An “automaton orchestra” named Tupo with automated musicians playing musical instruments, circa 1950.
Photo: Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

In 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.


Houston We Have A Podcast
Diet Like An Astronaut

Okay, so this NASA-produced podcast is never going to win any production awards or spawn legions of imitators, but if you’re looking for cutting-edge insights on nutrition, this episode must be in the running for the most scientifically sound diet advice on the internet. Nutritional biochemistry is a big deal at America’s space exploration headquarters. It used to be that any space travel lasted about a week, and astronauts could consume whatever gas-station-quality rations they wanted, with some exceptions. But now that missions routinely last six months or longer, it’s critical that space travelers get the proper nutrients. There’s no sun-delivered vitamin D in space. Radiation exposure is high. Blood volume decreases by 10 to 15 percent and causes iron levels to spike. Losing weight in space is bad for the bones, muscles, and cardiovascular system. All this needs to be studied and accounted for, and the research is resulting in real-world applications. For example, having examined a set of astronauts who developed specific vision issues during prolonged spaceflight, the NASA nutrition team seems to have discovered a previously unknown link between genetics and eye health. [Zach Brooke]


Mic Drop
My way

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There’s no shortage of coming-of-age stories in literature, television, and movies, but how many of those stories are actually written by adults? On Mic Drop, teens are given the opportunity to tell their own stories about drugs, school, sex, love, family, and whatever else they feel like talking about. The teens featured on this episode—Layla, Olivia, and Gerry—are so well-spoken and insightful while sharing their experiences that it’s a wonder there aren’t more opportunities for adults to listen to the next generation and learn from them. The stories this week involve varying family dynamics, cultures, and views on drugs, but all three discuss the way they took certain situations into their own hands without help from friends, family, teachers, or anyone else in their life. In some cases, the situations get dark, and the way the teens are able to reflect on some of the worst times of their life with so much strength is admirable. These are stories worth telling that make for an enthralling listen. [Brianna Wellen]


Reply All
INVCEL

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While the Gimlet Media empire continues churning out new high-profile series at breakneck speed and cross-promoting its latest shows against the older stalwarts in a veritable feeding frenzy of audio domination, Gimlet mainstay Reply All has veered quietly into more politically charged waters, a reminder that “a podcast about the internet” is, in 2018, perhaps a more inherently thorny proposition than ever before. Much like the recent episode that lent a patient, critical eye to the flaws of FOSTA-SESTA, “INVCEL” investigates the rise of the now-infamous (and occasionally deadly) “incel” community with a decidedly non-performative empathy. Alana, creator of the first incel message board 20 years ago, explains to host PJ Vogt how her movement, intended to give people a common place to vent and relate to one another, grew into a destructive organism helmed by those “left behind”—the ones who failed to overcome their incel status, left languishing on increasingly polarized forums. Given that Reply All rose to podcast prominence with its hosts’ giddy laughter bookending discussions of Zardulu and Twitter apocrypha, their second act has been an impressive expansion, demonstrating real versatility and staying power. [Marnie Shure]


Switched On Pop
Can AI ‘Algorhythms’ Write Pop Songs?

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Is there anything artificial intelligence can’t do? Well, yes, quite a bit actually. For now. But is there anything that a more advanced AI can’t do a generation from now? It turns out that AI can do a halfway decent job of crafting a piece of music. This trend (genre?) is examined in depth by two music academics and artist Taryn Southern, who’s using to AI compose an entire album. The trio demonstrate how AI can be used to create some current-sounding earworms and lush orchestral arrangements. It can also create new, unnatural in-between sounds and melodies, like a cow mixed with an organ or “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” melded with a basic synth scale. These tools still require a lot of human manipulation to become halfway listenable, so our species’ cultural supremacy remains intact for the time being. But the line between human and AI compositions is thinning rapidly, and many will get tripped up by the musical Turing tests administered by the hosts, who pit human and AI pieces against one another and try to discern which is which. [Zach Brooke]


The Wine Down
Tasting Menus, Pairings, And Best Friends

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Learning about wine can be intimidating and—let’s face it—boring. But when comedian Ben Schwartz is your sommelier, things are a little bit more accessible and entertaining. In The Wine Down, Schwartz explores a different aspect of vino every week with experts and other comedians by his side, often recording from different wineries across California. This week Jake Hurwitz and Amir Blumenfeld are along for a lesson from William Hill Estate Vice President Of Winemaking Scott Kozel. Kozel masterfully stays on track while Schwartz, Hurwitz, and Blumenfeld spit out corny jokes, songs, and other bits—though it is most entertaining when the trio tries to pull Kozel into their improv games. Following along with each of their tangents, it’s impossible not to pick up real information about flavor profiles and tasting techniques woven into the wacky conversation. Without explicitly saying so, the show draws the connection between wine and friendship, bringing up stories of the guests’ relationships to each other as well as meaningful food and drink moments. Warning: grab a snack and a glass of wine before sitting down to listen, because the show induces cravings. [Brianna Wellen]


We Hate Movies
Episode 355 - Dollman

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The plot of 1991’s Dollman sits squarely in the We Hate Movies wheelhouse: an alien policeman who comes to Earth only to find that, on this planet, he’s 12 inches tall. With its low-budget, B-movie absurdity, the Jackie Earle Haley vehicle provides the hosts with plenty of material to riff on. Chris Cabin, Stephen Sajdak, Eric Szyszka, and Andrew Jupin generate a fun and energetic conversation loaded with imitations, puns, character voices, and everything else that encapsulates the feeling of watching bad movies with your friends while saving you the pain of actually sitting through them. Their colloquial breakdown of Dollman brings out the best in the hosts, who are a mix of critics, improvisers, and comedians; each adds something with their commentary, getting as granular as a critique on the film’s special effects and approach to violence. It might not leave you any more interested in watching Dollman, but it will probably make you want to download more episodes from the impressive WHM archives. [Jose Nateras]


Yo, Is This Racist?
Is Wearing New Balance Racist? (W/ Jon Lovett)

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It’s a rare thing—for some of us, unheard of—to make it all the way through an episode of Yo, Is This Racist? without encountering at least one “uh oh, I’m pretty sure I’m guilty of that” moment. But the great thing about the show is that it doesn’t really judge you for it. Okay, yes it does, but not terribly harshly. Longtime host Andrew Ti (full disclosure: former coworker of mine) and his brand-new co-host Tawny Newsome (Bajillion Dollar Propertie$) seem to approach each “Is this racist thing I did racist?” inquiry, regardless of how bizarre or problematic, with a knowing half-smile, because both probably know the answer before the question is asked. By the same token, any listener who cares enough to ask probably isn’t society’s greatest monster. Noted white guy and podcast gadabout Jon Lovett of Crooked Media jumps effortlessly into Ti and Newsome’s easy rapport and the conversation moves forward with breakneck speed, propelled by the empathetic wit with which they tackle such difficult modern dilemmas as “How Racist is it to confuse Angela Bassett with Angela Davis?” and “Am I overthinking the kinds of shoes I’ll let my kid wear?” [Dennis DiClaudio]