By Keidra Chaney
Since most of us are too broke to do things like go on fancy vacations or go see $11 movies every week, thank goodness we have the Internet to give us cheap daily thrills. Additionally, despite being the Jan Brady of online media, it’s actually a golden age for audio storytelling and reporting. There are more exceptional podcasts available than ever, and the best thing about podcasting as a medium is that it’s sound, so you can immerse yourself in the story, while doing other things like doing the laundry, or taking the train to work, or … writing a blog post. Right now, the darling of the podcast scene is Serial, which follows one story throughout multiple episode. It’s riveting storytelling and fantastic research and reporting, and even if you’re not a fan of “true crime” stories (and I am not) you will be sucked in immediately.
As someone that enjoys overthinking about pop culture, i gravitate to the pop culture-focused podcasts and here are a few I recommend if you’re like me. (And if you’re reading this blog, I assume you are.)
Sideshow is my current favorite because it hits a lot of my pleasure points; a thoughtful fixation with pop culture ephemera, delving into the gray area of high culture and low culture that gets overlooked by those who are more interested in either side of the spectrum. Intelligent, funny, and curious about the things that most people don’t notice. (For example, one episode features Mike D of the Beastie Boys looking up old cocktail recipes on Wikipedia. Why? You’ll have to listen to find out. ) If Sideshow was a guy I’d ask him out.
99% Invisible calls itself a show about design and architecture, but its really more than that, it’s a show about ideas, the ideas that either directly or indirectly shape the world around us, through things as big as cities or as small as chairs. The ideas about design and space and behavior that may of us often take for granted, and don’t think about unless we are required to for our jobs. And that’s the brilliance of this podcast. A favorite of mine (especially for those new to the podcast) is Episode 135, where we discover that until this year, pinball was illegal in the city of Oakland. It’s fascinating, check it out.
While not as meaty as the previous podcasts, EHG is a lot of fun, and if you were an early fan of Television Without Pity, then you’ll recognize the names here because it’s the founders of that site. The podcast is basically a review of the week’s TV news, and these guys go fairly deep, so it’s a great way for me to have a basic knowledge of shows I would otherwise not give a shit about, like Homeland. It can be a bit insular in its references, maybe because I am not a part of the Previously.TV online community (That’s their new TV recap site) but it’s still an entertaining listen and I really enjoy the “Game Time” segment at the end of each show that is a great outlet for one’s knowledge of arcane TV facts.
It’s probably just me, but I wish there were more outlets to discuss musical process and production in music journalism. I get tired of hearing about some critic’s personal feelings about some album they just listened an hour ago or half-assed cultural criticism by someone who slept through semiotics in college. I wanna know how an album was made, and why a musician made certain production/musical choices that they made. And were there alternate choices? But truth be told, that can be kind of boring to read. But it’s awesome to listen to and Song Exploder is brilliant for that. It’s basically deconstructing a song, along with the artist as they explain their musical process. A favorite episode of mine, and I think one that’s great for anyone to start with, is a discussion with the composer of the House of Cards theme song. Depending on your interest in the musician being interviewed, the podcast may not always be a winner. For example, I LOVED the Converge episode, but its Converge, and they alienate people. But whatever.
This is a spin-off podcast for On The Media (yes, public radio’s On The Media) It focuses on news and criticism about online culture and technology in a way that I would love to do for TLF, if TLF was my actual job. TLDR is a critical but thoughtful look at online culture, which can only be done in an environment that isn’t social media. And unlike a lot of online culture related news outlets, it does it best to be broad in its scope, not assuming that online culture begins with 4Chan and ends with Buzzfeed. A favorite recent episode (#34) is about the accidental outing of the office of the Rwandan president as a notorious Twitter troll.