Top Tunes ’18: Aaron Payne

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Wow! 2018 has come and gone, and it’s about time we reflect on our favorite sounds of the past year. Leading up through the end of the year, WOUB Culture will be spotlighting what various music-centric people throughout the region have been enjoying the most for the past 12 months.

Aaron Payne [Atish Baidya | WOUB]
Aaron Payne is a reporter for WOUB News and the Ohio Valley ReSource. He used to be in a band in high school and college. He’s not in a band anymore. His therapist encourages him to make music again. He tries. He’s going to start writing in first person now.

I wanted my top tunes to be a top 10 list, just because. It was much more difficult than I thought it would be. Here goes:

10. Toby Fox – DELTARUNE Chapter 1 (Original Game Soundtrack)

Toby Fox released the video game Undertale in 2015. It was a game he developed mostly on his own (with the help of a few artists) just to see if he could. A role-playing game (think Earthbound) where you could solve your differences with monsters by petting them or complementing them instead of killing them. It was/is critically acclaimed, a breath of fresh air to the genre and meme’d close to death. Fox composed the soundtrack to the game, as well. And there are some bangers.

On Halloween this year Fox released the first chapter to his follow-up game, DELTARUNE, again developing it mostly on his own and again composing the soundtrack.

Even though it’s only been out for a few months, there’s fan art all over the internet, fan theory videos, and covers for nearly the entire soundtrack.

How one man’s creation inspired so many others led me to add the soundtrack to my top 10.

Also, there are bangers.

Featured Track: Field of Hopes and Dreams


9. Ariana Grande – Sweetener

Ariana Grande had a pretty decent year. I don’t have much else to say about this one except I think it’s a supremely good pop album for the modern era.

Far and away my favorite track on the album is the one I chose to feature.

Featured Track: blazed (feat. Pharrell Williams)


8. Action Bronson – White Bronco

How do I put this?

During the lifespan of an artist’s discography there seems to be one album that captures their “peak sound.” Rarely, in my opinion, is that album the last album.

Action Bronson has a shot at accomplishing this. Each album released by the rapper has helped him evolve into a better artist.

White Bronco blends Bronson’s previous influences and makes him more complete..and this probably isn’t Bronson’s final form.

Featured Track: Mt. Etna


7. Vaperror – System Delight

I don’t know much about Vaperror, other than he seems to an Atlanta, Georgia-based producer of the Vaperwave variety. I was introduced to him via a Reddit thread highlighting the Vaportrap sub-genre.

He released System Delight this year and I went through it quite a few times while at work.

I would describe it as light, free and intentional electronic music for the mind.

Featured Track: Sentience Keys


6. Mac Miller – Swimming

Mac Miller was found dead in his San Fernando Valley home at the age of 26 on September 7, just a little more than a month after Swimming was released.

NPR’s Sidney Madden described the void he left in the rap genre.

“He was right in the middle of all of it — in the middle of his development as a musician, which is evident on his latest albums, but he was also in the middle of the spotlight, of the same class and caliber of MCs that are now some of the biggest names in rap…

And though he often got boxed into the short-lived subgenre of snarky frat rap, he didn’t rest on his laurels. He honed his craft, on the mic and on the production side, which is why he earned the respect of so many in and outside of the hip-hop world.”

His progression encouraged other artists to embrace their musicality.

Swimming delves into the issues Miller faced including substance use, depression and the feeling of being allowed to hope. The album seems to end suspended in time a bittersweet punctuation to a career cut short.

Featured Track: Small Worlds (First track from this Tiny Desk performance)


5. JPEGMAFIA – Veteran

JPEGMAFIA has an interesting background that includes a Master’s Degree in Journalism, tour duty in Iraq with the U.S. Air Force and international residency.

The main quality of the music can be described as aggressive, as evidenced by the the slower tracks on his 2018 release Veteran feeling urgent and confrontational.

Political and seemingly informed by the dystopian nature of the current internet culture, JPEGMAFIA is an artist to watch.

(I also appreciate that a repeated DJ drop throughout the album is the “You Think You Know Me” from pro wrestler Edge’s theme.)


Featured Track: Baby I’m Bleeding


4. Snail Mail – Lush

Lindsey Jordan is a young artist. When the singer-songwriter’s album Lush came out on June 8, it was just shy of her 19th birthday.

Snail Mail feels wise beyond its years musically and lyrically, as if 90’s indie rock progressed to 2018 without losing too much of what made bands like Sonic Youth, The Cranberries and The Magnetic Fields memorable.

All hail the future indie rock overlords, Snail Mail.

Featured Track: Pristine


3. Darwin Deez – 10 Songs That Happened When you Left Me With My Stupid Heart

Who hurt you, bud?

Darwin Deez makes heartbreak a danceable affair for 30-some minutes on this album.

The Brooklyn artist croons over bright, pop hooks and we’re all better for it.

Featured Track: The World’s Best Kisser


2. Childish Gambino – Summer Pack + “This Is America

Donald Glover, a.k.a. Childish Gambino, did not release a new album in 2018.

But he did release three of my favorite songs of the year.

I’ll pull from my summer playlist article to describe the Summer Pack:

“Gambino released the Summer Pack on July 11 with two track, “Summertime Magic” and “Feels Like Summer.” And both could contend for my song of the summer title.

‘Feels Like Summer’ resonates with me just a bit more, however.

The lyrics touch on tough topics including climate change and the fear that technology is speeding up the aging process for today’s children. But it still very much feels like a summer song thanks to the underlying track created by long-time collaborator Ludwig Göransson. Soft synth padding the track with a beat that matches the lack of urgency one might associate with a hot, lazy summer day.”

Before the Summer Pack, he performed “This Is America” on Saturday Night Live. And while I like the song, it was a frame for the art that would be the music video he would release soon after. A political commentary on the state of the black experience in America that was discussed weeks on end. A video so dense it took me a couple of watches before I realized there was a horse in it.

Instead of riding a wave of success created in just a portion of the year, he sat back musically. Because Donald Glover does what he wants and he’s good at it.

Featured Track: Feels Like Summer


1. Anderson .Paak – Oxnard

.Paak has popped up in a few other Top Tunes features and rightly so.

But I have a few additional thoughts.

I think this is the most complete album I listened to this year. .Paak knew his vision for the album and followed it through from track 1 to 14.

Emphasis on the album is declining in the modern mainstream music industry. It was nice to see a diversion from that.

Featured Track (and favorite track of 2018): Mansa Musa (feat. Dr. Dre and Cocoa Sarai)