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I Don't Wanna Talk About Earth Stuff

Hello, friends! Rob here.

In the waning days of my Freshman year at Tulane- a year which I still remember as one of the greatest and most pivotal of my life- I had the idea to make a kind of “greatest hits” from the songs I had kept in heavy rotation throughout my first year of probationary adulthood. I had been keeping a sort of informal "musical diary" since the lawless days of Napster, but this was my first attempt to put an entire year in retrospect. It wasn't perfect. A lot of the songs were just dorm room favorites for getting pumped up to go to TJ Quill's and drink my pimply little underage face off, and the omission of The Killers' breakout hit “Mister Brightside” was a massive oversight. But still, it tells a story. After finals, after packing out of my dorm and saying a few lingering goodbyes, I settled into my Honda for a seven-hundred-mile drive back to Tulsa. I put that mix CD in the second I hit the open highway and was overwhelmed reliving all of the moments that made up that magical, transformative, dramatic, stupid, perfect year. Burned CDs have long since given way to playlists, and I switched from school years to calendar years sometime after I finished college, but I've maintained the tradition ever since.

Today I'm going to share my 2018 playlist and talk a bit about how I put the thing together. The playlist, like this entry, is named for a catchphrase from Hello from the Magic Tavern, a terminally geeky podcast Michael turned me onto. It tells the story a regular Earth dad who finds himself stranded in a fantastical parallel world and uploads a podcast about it with the help of a wizard and a badger. A trio of Chicago improv comics voice the three leading roles and host a revolving door of special guests. There are a lot of obtuse pop culture references and jokes about butts. I chose the phrase “I don't wanna talk about earth stuff” to sum up the year because A) I probably spent about fifty hours listening to back episodes of that podcast and working around my new house this fall, B) as a result, the phrase has started to worm its way into my personal vernacular, and C) come on. Does anybody want to talk about Earth stuff these days?

Anyway, there's a link to the playlist below so you can listen along while reading, for MAXIMUM IMMERSION. All songs are listed in the One True Format, which is Artist – Title. Please don't savage my awful taste in the comments section, even though I deserve it for trying to burst your bubble re: Christmas tunes.

Click here to listen along!

Fall Out Boy – Sugar, We're Going Down:  Like a prizefighter losing and reclaiming a title belt, this song has become “my jam,” to a varying degree of sincerity or irony, on approximately four distinct occasions since it debuted in 2005. The most recent instance was at Music Midtown in Atlanta, where we played before Fall Out Boy on the main stage. They blasted me in the face with this song at a distance of no more than thirty meters. I screamed the words so hard my tonsils exploded.

Donny McCaslin – Club Kidd: There was a period of a few months right around the beginning of 2016 when every time I heard a saxophonist on some song and thought to myself, “man, who's that playing tenor?”, it would invariably turn out to be Donny McCaslin. He showed up on a modern big band album I was into. I dug his quintet. Oh yeah, and he led the backing band on freaking Blackstar. The man was EVERYWHERE. Anyway, he's great. I suspect he's the kind of jazz musician who doesn't want to be called a “jazz musician,” and that really shows on his most recent album, Blow., which featured this song as its first single.

Amos Lee – Windows Are Rolled Down: Okay, so here's the thing: the “story” behind how a lot of these songs ended up here can be boiled down to “it came to me at the right time.” All this one did was be on the radio while I was driving home from the airport after some time on the road. It was a lovely little moment- like a taking a deep breath while standing ankle-deep in the ocean- but it doesn't make for much of a story. The same could be said for several of the songs here, so some of these write-ups will have little or nothing to do with the songs they accompany, much in the same way that Deadspin stalwart Drew Magary punctuates his weekly NFL preview with random hot takes. Magary is one of my favorite writers- I've actually spent the last few years biting his style pretty hard and hoping no one notices. He has spent the last few weeks on leave after being hospitalized for an undisclosed injury, so consider this both an homage and an open get-well card.

Alicia Keys – No One: On Christmas day, I came down with a stomach bug. It was, in a word, violent. The first time I threw up, I almost overtopped the toilet bowl. I had to Google "how to get vomit out of nose," and then all of the remedies I found involved standing up so I didn't do any of them. Twenty minutes later I pooped liquid and then immediately turned around and heaved into the toilet. Half an hour after that, I was sitting on a toilet holding a trash can up to my face (a first for me!). After another hour or so, I found myself leaning over the side of the bed hacking into a trash can in hopes that it would make me throw up, because that would have granted me roughly fifteen minutes' relief before the next wave of crippling nausea set in. I shivered when I was hot and I sweated when I was cold. My torso ached. By the end of the roughly twenty-hour ordeal, I was completely empty. I would NOT recommend it.

Victor Wooten, Dennis Chambers & Bob Franceschini – Cupid: I wish these guys had just thought of a band name. Anyway, I've been fortunate in that a lot of my really close friends from college all stayed together after graduating, but I finally saw a few move away this year. Two of them- both named Jon- have retained more or less daily contact with the rest of the gang back here in New Orleans via one of those interminable group text threads which, if leaked, would obliterate any of our potential political careers in an instant. Anyway, one of the Jons was really into this song. Also, it's weird that I put these two...

Zac Brown Band - Chicken Fried: ...back-to-back, because come to think of it, they're both there in honor of friends who weren't around for some part of the year. This entry is already turning into my personal War and Peace, so fuck it, let's take the long way around: In college, we invented a game called "drink a beer in every room of the house." The rules should be self-evident, although as we've gotten older, our homes are bigger and our livers are smaller, so we've dialed it back from a whole beer per room to half a beer to "whatever, just drink in this room for a while." Most of the challenge is in trying to cram anywhere from three to seven adults (or, at least, people with adult-sized bodies) into places that weren't necessarily intended to accommodate that much humanity: closets, attics, basements, powder rooms, walk-in pantries, the occasional shower- it can get interesting. The game has become something of a christening ritual among my college friends whenever one of us moves into a new place. Last winter, my friend Andrew (not Campanelli) deployed with the army (don't worry, he came back in the fall, he's fine) and spent most of last year in Kuwait. Shortly after his departure, a few of us were drinking in every room of the Baton Rouge home of one of the aforementioned Jons. Late in the game, when we had made it to the attic, sitting on bare joists with our feet dangling from the entry hatch, we shotgunned a beer in Andrew's honor. We were listening to a public playlist called "Redneck Thanksgiving" or something along those lines, and this song was playing at the time. Gotta support the troops.

Lykke Li - Dance, Dance, Dance: I use the Swype keyboard on my phone, which is awesome most of the time, but occasionally it produces some really weird results. For example, I can never type the words “definitely” or “remember” on the first try. NEVER. A few days ago I was trying to get a “definitely” out and I whiffed seven times in a row. Hand on heart, it went: dwindle, falsely, cement, faintly, genuinely, fairly, faintly AGAIN, definitely. This is absolutely a problem with the app and has nothing to do with me having weird thumbs.

Zedd, Maren Morris & Grey - The Middle: THIS SONG. It is everywhere and I love it. Teenage Contrarian Rob would have positively blanched at the thought of naming an inescapable pop song like this one of my year-end favorites, but working in music and spending time in studios has given me an appreciation for the craft that goes into these songs. The studio is an instrument, and I sure as heck don't know how to play it, but I'm learning to tell when someone else does. Also, I saw Grey at the BMI Awards and they were dressed like Final Fantasy villains.

A Perfect Circle - So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish: They played this song at Voodoo Fest, and at the time I was just like, “huh, that's a neat song. Seems a bit chipper for them.” When I got the chance to hear it in a setting where I could actually make out the lyrics, it really struck a chord with me. It's easy for me to get bummed out sometimes thinking about how the human race is careening towards oblivion with the pedal to the metal, but somehow I find this song comforting. I can't quite explain it- I think it has something to do with the lines about various deceased luminaries having “moved on.” Like it's a reminder that all things must pass, and all stories have an end. Plus, Douglas Adams.

Jake Shears - Creep City: The other day I found out that I had NO IDEA how income taxes actually work in this country. If you're in, for example, the 24% bracket, that doesn't mean you pay 24% tax on all of your income- just the amount that crosses the $82,500 threshold. So if you make $90k a year, only $7500 of it gets taxed at 24%, with the rest getting taxed at various lower rates according to the thresholds for lesser brackets. I TOTALLY thought it worked the other way. Am I just a lone doofus here? Because whenever I hear people talking about changing the tax code in this country, it always seems like they're saying forty percent or whatever means forty percent of everything. If this is a common misconception, then it seems like the kind of thing that could be used to sway public opinion in certain directions- in which case it might be worth examining the motives of those whose agendas would benefit from or even rely upon a misinformed public. MAYBE.

Boyfriend – Toast: One of the most fun shows all year wasn't actually a Revivalists show. I'm talking about our wild late-night Jazzfest throwdown as Boyfriend's backing band. It's always great to play with new people and step outside of my comfort zone, both musically and, um wardrobe-ically, particularly when we get to come back to a classic New Orleans room like One Eyed Jack's. If you missed it, you missed me in a thong.

R. LUM. R - Be Honest: One of my favorite things about big music festivals like Bonnaroo is getting lost and stumbling across something unexpected. It's kind of like one of those high-concept theater pieces where it's just a bunch of actors going through a daily routine in an old hotel- you find things, you miss things, you can't possibly see the whole picture, but occasionally you discover something you love. I was blown away by R. LUM. R's set, and this was my favorite song from it. Metaphors are chill and all, but there's something to be said for a chorus that just gets to the point. Think of The Beatles belting “I want to hold your hand,” or Andrew WK triumphantly declaring “when it's time to party we will always party hard.” Or R. LUM. R asking a simple/not-so-simple question: “how do you feel tonight? Be honest.”

Kamasi Washington – Truth: You know when somebody has that one album or song or novel or whatever that people refer to as their “magnum opus?” I feel like Kamasi Washington's catalogue is like, eighty-five percent magnum opuses. Solid ratio. I should've thought of that.

Muse - Knights of Cydonia: USA Today asked us to make a playlist for them in October, and this was one of the songs I submitted, so I'm going to plagiarize myself and use the same thing I wrote back then: They closed their set with this at Bonnaroo so it's been stuck in my head for four months now. The build/payoff in this song is incredible. I listen to it and I feel like I'm riding across the ocean on a flaming horse. I feel like I could punch the moon in half.

Thee Oh Sees - Last Peace: My wife and I bought a house in October. I'm really excited and enamored with the place, but I tell you, owning a home is TERRIFYING. There's just this constant background anxiety: what if there's a leak I don't know about? Is the floor sagging? Was that chip in the drywall always there? Will New Orleans' abysmal Sewerageand Water Board ever come and check our meter? Whenever I hear a faint, indistinct noise at night, I immediately think to myself, “oh fuck, the dishwasher just exploded.” It's cool having an excuse to own a drill though. I use the drill for everything now- hanging paintings, assembling furniture, making whipped cream, starting my car. I cannot too highly recommend drill ownership.

Jon Batiste - What a Wonderful World: We all know that “What a Wonderful World” is an objectively great song. As with any classic, it takes a great deal of vision and talent to cover a song like this- one that has been around for half a century and which was originally recorded by one of the most important figures in all of Western music- in a way that brings something fresh to the table and stands up to the original. Jon Batiste's version does all of those things. It has a sense of character and emotion all its own. It just plain hits me.

Eliza Rickman and Jerek Bischoff - Riches and Wonders: My other favorite podcast, Welcome to Night Vale (a surreal journey through an existentially creepy desert town as told via its local talk radio station), featured this cover as a bit of cross-promotion for its creator's passion project about The Mountain Goats. My first thought upon hearing it was, "where were you when my wife and I were brainstorming wedding music?"

Yazoo - Only You: I was always, on some level, aware that this song existed. Like, “yeah, there's a song called 'Only You' out there, and it sort of sounds like this” or whatever. But it wasn't until it popped up in an episode of The Americans (in a pretty uncomfortable scene, come to think of it) that I really noticed how perfect it is. As with the previous song, this one makes me wish I could have a do-over on the wedding tunes. Oh well. It's still here.

King Britt & Sister Gertrude Morgan - Precious Lord Lead Me On: The concept behind this album is pretty interesting: Philadelphian disc jockey produces a cross-generational mashup of modern instruments and studio tricknology with 1970s-era recordings of New Orleans religious folk artist Gertrude Morgan singing and playing tambourine. My elevator pitch may bring to mind Kenny G's controversial “duet”with the late Louis Armstrong (speaking of “Wonderful World” covers), but this works. Boy howdy, does it work.

PJ Morton - Sticking to My Guns: I was about a year late to the party, but PJ Morton's Gumbo was quite possibly my favorite record of 2018. This was my favorite song on the album, and I thought it would be a good note on which to end the playlist, but the intro to the following track is tacked onto the end of the album version, so it makes for kind of a weird dismount. Still, great song. The end.

HONORABLE MENTION! Lem – Teenage Dirtbag: I know. I know. I know. But I just could not get away from this song last year. It followed me everywhere. It even weaseled its way into a cover band set at a Bourbon Street-esque bar in Sydney freaking Australia. Another fun story from that trip: I got off of the seventeen-hour flight into Australia and noticed that my leg was partially numb from the knee down. I promptly spiraled into a low-grade hypochondriacal panic about Deep Vein Thrombosis and actually went to the damn emergency room in Melbourne, where the nurse practitioner on duty- who wouldn't have looked out of place touring with Queens of the Stone Age but peppered his speech with a reassuring amount of medical jargon- drew some blood and told me it was just a pinched nerve. Moral of the story: never Google your symptoms. Anyway, “Teenage Dirtbag” is not canonically a part of this playlist, but I heard it a lot this year and secretly relished every instance.

Phew. Thanks for reading, thanks for listening, and thank you for being you.