Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Big Mama Thornton circa 1970
Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
PodmassPodmassIn Podmass, The A.V. Club sifts through the ever-expanding world of podcasts and recommends the previous week’s best episodes. Have your own favorite? Let us know in the comments or at podmass@avclub.com.

1619
The Birth Of American Music

The 1619 Project from The New York Times launched in August, a major initiative covering the legacy of slavery in the United States that includes a powerful series of essays, reported work, and poetry on race, slavery, and the ongoing ripple effects 400 years after the arrival of African slaves in Virginia. The related podcast, 1619, is a beautifully intricate companion to the project hosted by reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones. In each episode, a different expert voice reveals and discusses this history that has been hidden from mainstream view. In this episode, critic-at-large Wesley Morris tracks the huge influence and theft of Black music embedded into what is known as American music. Morris’ gorgeous storytelling and the interlacing of his commentary with the music provides magnificent audible context for the listener. His style, turns of phrase, and accessible analysis clearly convey how particular riffs, melodies, and harmonies came from music created in captivity. He takes the listener on a journey through the music business and music’s effect on Jim Crow, all while celebrating Black music with pointed, heart-wrenching, and illuminating metaphors. [Elena Fernández Collins]


80 Days: An Exploration Podcast
Djibouti

The three history and geography nerds who produce this show have declared this episode on continental Africa’s third smallest nation the hardest episode they’ve yet produced. Research is hindered by a dearth of Djibouti-specific information and complicated by nonexistent hard borders until the arrival of French colonialism in the 1800s. Even with those obstacles, it takes nearly two hours to survey the region from prehistory to present. A case is made for Djibouti being the site of Punt, a legendary ancient Egyptian farmer’s market. The land later serves as backdrop for interactions between Coptic Christians and the first Muslims, and sees epochal changes arrive with the completion of giant Industrial Age projects like the Suez Canal and the Addis Ababa–Djibouti rail. Independence came in 1977, followed shortly by civil war. Today Djibouti hopes to use foreign investment to remake itself into Africa’s Dubai, as five countries operate military bases inside its territory. This is arguably one the most comprehensive overviews of the country on the free internet, and the hosts are studied and measured but not above making playful jokes. [Zach Brooke]


Beach Too Sandy, Water Too Wet
Psychics In Albuquerque, NM

Each week on Beach Too Sandy, Water Too Wet, hosts Alex and Christine scour the internet for the worst reviews they can find of a particular service in a particular city and give them the dramatic readings they deserve. In this episode, the duo focuses on reviews for psychics in Albuquerque and find that the spiritual world of the American Southwest is filled with some incredibly pissed-off people. One reviewer is absolutely livid that the psychic they visited doesn’t have any powers except for the ability to talk to the dead. (How dare they.) Another reviewer blasts a psychic for not helping them find their lost dog. This prompts the psychic to respond, calling the reviewer a liar and then quoting the Book of Revelation to infer that they are going to burn in hell. Dramatic music played over Alex and Christine’s readings heightens the absurdity of the complaints, and the hosts have an easy, laid-back charm, never letting their snark get too vicious. Beach Too Sandy, Water Too Wet is a fun and relaxing way to experience the irrational rage of the American consumer. [Anthony D Herrera]


Best Friends With Nicole Byer And Sasheer Zamata
Sasheer Is Unpacking The Peanuts

Comedians, actors, and besties Nicole Byer and Sasheer Zamata have launched a podcast to give the world a peek into their friendship, which is at times touching, inappropriate, and hysterical. This week, they sit down with actor and fellow Upright Citizens Brigade alum Paul Welsh and Brooklyn Nine-Nine actor Madeline Walter, who share stories of making a living before “making it.” In signature Best Friends style, they play the Newlyweds Game, and it turns out Paul hates Madeline’s tendency for lateness, while Nicole reveals she has lots of tiny (but sealed) bottles of liquor she’s collected in her car. But it’s for good reason, because she treats her crew to booze on occasion. The game nearly takes a turn for the weird, but Madeline opts for the personal and shares why she’s always rooting for Paul in his roles and encouraging him to celebrate little wins. [Vannessa Jackson]


Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street Radio
Cork Dorks: Inside The High-Stakes World Of Sommeliers

If your knowledge of wine starts and ends at whatever’s cheapest, you’re in good company. This installment of Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street Radio features a rich conversation with admitted former boxed-wine-drinking journalist Bianca Bosker. After going down the rabbit hole of shadowing and staging in Michelin-starred restaurants, Bosker realized she was missing out on the magical sensory experience of wine. Demystifying the art of choosing and identifying varietals, she offers accessible and fun assignments to expand your palate, instructs listeners on how to identify the best glass of wine on a menu, and recounts the challenges of becoming a top sommelier. Maybe you’ve wondered about how sommeliers prepare for and grade guests or why some folks get better tables at restaurants. Bosker delivers on these topics, also explaining why a drop of wine on the outside of a glass is the equivalent of a turd on a wedding dress. As always, Milk Street Radio features easy recipes and a call-in segment solving kitchen emergencies. This week: how not to burn garlic, and a surprising ingredient that can help you bake an award-winning drop cookie. [Morgan McNaught]


Holly Randall Unfiltered
Ryan Creamer: Making Hilariously Wholesome Porn

Holly Randall has created a safe haven for the bruised and battered vets of adult film with her podcast Holly Randall Unfiltered. A pro-sex shutterbug just like her trailblazing mama (celebrated Playboy photographer Suze Randall), Holly Randall welcomes her X-rated guests with open, judgment-free arms. As someone who’s often had the unfortunate task of cleaning up a set after a shoot, she’d never look down on her fellow members of the industry. She also appreciates those who are bold and clever enough to take the piss (no pun intended) out of the porn business, like recent guest and internet jokester Ryan Creamer (yes, that’s his real name). Creamer is best known for his SFW Pornhub channel, where he gets decked out in a sweater and tie, slaps on a beaming smile, and makes “wholesome porn” clips like rebuffing his stepsister’s advances and having a healthy working relationship with his secretary. Randall and guest host Eva Gala giggle their way through the episode as Creamer discusses new developments like expanding to camming (so far, he’s been reading from Catcher In The Rye) and the possibility of taking his mom to the Pornhub Awards. [Craig D. Lindsey]


Little Gold Men
The Joker Is The Biggest Story Of The Festival Season... So Far

The Venice Film Festival only just wrapped up, but the news and conversation surrounding the biggest debuts won’t cease anytime soon, and Vanity Fair’s Little Gold Men serves as the perfect fade-out from this year’s event. Here, deputy editor Katey Rich and staff writer Joanna Robinson speak with chief critic Richard Lawson about the highlights of the festival, the biggest opening being Todd Phillips’ Joker. The trio dive headfirst into the movie’s dark aesthetic and looming social context, and as Robinson and Rich probe Lawson for his expertise, they truly do make a great case for Joker’s Oscar nomination for Best Picture. The conversation then shifts to Lawson’s dissection of other notable films seen at this year’s festival, including James Gray’s Ad Astra and Steven Soderbergh’s The Laundromat. But the biggest treat is Robinson’s insightful interview with Lisa Henson on the new Netflix-produced The Dark Crystal: Age Of Resistance. [Kevin Cortez]


South Side Stories
Englewood

As creators of the Comedy Central series South Side, Bashir Salahuddin and Diallo Riddle shape this podcast as a subdivision of their show, providing a closer look at Chicago’s neighborhoods and residents. What unfolds is an intimate audio tour full of humor and heart, offering the kind of stories that are often overlooked on the evening news. Comedian Kellye Howard rides along with Sgt. Stephen Boyd, a police officer who’s made it his mission to engage with the city he patrols. He shares a story about a flippant remark he made about bulletproof glass at a White Castle, using that moment as an opportunity to apologize and build rapport with the employees. Seeing as how Sgt. Boyd also dabbles in comedy on the side, at times his banter with Howard could be mistaken for buddy cop movie outtakes. The second half of the episode finds Howard at a party in the park, breaking bread with the locals. Despite some residents having lost friends to gun violence in the city, their devotion to Englewood is evident, with one woman using three words to describe the area: “Love, community, and resilience.” [Jason Randall Smith]


The Gayly Prophet: A Harry Potter Podcast
Catfish: COS Chapter 17

Gayly Prophet hosts Jessie Blount and Lark Malakai Grey are two queer witches who break down the Harry Potter series one chapter at a time, lovingly and ruthlessly, through a queer intersectional feminist lens. While Harry has a place in many people’s hearts and podcasts, this show brings a fresh perspective that many have craved. They are currently still in book two, so it’s a great time for listeners to join them on the seven-book journey. The material is covered with the assumption that listeners have read the books, making for an easy listen for fans who don’t need full chapter recaps. The hosts highlight aspects of the books that readers might have overlooked as children, for obvious reasons: the sexual tension between Tom Riddle and Harry, Toms Riddle’s delightfully dramatic goth moments, the way Harry can be read as a minority character throughout the series, and more. [Nichole Williams]


You’re Wrong About…
“Yoko Ono Broke Up The Beatles”

Hosted by Michael Hobbes and Sarah Marshall, You’re Wrong About… is a podcast about things you’re—get this—wrong about. While the podcast usually takes on broad topics like gangs and sex offenders, they also address stories of specific people. Most recently, the hosts explained why you’re wrong about Yoko Ono—thought to be a scheming, untalented gold-digging art witch who stole John Lennon’s agency and broke up The Beatles. Okay, in fairness, we’re right about the art witch thing. “Yoko Ono Broke Up The Beatles” doesn’t start with the story of John Lennon but rather the story of Ono herself—a successful artist independent of her future husband’s success. Ono’s story is told time and time again through the lens of racism and misogyny, and You’re Wrong About… aims to break down each of those preconceived notions by painting a well-rounded, well-researched image of Ono that most conversations typically don’t afford. If you’ve ever found yourself cringing at the mention of Yoko Ono, you owe yourself—and, honestly, her—a listen to this episode. [Wil Williams]

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