In Podmass, The A.V. Club sifts through the ever-expanding world of podcasts and recommends 10–15 of the previous week’s best episodes. Have your own favorite? Let us know in the comments or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bret Easton Ellis Podcast
Craig Finn should write a self-help book for aging rock stars. At 44, he’s fronted two incredible bands in Lifter Puller and The Hold Steady, all while avoiding the typical music pitfalls of substance abuse, hedonism, and general burnout. There are countless rock lifers out there who could benefit from reading his advice. Or they could just listen to his numerous podcast interviews. In his latest appearance, he chats with Bret Easton Ellis about the usual Finn topics (The Replacements, being a post-collegiate musician, seeing your idols fall) as well as the usual Ellis topics (censorship, outrage culture, movies), but also goes into heavy detail about his personal life, from being caught between the world of punk and nerdom in high school to the 9/11 inspirations behind his upcoming solo album, Faith In The Future. As much as pop culture centered around 9/11 can stink, Finn’s record, like everything else he does in life, has a good shot at bucking tradition.
Conversation Parade: An Adventure Time Podcast
What We Want To Know, What We Don’t Want To Know, And Neko Case
Part of the joy of listening to Conversation Parade is hearing John Moe and Open Mike Eagle intellectualize the absurdist fantasy leanings of Adventure Time, a show that’s much more cerebral than some people give it credit for. More importantly, they analyze the actions of the show’s characters the same way one would analyze great literature, which leads to many revelations on what the cartoon says about their own lives. This week, Neko Case joins the party. Any coolness she exudes onstage as a solo performer and as a member of The New Pornographers melts away as she hyperactively geeks out with the hosts, especially when she declares Finn’s father, Martin, to be a true sociopath similar to both of her own parents. But sociopaths tend to be very charming, as Eagle points out, thus leading to a dissection of both the likable and despicable aspects of the character. After listening, even the most hardcore fan might have a hard time making up their mind about the magnetic but flawed patriarch, and that’s exactly the point.
Motives For Murder
Police dramas would have you believe that there are any number of reasons why people kill one another. Lieutenant Joe Kenda, with over 23 years in the Colorado Springs homicide division, quickly dispels that myth. Kenda is a straight-shooter who explains there’s only three motives behind murder: money, sex, and revenge. Murder is simple, he explains with almost depressing confidence, because people are simple. People want money, sex, and what they feel is owed to them; removing human obstacles to any of those is just an extreme solution. Of course, there is one giant asterisk to all of this: The killer who needs no motive. Kenda dislikes the term “serial killer,” recommending that we use a more accurate label: sociopath. For these individuals, emotions are a mask, and the people around them are as trivial as the cardboard cutouts in a movie theater lobby. Kenda suggests that our fascination with sociopaths (and their over-representation in media) is due to our being unsettled—not by the grotesquery of their crimes—but their ability to negotiate the world and deceive us. We’re all potential victims, no matter how remote the chances. Kenda’s own experience with these types of killers includes Ronald Lee White, a particularly cold-blooded killer who murdered for enjoyment, out of irritation, or for seemingly no reason at all.
Here Be Monsters
Deep Stealth Mode (How To Be a Girl)
While Here Be Monsters explores the darker sides of human behavior, it is often worth noting that these are not the stories of villains and antagonists. These true stories explore the hidden lives of people, their difficult choices, and often the antagonists that lie in the poorly patrolled alleys of our collective culture. Such is the case in this week’s episode, wherein a mother has given birth to a boy who almost immediately became drawn to girly things, asking when only 3-years-old to crawl back into her mommy’s tummy and be born again as a girl. The audio diary she keeps will be alarmingly personal for some, yet this story is important to someone’s entire being. The clarity of the little girl’s beliefs are required listening for anyone who believes confusion is at play in transgender identity. It’s also hard to hear a sensitive child learn the truth about the world from a firsthand experience. Some of the most important conversations of this child’s life are offered here, sometimes full of delighted giggles and appreciation for such a supportive and attentive mother, other times one cannot quite know what the daughter’s response is amid sniffles and tears. It is undeniable, however, that gender is not interfering with her desire to enjoy camp or to be accepted by teachers and classmates. She is like any other child, firm in basics of her personality and developing more as she learns to react to the frailties of those around her.
No Such Thing As A Fish
No Such Thing As Mould Juice
This episode of No Such Thing As A Fish comes live from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, as raucous a place as anywhere for the now essential British comedy,history, and TV podcast to perform for fans. The in-studio episodes are great, the live shows are livelier, and this special show takes the cake. The panel has not wilted with its increasing popularity and is as enthusiastic as ever when announcing its research of factual oddities. In fact, they’ve developed a delightfully deceptive knack for tricking each other with deadpan fake-facts that they reveal mid-conversation to be nonsense, as is the case with a fake origin for where thresher sharks get their name. It’s also one of their most disgusting episodes yet, full of mold-as-gifts stories and poo-flavored ice cream. The origin story of eBay turns out here to be both more noble and more on the nose than one might expect, a combination of Ebola outbreak information and a resale market for an oversized Pez collection. The aforementioned ice cream in question was actually based on sperm whale poo, and apparently the flavor was previously described as “earthy” and only “mildly fecal,” which was somehow an acceptable level of fecal flavor in one’s dessert.
In the ’90s, many bands that signed with major labels were called sellouts. It’s far less likely for the sellout label to be applied today, but that doesn’t mean music is devoid of corporate money. Showing the exact opposite to be true, Alex Kapelman presents a persuasive examination of the trend that is becoming increasingly ubiquitous in popular music: paid product placement. The song that Kapelman spends the most time discussing is Jason Aldean’s chart-topping “Take A Little Ride,” which underwent a lyric change after the singer inked a sponsorship deal with Coors Light. While the change was minor—the song’s protagonist changes his beer of choice from “Shiner Bocks” to “Rocky Tops”—it serves as a jumping off point for a fascinating critique of how product placement affects the experience of listening to music and problematizes the idea of artistic integrity. Kapelman’s interview with Jim McCormick, one of the songwriters behind “Take A Little Ride,” is particularly instructive. McCormick holds an MFA in poetry, and like Kapelman, he respects the power of words. But that he’s so nonchalant about having revised the lyrics to “Take A Little Ride,” however small it may have been, supports Kapelman’s larger assertions about how this sort of corporate influence is a particularly insidious form of selling out.
This week’s episode starts out sounding like a tale of bad customer service in the social media age, but then, like the best half hours that Reply All puts together, it undergoes a couple of twists to become a story about something entirely different. Listeners learn that in 2015 there are still people out there making prank calls just for fun. With all the shenanigans big and small that the internet affords, the idea of non-malicious prank phone calls (even those made using Skype, which allows them to be recorded and shared online) seems almost quaint. Alex Goldman and P.J. Vogt take the topic seriously, though—they interview a professional dominatrix who does prank calls on the side, which leads them to propose that calling someone and claiming to be a pushy Comcast customer service representative is akin to a non-consensual domination. At the end of the show, they use the recent phenomenon of the Duck Army Vine to prompt a discussion about opportunistic internet “takes,” thereby taking of the fun out of the meme. (Internet Explorer, another podcast that talked about Duck Army this week, did it better by simply reveling in the terrifying audio of the thing.)
A Miami Record Store In 1967: Derek Waters, Carla Cackowski, Marc Evan Jackson, Colleen Smith
Guest Derek Waters is compelled by the laws of Spontaneantion to share the last time he displayed bravery. His time struggling with a sensory-deprivation tank is all fine and good, but by the end of their free-form discussion, he comes around to what the rest of us already knew—namely that producing all of those episodes of Drunk History while inebriated is incredibly brave (or stupid). Waters doesn’t immediately consider these brave acts, just the sacrifice he must make for his program. As is customary, Waters supplies the improvisers with their setting: a record store in Miami in 1967. It’s best when the settings are oddly specific, allowing the players to dive immediately into their roles. Twenty-three episodes deep, Spontaneantion’s recurring themes are emerging; it’s clear that Paul F. Tompkins and company enjoy enacting stories about earnestly dumb children and their terrible parents. Longtime Tompkins’ collaborator Marc Evan Jackson specializes in voicing disaffected middle-aged men, making him the perfect parental unit. It’s not long before his daughter, played by newcomer Carla Cackowski, wanders off with Tompkins’ Cuban record store owner, only to wind up engaged to a back-alley bum, hooked on H, and conversing with “Heroin Harry,” the figment with a jaunty hat that isn’t afraid to tell you the truth about how great heroin is. Kids grow up so fast these days.
Stop Podcasting Yourself
The best Stop Podcasting Yourself guests are people who have great chemistry with hosts Dave Shumka and Graham Clark. While being funny is also important, an ability to get along with the hosts is necessary if an hour of relatively unstructured conversation is going to stay interesting. Over her many appearances, Alicia Tobin has proven to be able to do just this, and this week she continues her streak as one of the show’s most reliable guests. A sleepy, easily distracted Tobin tells Shumka and Clark about her new podcast Retail Nightmares (which was featured here last week), going into her worst retail experience at the hosts’ prodding, and also talks about her work as a cookbook author. The real highlight of the episode comes when Shumka shares a story about an inspired parenting moment that involved him trying to put his young daughter to bed while his wife, Abby, did the dishes. It’s a tale of ingenuity and using technology to communicate in unexpected and completely novel ways. At the same time, it’s also a perfect example of the way the Shumka and Clark capture the absurdity of everyday situations in a way that makes it hard for an episode of Stop Podcasting Yourself to disappoint.
Before delving into the meat of the episode, last Monday’s WTF begins with Jessie Askinazi and Rose McGowan promoting their #YesAllWomen fundraiser and speaking candidly about systemic sexism and misogyny. Hopefully the visit foretells of a future episode of WTF with McGowan as the main guest, because even her brief drop-in is fantastic, and she certainly has a lot to say. But alas, this is Lake Bell’s episode, and she truly owns it, jumping right in ready to talk about any and everything with emotional honesty. Instantly, she talks about breastfeeding without reservation. She spends most of the interview detailing her different roles as mother, actor, director, creator, and how they all intersect and inform each other. Her excellent directorial debut In A World…, which she also stars in and wrote, may have come out two years ago, but it’s still refreshing and exciting to hear her speak about the project with such passion. (“I made $0 on it, but it changed my life.”) Nothing is off the table as Bell covers everything from her nerdy obsession with voice and movement to the personal details of her family history. “Do you feel happy?” Bell throws at Maron, and you can tell the question takes him by surprise. Bell seems comfortable and fearless, no matter what she’s talking about, and it’s the same confidence on display in this interview that makes her so enthralling in every role she has.
[Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya]
John Dickerson’s new gig as moderator of CBS’ Face The Nation and a truly bizarre primary season has left Whistlestop fans without a new episode for over a month. This week, on a flight between rallies, the host finally breaks his hiatus with an extra-long look at the hotly contested 1980 Democratic primary, in which left-wing icon Ted Kennedy challenges sitting president Jimmy Carter. One of the many invaluable running observations in the Panoply series is how strong of a chilling affect scripted-campaign events and increasingly walled-off leaders has had on both parties’ ability to genuinely criticize and refine ideas within their own ranks. The ’80 primary harkens back to the last time unabashed big-government liberalism was debated at the forefront of the progressive party, something that’s been on the run since. It’s fascinating historical stuff, and the deep-cut tidbits and parallels drawn here are exactly what’s missing from mainstream coverage. Anybody can cover the horse race; what makes Dickerson one of the country’s foremost public political intellectuals is his appreciation for the humanity of it all, especially evident this week in select readings from Carter’s diary.
“I’m a huge KISS fan, but Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, and also Spinal Tap—there’s this archetype of rock ’n’ roll guy that became unattractive to people. It’s like ‘Oh no, that guy’s here.’ He comes in and it’s Vince Neil or David Lee Roth, who I love, but maybe you don’t want them at your party.”—Craig Finn on aging gracefully, Bret Easton Ellis Podcast
“What I love about Adventure Time is what I love about Loretta Lynn: They don’t ask you to feel sorry for them.”—Neko Case, Conversation Parade