Dance music was more visible this year than at any point since disco's golden years -- thanks, in large part, to Daft Punk's expertly rendered tribute to disco's golden years. At least, the idea of dance music was front and center in pop music. Random Access Memories wasn't exactly a "dance" album, and it certainly wasn't EDM, either in style or instrumentation; part of what made the robots' return so notable, after all, was that they pushed most of the electronics deep in the background. Meanwhile, the EDM scene's biggest breakout star, Avicii, largely downplayed rave's trappings with his surprisingly enjoyable album, True, opting instead for a hybrid pop sound abuzz with banjos and kazoos.
It was the U.K. that gave us the most effective and, in some ways, most novel fusion of pop and club music, thanks to acts like Disclosure and Rudimental, who combined house, U.K. garage, and drum 'n' bass with indelible pop melodies and R&B flourishes in ways that felt unusually substantial for chart-topping dance hits.
Chicago footwork producers like DJ Rashad and RP Boo took up the avant-garde torch, proving that even in 2013, it's possible to make dance music that sounds like nothing that has come before. Artists such as Laurel Halo, FaltyDL, Axel Boman and Beautiful Swimmers, meanwhile, approached house and techno as starting points rather than fixed quantities, pulling the rug out from under long-established subgenres.
Much of the year's best electronic music had no identifiable genre at all. James Holden, Tim Hecker, Boards of Canada, Factory Floor, The Knife, Oneohtrix Point Never, Jon Hopkins -- the diversity and idiosyncrasy of their styles helped suggest the ways that the medium of electronic music is suited to artists with ambitious, auteur-like musical visions. Whether coincidentally or no, all of them also went spelunking deep into electronic music's dark side, contributing to the impression that 2013's most exciting electronic sounds were also some of the most chilling. Horrorists like The Haxan Cloak and Forest Swords gave free rein to their inner goths, and the claustrophobic sounds of Arca and Gesaffelstein even landed them guest spots on Kanye's Yeezus. If that's not a sign that electronic music's misfits aren't coming in from the cold, I don't know what is. This year's motto may have been "Get Lucky," but the winds headed for the horizon sound more like they're whispering, "Get scared."
1) James Holden, The Inheritors
2) DJ Rashad, Double Cup
3) Tim Hecker, Virgins
4) The Haxan Cloak, Excavation
5) Laurel Halo, Chance of Rain
6) DJ Koze, Amygdala
7) RP Boo, Legacy
8) Kelela, Cut For Me
9) Oneohtrix Point Never, R Plus Seven
10) Rudimental, Home
11) Disclosure, Settle
12) Jessy Lanza, Pull My Hair Back
13) Factory Floor, Factory Floor
14) Daft Punk, Random Access Memories
15) Special Request, Soul Music
16) The Knife, Shaking the Habitual
17) Jon Hopkins, Immunity
18) Beautiful Swimmers, Son
19) FaltyDL, Hardcourage
20) Axel Boman, Family Vacation
21) Machinedrum, Vapor City
22) Forest Swords, Engravings
23) Boards of Canada, Tomorrow's Harvest
24) Donato Dozzy, Plays Bee Mask
25) Egyptrixx, A/B Til Infinity