ay Ay
in 2009. The album was the sound of exultation, the sound of a producer finding a new way to present ideas, the sound of a community beginning to find its voice. The first full-length realization of his much talked-about BumBumBox parties
, it also felt like the beginning of something very special. Color us excited to see where this goes next.
06. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion [Domino]
Animal Collective's most dance-oriented full-length hit the pleasure centers of more than a few DJs
this year. Panda Bear cited Basic Channel, Luomo, Dettinger and Wolfgang Voigt in the liners to his solo album a few years ago, so it should come as little surprise. That they did so effortlessly, though, is the amazing thing, as though channeling techno, doo-wop and indie was somehow the most natural thing in the world.
05. Shackleton - Three EPs [Perlon]
Three EPs, whether Shackleton likes it or not, is an album, and it's among the best of the year because of that fact. Shackleton's evocation of a distinct soundworld was so complete and overwhelming that it was almost impossible not to be taken in. And that seemed like the only way to experience it, in fact, as if letting it wash over you was the only way to overcome its inexorable pull.
04. Moritz Von Oswald Trio - Vertical Ascent [Honest Jon's]
As if he had anything left to prove, Moritz Von Oswald once again showcased his enormous talent in bringing together Vladislav Delay and Max Loderbauer for a trio album that both fit neatly into the electronic music spectrum yet sat defiantly outside as well. That it sat at the outskirts, though, was perhaps its appeal, taking in all of the good things—hypnotic repetition, deep layers of production—and ignoring the rest.
03. Martyn - Great Lengths 
Following up on a breakout 2008, Martyn reminded listeners why they loved him in the first place throughout his sterling full-length, revealing the numerous shades to his sound. The dominant mood throughout, though, was a bristling toughness mixed with melancholy, revealed to devastating effect on tracks like "Vancouver" and "Elden St." House? Dubstep? We'll just call it great, and leave it at that.
02. Fever Ray - Fever Ray [Rabid Records]
You read it all often, but the word that resonated most with Fever Ray was "ritual." Maybe it was the beat on album opener "If I Had a Heart," which plodded softly while a theme played over and over and over again. Or perhaps it's Karin Dreijer Andersson's renowned live shows, which made such haunting use of lamps and costumes. Whatever it was, we spent 2009 ready and willing to practice it.
01. DJ Sprinkles - Midtown 120 Blues [Mule Musiq]
"There must be a hundred records with voiceovers asking 'What is house?' and the answer is always some greeting card bullshit about life, love, happiness."
In 2009, it seemed like there were at least one hundred more. But the above quote, taken from DJ Sprinkles "Midtown 120 Intro" and the album that followed, was a striking moment in which the complexity of life—and music—was laid bare in 80 minutes of house music. Questions became more important than answers, ambiguity more important than certainty, hearing just as important as listening.
Midtown 120 Blues provided plenty of pleasure as well. The sublime, building "Sisters, I Don't Know What This World Is Coming To" and the otherworldly ambience of "Grand Central, Pt.II (72hrs. by Rail from Missouri)" are two of the finest representations of the most important loves—deep house and experimental electroacoustics—ever put to tape by Sprinkles, AKA Terre Thaemlitz. But the album is RA's favourite because it went far beyond making a crowd move, providing music journalists with angles or satisfying the home listening contingent. It's the best album of 2009 because it makes us wonder that if other producers—hell, other people—were as consistently brave as Thaemlitz, what this world indeed would be coming to.