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 email@example.com.
La Bamba: The Afro-Mexican Story
Apparently it’s a common assumption, even among Mexicans, that Mexico has no black people. So leave it to a benign culture podcast tracing the lineage of musical styles prevalent throughout the African diaspora to challenge that assumption. The so-called third root of Mexican heritage—that is, African—dates back to the arrival of Spanish conquistadors, and several prominent Mexican military and political leaders were of African ancestry. Afro-Mexican culture is particularly evident in the city of Veracruz, which was once a main port of entry for the slave trade and now is infused with a rich polycultural milieu similar to New Orleans or Cape Town. It was there that the local musical style, son jarocho, produced a song that went global after being recorded by a teenager from Los Angeles: “La Bamba.” Further west, the Costa Chica Of Guerrero is home to the African-descended “coast people” who are currently pushing the government to recognize their musical traditions. And in the early 20th century, the elegant Afro-Cuban danzón music was imported from Havana and provided the soundtrack to Mexico City’s smart set during the jazz age, continuing on through the present day.
District Sentinel Radio
The Trump Comey Dinner Party
Pressed to explain to the uninitiated exactly what a podcast is, most will proffer something along the lines of, “It’s talk radio on the internet.” While that shorthand hardly applies to the vast majority of podcasts out there, it’s not too far off with respect to District Sentinel Radio, the daily audio outlet of the District Sentinel news co-op run by D.C. journalists Sam Knight and Sam Sacks. It’s a tight, focused show seldom running over 20 minutes, featuring quick hits on the day’s political news stories with a strong progressive bent, and just the right amount of production. Sacks and Knight are consistently sharp enough and funny enough to counterbalance the overall bleakness of their subjects, and their attempts to sort out the aftermath of the James Comey firing shortly after it broke are especially amusing. If you took a leftist talk-radio show, compressed it, removed the ads, and made it smarter and funnier, you’d come up with something a lot like District Sentinel Radio.
How Big Is My Penis? (And Other Things We Ask Google)
Former Google Data scientist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz believes we’re all liars. According to him, men overstate how much sex they have, women understate how much porn they watch, and everyone denies the effect Super Bowl advertisements have on them—but only in person. Whereas people are hardwired to lie to others even in scientific surveys, Stephens-Davidowitz reasons an analysis of internet search data can shed more light on how truly weird humans can be. In his new book, Everybody Lies, he argues the anonymity of internet searches actually makes them a better measurement of people’s true thoughts and motivations, especially for taboo subjects. The top search starting with “my husband wants” in India, for example, ends with “me to breastfeed him,” revealing a reasonably large phenomenon previously unknown to researchers that is, for some reason, uniquely common in one specific country. There’s also tons of racist search data that comports to real-life outcomes or challenges assumptions. Cadence of anti-Muslim searches correlate to hate crime statistics involving Muslims, for instance. And searches involving the N-word turn up equally in both the Northern and Southern United States, but drop dramatically west of the Mississippi River.
Stand By Your Band
Stand By Your Band, hosted by New York-based comedians Tom Thakkar and Tommy McNamara, is the perfect shit-starter, taking traditionally lesser-loved musicians and allowing guests to come in and stump for them. Looking at the two-month-old podcast’s catalog reveals a swath of nostalgia that includes pop, classic rock, and a healthy helping of ’90s music. This week, the duo invites Ryan Donahue and Conor Delehanty to defend the legendary Bob Seger. It quickly becomes clear that the first hurdle to defending Seger is finding his music, which is unavailable on streaming services. This is something Tim Quirk took a look at earlier this year for NPR with his fascinating article “Where Have All The Bob Seger Albums Gone?” The men here, however, use this information to crack jokes about YouTube fan videos, which is a good indicator of Stand By Your Band’s tone: lighthearted, tangential, and relevant to today, even when the music is a blast from the past.
There is a principle in quantum mechanics known as the observer effect, which dictates that the simple act of observing something has the ability to change it. That is true of Mooj Zadie’s Tape podcast, which focuses on interviewing key players of the modern audio era. On this episode, Zadie sits down with Alex Blumberg, co-founder and CEO of podcast network Gimlet, to engage in a wide-ranging chat about the latter’s approaches to production, interviewing, and story construction during his time working on This American Life. When Zadie presses Blumberg on issues with gender and ethnic diversity at the helm of Gimlet’s shows, though, the conversation pivots, becoming meatier and more personally invested. Blumberg is contrite, fully engaging with Zadie in his typically transparent fashion, but Zadie is able to point to particularly talented individuals that he feels Gimlet has missed out on. Quite a bold act to observe.
The Real Thing
A Kangaroo Has Three Ears
On May 11, legendary Australian journalist and broadcaster Mark Colvin died. While Colvin’s name might not ring any bells to an American audience, he was a figure of unimpeachable excellence, an absolute lion on the radio in his home country. This past week’s episode of The Real Thing features a head-expanding work of experimental audio fiction prominently featuring Colvin. On its face, the piece—A Kangaroo Has Three Ears—is an audio travelogue that sounds like James Joyce and Hunter S. Thompson exploring Australia, flinging an impressively deep crate of records out the window as they careen across the country. The work is actually a spiritual sequel to the 1978 landmark Australian creative audio fiction What’s Rangoon To You Is Grafton To Me, but it feels totally original at the same time. Producers Mike Williams and Timothy Nicastri have done a wonderful job creating a unique sonic experience, the free-flowing nature of which is like inspecting an immense sonic tapestry, never pausing to take in all of the details before flitting to the next wildly psychedelic scene. An essential listen for fans of experimental audio.
The Real World: Disrupting The Status Quo
The Venture is a new podcast that chronicles the advent and evolution of industry-changing businesses with the people who founded them. The latest episode centers around MTV’s The Real World, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Creator Jonathan Murray reveals how Beverly Hills, 90210 and MTV’s lack of a budget eventually led to the landmark first season of The Real World in 1992, undoubtedly contributing to the proliferation of “reality television.” Murray discusses the The Real World’s commitment to providing a safe space for participants to express themselves sexually, noting that the show was the first to feature a nonfictional gay character living a normal life. And, despite the show’s shift into debauchery over the years, that mission still perseveres, as recent seasons have featured members of the transgender and genderqueer communities. One interesting tidbit, however, finds Murray discussing how their first attempt to manipulate conflict received such blowback that they vowed never to do it again. Funny, considering the last several seasons have involved surprising the participants with exes, old friends, and estranged family members. Nothing gold can stay, Ponyboy.
The Vice Magazine Podcast
Launched only four months ago, the pristinely produced and fast-paced Vice Magazine Podcast packs a wealth of information into a relatively short runtime. Following a live-magazine format (complete with a page-turning sound effect in between each segment), a table of contents is introduced up top, before a multitude of guests dive in, sharing their expertise on various topics related to this “issue’s” theme. In less than an hour, “Restless Youth” is expounded on through everything from Haisam Hussein highlighting the history of youth activism and protests throughout the globe to Jason Leopold (Vice’s Freedom Of Information Act expert) unveiling surprising facts from an FBI case on an extreme animal rights group. Listening amounts to taking a quick audio tour—led by Vice Magazine’s editor-in-chief, Ellis Jones—of the namesake’s publication, offering a glimpse into how the magazine is made in addition to what Vice calls “enlightening information” and “sonically rich cultural insights.” Vice-isms aside, this is worth your time.
Yelling About Pâté
Ted Hopson: Cleanest Floors In The Biz
On the third episode of Yelling About Pâté, hosts Karl Hess (comedian) and Joel Miller (chef) are joined by Ted Hopson of The Bellwether in Los Angeles. Chef Hopson’s experience on The Food Network informs his idea of performance in cooking, which actually bears some resemblance to being a professional stand-up comedian. The three opine on keeping a restaurant’s kitchen clean (as opposed to keeping one’s home clean), telling dick jokes, kitchen jargon, messing up in the kitchen as opposed to on stage, a cook’s fashion habits (including chef tattoos and chef beards), as well as current trends in restaurant kitchen design. To this last point, Hopson discusses the ways the relationship between diner and chef has changed as a result of open kitchens, inviting customers to view the inner workings of the establishment. Hess, as a comedian, ties the instant gratification of audience reactions to the way an open kitchen allows for chefs to see the diners enjoy their meals. The down-to-earth, behind-the-scenes perspective and casual humor the three achieve through their conversation makes for a great listen.