This is our story...

When it’s done right, listening to a full-length record is like reading a compelling novel written by your favorite artist. This year, we heard so many records that successfully told stories, gave us insight to another world, and even transported us to a new dimension. Ranging from R&B to electronic to hip-hop and beyond, this year’s 10 best records were selected to honor some of the best representations of artistry through lyricism, production, and the ability to make us feel something special, whether that feeling is warmth and security or a desire to punch a hole into the wall.

Check out our 10 best albums of the year below, and come back tomorrow for our superlatives in Producers and Who To Watch.


NEST HQ Best of 2018: Albums
*10 albums listed in alphabetical order by artist

Blood Orange – Negro Swan

Some albums are great because they carry a profound message within them, some because the music blurs lines and crushes expectations, and some for the songwriting, but Dev Hynes’ fourth studio album Negro Swan is great for all of those reasons and more. The lengthy LP explores the subtle anxieties of being an “ugly beauty” and existing as a marginalized person in today’s toxic political environment. In its entirety, the project manages to do two things that stood out to me beyond what everyone else produced this year. First, it creates a real narrative throughout the album that distinctly and powerfully discusses what it means to be marginalized, rejected, and outcasted without being petty or dramatic, but instead poetic and empathetic. Second, it makes sonic decisions on his records that produce actual genre and time transcendence. As a human and a performer, he’s got a Prince-like iconic flair, shredding atonal whirlwind solos over church choir backgrounds. As a producer, he’s somewhere between D’Angelo and Tame Impala, never afraid to over-chorus his tones or understate his vocal performances. Negro Swan is a record I’ll show my kids one day. — DN

The Garden – Mirror Might Steal Your Charm

The Garden’s Mirror Might Steal Your Charm is a schizophrenic bloodbath of a record, each track bouncing off the walls like a kid in a candy store with severe ADHD. But hell, did you hear a more exciting, fun, and genuinely unique record this year? Punk music is one of rebellion, but ironically exists within its own cultural confines. It’s a slave to its own rituals and systems, and for that reason, the genre hasn’t really progressed in any different direction for quite some time. It sprints between tracks, linking psych punk, thrash, hip-hop, and even drum and bass to create an animalistic 34-minute punk masterpiece. It’s cheeky at times, and the twins note their own luck in becoming famous through chaos like on the sporadic “:(” with the line, “Sometimes I can’t complain though / Never looking good makes me a bankroll.” At other times, they show tenderness and self-reflection, and tracks like “No Destination” and “Call The Dogs” speak to being guarded and lost. All in all, this feels real. This feels punk. — DN

Ghostemane – N/O/I/S/E

Strap yourself in for the hardcore hip-hop movement brought to you by Ghostemane. As the artist with the craziest live show I’ve ever seen, Ghostemane successfully crafted a record that’s meant for the lonely, the angry, and the lost who don’t want to be found. N/O/I/S/E was produced by Ghostemane himself and blurs the lines between rap and ear-splitting hardcore that reminds us of the rowdy mosh pits where we spent our formative years as outsiders in the music scene. Glitching, terrifying effects and Ghostemane’s depraved vocal style that drops down low as quickly as it pierces through your speakers form the soundscape on N/O/I/S/E, guiding you through the tracklist with such impeccable transitions that it feels effortless. In all, it’s Ghostemane’s one-of-a-kind style that put this record on our list; there’s no other album quite like this. — JM

Jon Hopkins – Singularity

Every five years or so, British producer and musician Jon Hopkins blesses us with a new magnum opus of an album, and we were lucky enough to be alive in 2018 to catch his latest offering, Singularity. The album as a whole felt less like a linear voyage and more like a sonic terrain that kept expanding in every conceivable direction in a flurry of synth-laden electronica frenetically oscillating between ambient, house, techno, and purely experimental sound. Singularity feels like it was made by a composer, not a producer; and that’s not just a reflection of Hopkins’ film scoring experience. It’s a cohesive whole, ebbing and flowing through profoundly textured moments of trance-inducing beauty and deliberately jarring discord. This album feels volatile from start to finish, but if you’re prepared to trust Jon Hopkins fully, we can promise the ride is worth it. — MH

JPEGMAFIA – Veteran

Peggy dropped his best album yet at the start of this year, culminating and refining all his talent and attitude into an ODB-inspired, electroacoustic, genre-hopping rap gem. With tracks like “Dayum” and “Rainbow Six,” JPEGMAFIA hits moments of this new combo of dark ambient and chopped and screwed that groups like Zeal & Ardor are helping to refine. It’s a contentious, hyper-aware angry gun pointed at anyone that’s to the right of the far left. Combined with intense live sets, he moved sure-footed out of the niche obscure LA noise scene and straight into the mixes of hip-hop fans that continue to bridge the gap between harsh and infectious. Now he finds himself touring with Vince Staples and collaborating with some of the hottest voices and producers of the rap game, and the country album remains highly anticipated. — MW

Playboi Carti – Die Lit

For non-trap fans, this one’s a grower, not a shower. Carti earned his stripes in the rap game with last year’s self-titled mixtape which included “Magnolia” and “wokeuplikethis*” and returned this year with the highly rated and hotly debated Die Lit with producer Pi’erre Bourne. Carti’s appeal comes from his effortless grooves, repetitive mantras, and vocal textures that float through his music. In contrast to the epic and layered rap albums that figures like Travis Scott and Young Thug have been putting out, Playboi Carti makes something that’s thoroughly minimal and down-to-earth. The simplicity of these songs is what makes them notable. If you still don’t “get it,” listen to it in the same way you would a dub techno album. — MW

Shades – In Praise of Darkness

Alix Perez and Eprom have a fascination for three things: neoclassicism, Dante’s Inferno | Canto 3, and low-end experimentation. The duo is behind the 85 BPM, halftime-focused collaborative project SHADES and has stepped through the Gates of Hell with their debut full-length In Praise of Darkness LP. This type of experimental halftime bass has been oversaturated in 2018, and the album’s success is rooted in its innovative sound design, well-thought arrangements, and pure technical precision. There’s an appreciation for negative space, and remarkable use of sub-harmonic rhythmic motifs and syncopation. Not to mention, the extensive exploration into the minute details of granular synthesis and FM modulation. In Praise Of Darkness is an impressive concept album that asks of the distinction between music versus noise and how to best utilize each in an intelligible rhythmic framework. SHADES’ inclusion on this list is due to their ability to push the envelope, and move the genre forward for the next generation. — CS

SOPHIE – OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES

When SOPHIE released the lead single “It’s Okay To Cry” ahead of her debut full-length album OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES, she made the decision to use her own voice and image in her work for the first time. It’s a bold statement of visibility, and enabled SOPHIE to write an album that’s genuine, unapologetic, and could only have ever been made by SOPHIE. In comparison to her previous works, it’s more industrial with heavy manipulation of vocal samples until there’s no resemblance to the source material, but at the same time, pure bliss. She makes intelligent use of waveforms to synthesize novel, artificial elements, like metallic canine barks and kinetic silicone. She sets the rules, then breaks them, and then moves on to a different children’s board game. It’s disorienting and makes me question if I even know what pop music is. OIL is unlike anything in this world because it’s not of this world; rather, we’re swimming in her infinite holographic ocean. In a recent conversation with Sophia, a humanoid robot, SOPHIE states that she sees the purpose of music as “interpreting and reforming vibrations.” OIL has shifted the relative motion and course of pop music, and with it the vibrations of the universe to her own world line. — CS

Tommy Cash – ¥€$

What do you get when you combine Tommy Cash’s unparalleled vocal style with some of the best production in electronic music? One slamming record. We’ve been huge fans of Tommy Cash since we heard his 2016 single “Winaloto” and experienced his shocking music videos (see this year’s list for best videos), so when it was announced he’d be unleashing his debut full-length record, we were genuinely curious as to what’s in store. Tommy Cash recruited A.G. Cook, Danny L Harle, Boys Noize, and Amnesia Scanner to produce ¥€$, an album where Tommy Cash is the star of his own variety showcase. He defies all the stereotypical genre rules we seem to give to rap music, dabbling into happy hardcore, SoundCloud rap, and pure chaotic noise on one record. With such an extreme production team, I was worried they’d overshadow Tommy Cash’s energy — how thoughtless of me to forget that there’s no one like Tommy Cash, and he knocked this record out of the park. — JM

Travis Scott – ASTROWORLD

It’s a record that’s somewhere near the top of everyone’s lists at the end of 2018, and there’s about a hundred reasons why. Travis Scott came into the year with the spotlight in just the right place: he’d been visible by the public eye through his tumultuous relationship with Kylie Jenner and fans knew he’d been plotting his new record since 2016. ASTROWORLD was expected to be a success, but we never imagined it’d be like this. With the record, Travis Scott provoked the next generation of rap music with sharp production techniques that kept listeners on their toes, his ability to utilize features in a smart way rather than to lean on their contributions, and a down-to-earth, yet ruthless demeanor throughout the entire listen. All 17 tracks work with one another to tell the story of Travis Scott’s wildest fantasies through a theatrical hip-hop lens — it’s his world, and we’re just living in it. When I wrote about this album on its release date, I made a point to mention this: “ASTROWORLD is the record this industry needed but doesn’t deserve.” I stand by it today. — JM


Words by Dani Noguera, Molly Hankins, Jordan Mafi, Cassie Sheets, and Max Worthy

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