Music

The 10 Best Dance Songs of 2016

Ryan Lathan

From the '90s-flavored house of London-based Antony & Cleopatra to French electronic duo You Man, here is a collection of songs from DJs, producers, and electronic musicians that continue to push the frontiers of artistic expression.

5 - 1

Artist: Eli Escobar

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Eli Escobar
"Phreeky" (feat. Vanessa Daou & Nomi Ruiz)

The penultimate track and lead single from native NYC “house and disco evangelist” Eli Escobar’s Happiness, straddles two golden eras with a mischievous grin slapped across its face. One evokes thoughts of a crowded roller rink, complete with knee-length socks, tight hot pants, and a swirling mirror ball, and the other elicits the vibe of a crowded, sweaty underground club in the early '90s. “Phreeky” is deep disco house of the funkiest variety, a joyous piano-driven jam that brings together the lusty pipes of legendary chanteuse Vanessa Daou and Hercules & Love Affair/Jessica 6 vocalist Nomi Ruiz.

Shrieking violins stab the bass line, cowbells ring, a hi-hat bounces on a blistering beat, and a choppy, male voice wails, “I need a freak, yeah yeah, I need a freak right now.” Well, this should bring all the freaks to the dance floor. Escobar's Happiness is hands down one of the year’s best long-players.

 
Artist: Big Gigantic

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Big Gigantic
"The Little Things" (feat. Angela McCluskey)

That voice. It is as stunning in person as it is on record. Since the early ‘90s, when she fronted the L.A. alt-rock band Wild Colonials, Glaswegian singer-songwriter Angela McCluskey has left audiences spellbound with her unique vocal stylings. You've heard that breathtaking instrument over countless commercials, but it is through her collaborative work with every DJ/producer you can think of and Télépopmusik's global #1 hit “Breathe", that she has slowly started becoming a name on the lips of those who have great taste in music. Add red-hot Colorado electro-jazz duo Big Gigantic to the list.

Released in March of this year, Dominic Lalli and Jeremy Salken’s bass-fueled, future funk anthem “The Little Things” quickly climbed the charts and recently re-entered Billboard’s Dance/Electronic Digital Song Sales at #9. This brassy downtempo banger, with its chunky piano intro, roaring drums, trap, and half-time swagger, contains two of the hardest big bass drops in any dance track of recent memory. Big G’s rise continues with their killer, genre-defying record Brighter Future, and McCluskey continues to beguile with her brilliant new solo album, The Roxy Sessions, a delightfully fizzy cocktail of electro-spiked dancehall gems, string-laden spy themes, breezy yé-yé, and sexy soul pop. With each new release, both Big G and McCluskey prove once again that great talent knows no boundaries.

 
Artist: HiFi Sean

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HiFi Sean
“Lost Without You" (feat. Paris Grey) / “Truck" (feat. Fred Schneider) [TIE]

Love him or detest him, German-American poet, novelist, and short story writer Charles Bukowski conjured up some inspirational food for thought on occasion. A couple of spins of Scotsman Sean Dickson’s phenomenal debut album and a line from one of the controversial writer’s poems comes to mind: “Invent yourself and then reinvent yourself and stay out of the clutches of mediocrity.” Many musicians have a knack for flipping expectations on their head, but few have the talents or the innate artistic instinct to successfully pull it off with poise and panache. Well, then there’s Dickson, whose gifts for crafting dance tracks that shout “instant classic” are palpable, and whose talents are anything but garden-variety.

Former frontman for late '80s alt-rock band the Soup Dragons, Hifi Sean, stepped away from the limelight after the demise of his critically acclaimed outfit the High Fidelity. With Ft., his star-studded wet dream of a dance record, he has reintroduced himself to a new audience as a formidable DJ/producer of exceptional talents and given staunch admirers of mid-'90s house music a reason to rejoice.

An album bulging at the seams with guest artists is something to be approached at with a bit of trepidation. Too often than not, the star of the show is eclipsed by his or her collaborators. Not so on the 13-track Ft., a compulsory collection of commercial hitmakers, underground heroes, and avant-garde icons, that features everyone from Yoko Ono, Bootsy Collins, Bille Ray Martin, Alan Vega, and even Crystal Waters on the life-giving, gospel-tinged opener “Testify". Two of the record’s most indelible moments are captured within the middle half of this magnificent set. Detroit’s Inner City house legend Paris Grey (“Big Fun", “Good Life”) serves up full-throated diva divinity on “Lost Without You", and “Truck” find B52’s Fred Schneider rocking the CB radio with camptastic flair as he joins Dickson on this delicious duet. Why choose just one, when the entire record could fill up every slot on this list?

 
Artist: Leon Vynehall

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Leon Vynehall
“Blush”

Taken from British producer and DJ Leon Vynehall’s fantastic sophomore record Rojus (Designed To Dance), this euphoric, 8-minute house anthem with it’s cleverly sampled bird calls and wailing primal sighs, is one of eight tracks inspired by a National Geographic documentary on the bird-of-paradise courtship ritual. Dark plumage gives way to shimmering color, as Leon’s flashy bird struts across the dance floor with an air of cocky confidence. An incessant hi-hat snaps and a plinky piano passage wafts in and out of this feathery orgy, building to a hedonistic swirl with each successive moan.

 
Artist: Kaytranada

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Kaytranada
“You’re the One" (feat. Syd)

In this cut-throat industry, there are artists who ride the coattails of their colleagues to stardom and others who blaze a pathway so brightly lit that everyone else must follow suit. Montreal producer Kaytranada (Louis Kevin Celestin) is that radiant light. It is a testament to the immense talents of the Haitian-Canadian DJ, that the countless collaborative guest spots on his Polaris Prize-winning debut 99.9%, never overshadow the clear-cut vision of its creator. With each new spin, it is abundantly clear why he is one of the most sought-after record producers of the day, and his first LP most surely heralds the arrival of an artist that the phrase “sky’s the limit” was intended to describe.

Nothing about 99.9% is particularly game-changing, but Celestin’s wondrous 15-track set is so intricately crafted, programmed, and immaculately produced that the influences dematerialize, and they quickly take shape into something uniquely his own. The highlights are innumerable, but his latest single “You’re the One” with the Internet’s singer/producer Syd Tha Kid, is absolutely incredible. With a raunchy, rubbery bassline, old school ‘90s whoops, and Syd’s voluptuous voice, Celestin nails that uncomfortable feeling of falling for someone who is terribly wrong for you, but undeniably alluring all the same. Just like the lyrics, you find yourself coming back again and again, this time without any guilt.

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