By Gregg Shapiro
For the longest time, dance music was the domain of the gay community. Sure, there were straight artists who dared to work in the genre, including disco divas, producers, and musicians—especially in the years following the famous “disco demolition” led by schlock shock-jock Steve Dahl. Today, dance music is bigger than ever—and especially the kind made by straight men. (Meanwhile, Dahl is merely an unfortunate footnote.)
Remember how exciting it was when British blue-eyed soul singer/songwriter David Gray added electronic beats to his music on his groundbreaking 1999 album White Ladder? Tom Odell gets similar results on his marvelous new album Wrong Crowd (RCA). The title tune that opens the disc has almost everything you could ask for—fantastic lyrics, a persuasive beat, Odell’s exceptional vocals, the right balance of guitar and keyboards, and whistling. The album’s mesmerizing first single, “Magnetised,” will also pull you toward the dance floor, so don’t fight it. Ditto for “Silhouette,” “Here I Am,” and “She Don’t Belong to Me.” Of course, there’s more to Odell than this—which can be heard on alluring numbers such as “Daddy,” “Constellations,” “Still Getting Used to Being On My Own,” and “Jealousy.”
Like Odell, Mike Posner is intent on proving that he can exist in both the electronic and acoustic music worlds, and he does a good job of verifying that on his second album At Night, Alone. (Island). The first ten music tracks on the disc feature the cocky Posner in more traditional musical settings. The six “bonus remix” tracks are where the album reaches its eventual peak. It’s not that there were problems with the initial versions of “I Took a Pill in Ibiza,” “Not That Simple,” “Be as You Are,” “Buried in Detroit,” and “In the Arms of a Stranger” (when Posner sings “she smelled like Michigan,” does he mean eau de failure and decay?). The thing is that Posner is at his most effectual when backed up by awesome beats.
iii (Atlantic), the third album by Swedish dance threesome Miike Snow, is a fitting follow-up to the band’s previous releases. The dance-oriented tunes, including “For U” (featuring Charli XCX), “My Trigger,” “Genghis Khan,” and “Over and Over,” give listeners reasons (and room) to move. “I Feel the Weight” is light as (French band) Air, and the Stockholm soul of “Heart Is Full” all offer good examples of the trio’s diversity.
Kygo plays well with others, as is evident on the 14 tracks on Cloud Nine (Ultra/RCA). Collaborating with a fascinating cross-section of artists, including the aforementioned Tom Odell (the fantastic “Fiction”), as well as John Legend (“Happy Birthday”), Foxes (“Oasis,” co-written by Sia), Kodaline (“Raging”), Conrad Sewell (“Firestone”), and hit songwriter Julia Michaels (“Carry Me,” co-written by gay songwriter Justin Tranter), Kygo transports listeners to that titular place.
Working under his own name, William Phillips scored a Grammy Award for “Stay with Me,” the song he co-wrote with gay performer Sam Smith. Making music as Tourist, on his debut disc U (Monday), Phillips exhibits an even more exhilarating side of his talents. U is one of those rare dance-music albums that can be enjoyed as a source of movement and dance-floor expression, as well as simply being experienced as a set of innovative and agreeable tunes. From the garage-y “To Have You Back” and propulsive “Run” through the gently crashing “Waves,” the rapid time-step of “Too Late,” and the different direction of “Separate Ways,” U marks the arrival of a welcome visitor.
With its eponymous new album on Elektra, Fitz and The Tantrums’ third full-length album in six years, the band completes its evolution from retro soul-slingers to a full-fledged dance band. The hip-shaking album opener and first single “Handclap” is a good indication of what’s to follow on dance-oriented numbers such as “Run It,” the funky “Fadeback,” the loping “Tricky,” and the hot “Burn It Down.” Not that Fitz and company have completely abandoned their roots, as is made clear on “Walking Target” and “Get Right Back.”
It might have seemed like the brother-quartet Kongos (sons of one-hit wonder John Kongos) appeared out of nowhere when its virtually inescapable hit single “Come with Me Now” dominated the airwaves in 2014 and 2015, including use in TV commercials. However, the bros had been at it for a while, and the song itself was actually a few years old at the time it broke. On the heels of that unexpected success, Kongos returns with Egomaniac (Epic), which expands on its Soweto-style brand of dance music, complete with accordion. Opportunities for dancing abound, especially on “Autocorrect,” “I Want It Free,” “The World Would Run Better,” and “Repeat After Me.”
“A story that starts where it ended,” 401 Days (401days.com) took New York (via Israel) electro-musician j. views (aka j. viewz and Jonathan Dagan) that length of time to create the interactive and collaborative project that became this artistically packaged album. Dance-floor-destined selections include the suitably named “We Move,” as well as “Turned to the Sun (So Low).”
Don’t just sit there, find a dude and dance!
Gregg Shapiro is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.