Best Electronic & Dance Songs of 2017
2017 has been a tremendous year for music: both in the depth of talent and the overall quality of the talent. In order to break down, and formally recognize, all of the strong work this year, I am launching a series where I first break down the year by genres, then by best overall songs, honorable mentions for albums, and best albums of the year. The first crop are electronic and dance artists who have created everything from dancefloor hits to experimental wonders that beguile the imagination.
Here are my top 25 picks (in order), with a full playlist to follow:
25. The Blaze - "Virile"
24. Baths - "Out"
23. Octo Octa - "Fleeting Moments of Freedom (Woo)"
22. Alyss - "Pyramid"
21. Jens Lekman (ft. LouLou Lamotte) - "Evening Prayer"
20. Bomba Estéreo - "Flower Power"
19. Bonobo (ft. Innova Gnawa) - "Bambro Koyo Ganda"
18. Kelly Lee Owens (ft. Jenny Hval) - "Anxi."
7. DAWN Richard (ft. Machinedrum) - "Stopwatch"
16. Kokoko! - "Tokoliana"
15. The 25th Hr - "Regrets"
14. josh pan (ft. ABRA) - "give it to ya"
13. Forest Swords - "Panic"
12. WITHOUT - "Wanta Be"
11. Hercules & Love Affair (ft. Rouge Mary) - "Rejoice"
10. Austra - "Utopia": A gorgeous and understated song about togetherness resonates particularly powerfully in an age of divisiveness and misinformation. It's hard not to entranced when Austra intones, "I can picture a place, where everybody feels it too / It might be fiction but I'm seeing ahead." Here she manages to make the nebulous Utopia tangible, depending on what it is we see in our imaginations.
9. BADNOTGOOD (ft. Kiki Gyan) - "Disco Dancer": BADBADNOTGOOD have turned into electronic wunderkids after an endorsement from Drake. They managed to take their sound to new heights with a track featuring Kiki Gyan, a now deceased Ghanian musician. The result is a funky disco track that represents the best of West African music: infectious choruses that speak on love. It's hard not to conjure up the memory of Steve Monite or William Onyeabor.
8. Rubby - "Confiesa": Chances are you probably don't know of Rubby, the 20 year old queer, Afro-Dominican singer. He's only released two singles in 2017, but "Confiesa" is so evocative and inspiring that it had to land on my list. In this track, he interrogated queerness, religious and Dominican identity over a sultry yet simple beat. The result is a powerful track that reclaims a place in a world that hasn't been traditionally receptive to him.
7. Baba Stiltz - "This Is It (Body Remix)": Baba Stiltz is an electronic music producer from Stockholm I hadn't previously heard about until he did an excellent remix of a yaeji song. His tracks range from meditative house to disco-burners. "This Is It (Body Remix)" is something of burner, building up slowly for about three and a half minutes and then unleashing a controlled cascade of sound in a crescendo that slow peters out.
6. LCD Soundsystem - "emotional haircut": After a break from music and a baby, James Murphy's return to electronic music left me nervous. I was sure what to thing or expect but I have been pleasantly surprised. Though the group's latest album channels a much darker, more anxiety-ridden sound, it feels perfectly calibrated for the Trump era we're living in. "emotional haircut" is without a doubt the emotional epicenter of the album, propelled by its brazen delivery and insistence to listen to what's happening around you.
5. Nidia Minaj - "House Musik Dedo": At only 19 years old, it's hard to imagine an electronic producer with a more promising future than Nidia Minaj, who hails from one of the poor districts of Lisbon, Portugal. It's hard to classify her sound: it is built in the barrios of her country, inflected with propulsive African dance beats, but it also feels decidedly like you're listening to something new for the first time. Her songs more at a feverish pace, which means that they take multiple listens to fully appreciate. But once you appreciate them, it's hard not to keep listening and discovering moments of technical brilliance in the process.
4. Laurel Halo - "Jelly": It's so refreshing to see Laurel Halo return to album vocals after a hiatus on her 2013 album. The track, in collaboration with Klein and Lafawndah, manages to track relatable lyrics like "Sometimes I know not to drink too much" with more obscure declarations like "Taking names on a golden surface." Taken in the context of an ever shifting bassline, a simple track about dealing with a hypocritical friend seems to get lost in the haze of a night out on the dance floor. It's beguiling, beautiful and Laurel Halo at her most assured.
3. Jlin - "Holy Child": Of all the electronic albums of 2017, Jlin's is the most accomplished, easily approachable and cavernous, all at once. On "Holy Child," Jlin showcases the best of her talents: the ability to layer sonic samples in otherworldly, almost ungodly ways. For periods of the song, this wildly propulsive beat builds momentum, only to slink away and be replaced by choral sounding (though indeterminable) vocals. Given the abstraction of Jlin's work, it's always hard to tell the message she's trying to convey but it's hard not to find the divine in this particular track.
2. yaeji - "passionfruit": Of any of the artists in electronic music, it's hard to say many have had a better year than yaeji, who's Seoul, Korea sound has ended up and been influenced by the streets of New York. Her remix of "passionfruit," Drake's best song of 2017 and of his entire discography, is audacious and also transportive. Drake's version was centered on a tropical ease, a song that you could imagine vibing to during a backyard BBQ. yaeji's version, in contrast, places the tropical sensibility through autotune and other modulations that render the lyrics much colder. Whereas Drake seemed to open up a space for pleasure on the dance floor, yaeji seems to explore the distance between the present and the past ways in which she has acted. The result is a reflection on passion.
1. Arca - "Desafío": It's easy to place this song on a pop music list, given it's levity and clarity. But Arca is, first and foremost, an electronic music producer. And "Desafío" is the most polished, gorgeously rendered and cathartic thing he's ever put together, which is no small feat for an artist better known for his abrasive sounds that capture sensibilities of queer hardcore and post-punk. Here, however, Arca uses a much lighter beat to let his vocals soar and build throughout. The video accompanying this track suggests some kind of sexual violence, violation or cultural abuse but Arca is defiant, rejecting being consumed by culture and firmly placing his own emotional release at the center of the song.