Six Music Podcasts You Have to Listen to in 2015
OK, so after a few years of hearing about podcasts, you finally get them. Maybe your introduction was 'Serial,' the true crime podcast and 'This American Life' spinoff that kept much of the nation's iTunes accounts in thrall last year (you can relive Episode 1 above). Or maybe you got into one of the other big, popular podcasts that have emerged -- Neal deGrasse Tyson's 'StarTalk' nerdfest or the (relatively) insanely popular and also just sort of insane radio drama 'Welcome to Night Vale.' The one thing they all have in common is a capacity to bring smart people together to go deep on pretty much any subject, thanks to manageable production costs and easy distribution.
There's also a whole subset of great podcasts devoted solely to music -- some that mine music history, some that open up with musicians and influential scenesters, some that break down popular songs to their molecules. Now that you're into podcasts, you're in for good (trust me). Continue your immersion with a few of the (non-Adnan Syed-related) podcasts we've been bingeing on lately:
Damian Abraham of F--ked Up has his own podcast and it's awesome. The premise of 'Turned Out a Punk' is essentially that punk rock, and how it comes into people's lives, unites all of the various musicians and music industry people who come onto Abraham's show. His super-positive, welcoming interview style yields some of the most essential music interviews we've heard or seen lately. Check out his interview with Meredith Graves from Perfect Pussy, in which Graves holds forth inspiringly on punk rock gender politics. And we can't not mention his long, crazy interview with Cleveland hardcore legend Tony Erba, which begins, before the interview starts, with a several-minute apology for said interview.
'Song Exploder' is a short, sweet podcast with a great premise -- musicians break down their own songs layer by layer, playing isolated guitar or drum or vocal tracks and talking about how each came to be. Listen to the episode on Tycho's 'Awake' (there's a cool hidden layer of the song you'd never hear on its own) or the National's 'Sea of Love,' featuring singer Matt Berninger and guitarist Aaron Dessner talking about a hidden cameo you'd never know about if you didn't listen to the podcast. At the end of the episode, you get to hear the entire song all the way through, with a deeper perspective and appreciation.
The BBC puts out an unconscionable amount of podcasts -- from 'Farming Today' to 'Gardeners' Question Time' -- plus a handful of music podcasts from BBC Radio 4. We haven't gotten into Jarvis Cocker's 'Wireless Nights' podcast yet but the 'Soul Music' podcast is magic (it's not about soul music, proper, but about how music gets into and takes over people's souls). One amazing episode details Teddy Pendergrass' 'Don't Leave Me This Way' through the eyes of three distinct people -- telling their stories through the lens of one song. If you're not into the whole '70s disco-soul thing, there's also a great episode in which a few people talk about the importance of the Smiths' 'There is a Light That Never Goes Out.' There's some really beautiful, heartbreaking stuff in there -- including an interview with a woman who said the song was playing as her son made a surprise recovery from cancer.
Michael Azerrad -- music journalist and author of the definitive '80s indie-rock chronicle 'Our Band Could Be Your Life' -- created a site called the Talkhouse for musicians to interview and talk about other musicians they admire. The spinoff podcast is more of the same. It can be a little inside baseball -- most of the people listening probably haven't been on year-spanning international tours, which is something that professional musicians understandably really like talking about. But as musicians ease up around like-minded cohorts, little sublime revelations emerge -- like the time Laurie Anderson told Merrill Garbus from Tune-Yards about cooking a hot dog in a German hotel by plugging it into a wall socket via a lamp cord.
DJs at the legendary Seattle indie radio station KEXP take turns hosting this weekly new-music podcast. If you're looking for a personal, on-demand way to discover new music, 'Music That Matters' is the way to do it -- basically indie-rock radio with only the new stuff. Some stuff you've heard of, like new Parquet Courts or Ex Hex; some of it you might never hear again. From time to time, guest hosts swing through -- a particularly fun episode featured comedian Mike Birbiglia and his girlfriend DJing from their kitchen table.
The New York Times' cast of pop music critics take on everything from Meghan Trainor to the best jazz albums of 2014 in their 'Popcast,' approaching each subject with a deep knowledge of current music and the ability to explain how it all fits into the social context. 'Popcast' is not just for people like me who obsess over new music and what it all means -- if you just have a little more than a passing interest in the important music coming out today (Sleater-Kinney's latest, for example) the critics at the Times will give you a well-read look at what's going on behind the scenes, as well as what it all means.