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Monday, October 31, 2016

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Podcast Recommendations

Thursday, October 13, 2016
Podcast Recommendations

Due to some ongoing financial issues earlier in the year I had to take on a lot of extra freelance assignments which culminated in probably the most work intensive summer I’ve ever experienced. Honestly there were stretches of several days were I didn’t talk to a single human being, let alone leave the apartment. Fortunately all the hard work paid off and I’m in a much better situation now (both in terms of my work hours and my finances). Looking back on that period in my life I have to say that the one thing that kept me sane and motivated to get up in the morning was being able to catch up on the backlog of all my favorite podcasts.

Since “podcast recommendations” has been a topic of conversation amongst my friends lately and it’s something I feel I can weigh in on I thought it’d be fun (and hopefully helpful) to share some of the shows I listen to regularly. Keep in mind that I have a job and a hobby that are very solitary so I personally have a preference for shows that make me feel like I’m connected to other people and the outside world. It seems like there’s a podcast about everything these days so even if nothing on my list strikes your fancy I’m sure there’s a podcast out there that caters to your values and interests. It’s just a matter of doing a little research. So, without further adieu, here’s my list (in no particular order):

This American Life- A lot people’s first podcast, myself included. There’s a reason why it’s so popular. I used to listen to a lot of talk radio and watch film documentaries. At a certain point I began to wonder if there was a program that explored some of the topics I enjoyed watching in documentaries and presented them in an audio format that I could listen to at work. A quick google search later and I discovered TAL. The show archives go all the way back to 1995 so (in addition to being an entertaining show on its own) it’s also a fascinating time capsule of the popular trends and topics of interest over the past couple decades (I got a kick out of the commentary on this “scary new technology” called the internet in one of the earlier shows).

Serial- Spinoff of TAL, I’m sure most people already know about this one. It sticks to one longer story which is broken up over multiple episodes. I thought the first season was more compelling, despite being smaller scale. The second season, about the ramifications of a US soldier abandoning his post in Afghanistan, has its moments and is definitely worth a listen if you’re intrigued by the premise.

Everything is Stories- Stories about people on the fringes of society (outcasts, rebels, hippies and hermits). The aural equivalent of a long, strange and occasionally intense journey through the desert.

Reply All- A podcast about the internet. The cohost’s sidebars explaining the latest trends on the web can be fun and educational but the main draw are the stories that start with some connection to the internet and unfold in weird and wonderful directions. The Cathedral (episode 50) which explores the relationship between the artist and his art (a subject that’s always fascinated me) is my favorite episode and a great place to start.

Snap Judgement- The host’s sometimes meandering stories that top off the show aside, Snap consistently features compelling personal stories covering a variety of subjects. It also has the best production values of any podcast I’ve listened to (in terms of the score/soundtrack).

Criminal- A podcast about criminals, think of it as bite-sized episodes of Serial. Given the shows dark subject matter it’s surprising how much the tone varies from episode to episode. One week it covers a heinous act, the next it investigates the more “innocent” crime of stealing petrified wood from a national park in Arizona. The latter episode (#23) and the episode involving a man who scuba dives into the La Brea tar pits to recover a discarded weapon (#33) are two highlights.

Smodcast- Humor is relative. That being said, this podcast consistently makes me laugh. Admittedly it’s mostly juvenile and crash stuff so I have a hard time explaining to people why I find it so funny. Maybe it’s because I can relate to writer/director Kevin Smith’s self-deprecating sense of humor, his childhood obsession with comic books and his self-deprecating sense of humor about being a “comic book nerd.” A similar, discontinued podcast I recommend is Peepholes: A Highlands History where Kevin Smith talks with childhood friends and paints a surprisingly vivid portrait of life growing up in a small New Jersey coastal town.

Love + Radio- A more experimental podcast in terms of the soundscape and the story structure. Oftentimes it makes you feel like you’ve been dropped into the middle of a story where you’re scrambling to piece together who (and what) the episode is about. Admittedly there are a couple of them that flat out didn’t work for me (most likely because they were too cerebral to be listening to while working). However the majority of the episodes are very compelling stuff that reward your attention. The Living Room, in particular, is one of the most profoundly moving podcasts in recent memory.

Death, Sex and Money- “A show about the things we think about a lot and need to talk about more.” Hearing a variety of guests (from celebrities to cliff divers to funeral directors) having candid discussions about typically taboo media subjects (which are nicely summarized in the podcast name) make for one of the more thought-provoking interview-style podcasts I’ve listened to.

Make it then Tell Everybody- A podcast about how artists approach their work, how they rationalize what they do and how they see themselves fitting into the wider world. Admittedly it’s a very niche podcast and I imagine if you’re not an artist you might find the topics dreadfully dull. As a long time comic artist I think the show is a great resource for technical tips, insights, and general musings about the hobby/profession.

Invisibilia- A podcast about the invisible forces that shape human behavior. An intriguing premise that leads to some fascinating character studies including a woman who’s incapable of sensing fear and a blind man who uses a bat-like sonar technique to “see.” Heady stuff that will change the way you perceive yourself and the world around you. I definitely recommend starting with the first season (as I felt it had more interesting stories).

Mystery Show- A six-episode podcast hosted by This American Life contributor Starlee Kine where she solves various minor mysteries. It’s funny how on paper the mysteries don’t sound that compelling but I was amazed at how wrapped up I got in discovering the origin of a custom belt buckle (or the actual height of Jake Gyllenhaal). Hopefully the show comes back soon, I could definitely use some more mystery in my life.