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.
Hidden Kitchens Texas: Willie Nelson, Robin Wright
A delightfully different podcast that collects odd stories from the archives of Radiotopia’s The Kitchen Sisters, this episode features stories about the hidden and forgotten kitchens scattered across Texas. This would be cool enough on its own, but the stories come from guest host Willie Nelson and Dallas-born actress Robin Wright. Though the podcast suffers from a common radio-to-podcast tradition-issue, where a “host” is introduced by a producer whose introduction about context uses a large chunk of the running time, Nelson still manages to make this episode his own. Nelson, a native and current Texan, narrates a half hour of stories, including people describing their favorite pathways to meet and their favorite outdoor tacos. Wright chimes in before long, as eager to describe an elaborate meal as anyone. The stories are all edited together with music and the ambient sounds of glasses clacking onto coasters and plates rattling on wooden tables. The end result is not typical storytelling so much as an extended commercial for locally grown food—particularly the meat and icehouses of rural Texas. Charm oozes from every minute, as every voice is eager to contribute enthusiasm to this short and simple project.
This episode of Gastropod—the forward-thinking, science-minded podcast about food and the culture surrounding it—is predicated on a simple concept with vast and astounding implications: the effect sound has on a diner’s perception when eating. With every other of the five traditional senses having been prioritized in the arena of artistically prepared cuisine, working on the sound of a food would seem both an incredibly simple idea to include and one that could be easily dismissed. Gastropod hosts Nicola Twilley and Cynthia Graber discuss this topic with Oxford University professor Charles Spence, whose work on cross-modal sensory perception is specifically focused on the interplay between the senses and how they can influence one another. The show is, to a larger extent, an engaging investigation into multisensory trickery, whether it be through the “parchment-skin illusion” or using amplified crunching sounds, which prime users to believe that certain foods were better. One of the more aurally interesting experiments relates to how the size of bubbles in a sparkling liquid (champagne, prosecco, and sparkling water) affect the sound it makes when poured, and how that can influence expectations.
Happy Sad Confused
Bill Murray, Mitch Glazer
Almost as soon as Bill Murray walked offstage after his Hall H panel at San Diego Comic-Con, publications (including The A.V. Club) began summarizing the event and sharing the best Murray quotes. But while it’s one thing to read about Murray praising Miley Cyrus, it’s another thing to actually hear it. Thankfully Josh Horowitz—who moderated the Rock The Kasbah panel featuring Murray and writer Mitch Glazer—released the full 50-minute event as an episode of his podcast Happy Sad Confused. Though some of the visual references are naturally lost, the crystal-clear audio recording captures the spirit of the event. What’s most readily apparent here (and perhaps not in a transcription) is that Murray is having a blast. The comedian has been known to be prickly, and while he maintains his signature deadpan delivery throughout, it’s clear he’s loving every moment of this panel. He plays to the crowd as he offers them philosophical advice, charms them with Ghostbusters references, and leads a 30-second cacophonous sing-along in which everyone croons their favorite song. While plenty of stars at Comic-Con pay lip service to their love of nerdy enthusiasm, Murray really seems to mean what he says.
Here Be Monsters
Here Be Monsters, a deliberately creepy stories podcast from NPR’s KCRW, spends this episode on two sides of a story about men who shared an encounter with a dying deer. The men’s perspectives could not be further apart—one of them stumbled upon the deer while it was drowning and was trying to save it, and the other is a hunter who feels for his friend but has a strict sense of hierarchy over animals and an extreme skepticism that this dying deer is worth any concern. The story that comes through is impressive because both men find easy common ground due to their willingness to connect with each other, regardless of their differing levels of sensitivity. But because one man understands death more directly than the other, he is capable of providing rituals for the sole purpose of comforting the other man. Adapted from a short animated film on the same subject, the radio version of this story does an excellent job of drawing the listener in close for the intimacy of the animal’s death, but keeping it lighter than the title of the podcast might otherwise suggest.
Jesse Vs Cancer
July 12th, 2015
Oftentimes it’s easy to disassociate a person undergoing cancer treatment from their humanity—so large looms the disease that it blots out the simple day-to-day realities faced by those living it. That’s why the new podcast Jesse Vs Cancer is something of a revelation, delivering nakedly honest and pointedly hilarious dispatches in equal measure that help ground the experience. Listening to host Jesse Case, longtime stand-up comic and co-host of the popular podcast Probably Science, riff at length about his personal truths and experiences with stage four colon cancer is must-listen material. This is because of how skillfully Case balances the podcast’s blend of poignancy with at-times blisteringly inappropriate humor. Most notably, these moments come during ad breaks, where Case plays a series of fake commercials for Dodge that play off the hyper-masculinity of automobile advertising. Elsewhere in the episode Case explains how being diagnosed with cancer makes people become accidental Buddhists, as well as his as-yet unscientific theory on how a person’s weight forecasts their belief in ghosts. Overall, the show is a totally unique piece of audio: messy, earnest, funny, emotional; in short, it is utterly human.
This week on Mashable’s weekly tech podcast host Christina Warren, Editor-At-Large Lance Ulanoff, and Tech Editor Pete Pachal spend a healthy chunk of the episode dissecting a series of fiascos in an otherwise quiet summer of tech news. Microsoft is trying to bury some information regarding Nokia, and perhaps even more interesting, Reddit is imploding, on fire, and looting itself after the user revolt and the Ellen Pao fiasco. The discussion here covers the context that the internet so desperately ignores: that regardless of both sides of the situation it’s impressive that Reddit’s CEO could say the most tone deaf thing possible. Using Digg.com’s overnight collapse as an example of how not to ignore the users steering your content, they draw a scary profile of the internet as a place that will always turn against its supposed masters. The AMA events going from a fun community event to a failed business proposition was something that only the regular users of Reddit truly understood, and the surprising move of the CEO to fire the AMA liason who’d done all the ground work was the beginning of the end. Though less dramatic, Microsoft’s story also weaves well into the Reddit fiasco, a perfect story of higher ups at a tech company misjudging its users.
U Talkin' U2 To Me?
iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE Tour
An observation was made in the initial run of U Talkin’ U2 To Me? that late-period U2 is not only striving to remain relevant but actively working to not become a legacy act. You know the type—the kind who rest on their laurels and play the hits to regional rib fests—very much not the type to sell out five nights in Chicago, L.A., and Boston. Sure, the hits are still a vital component of the set, and the first act of this episode is jam-packed with all the favorites: Talkin’ About Money, Talkin’ ’Bout Turtle, butthole chitchat, and an unprecedentedly long I Love Films. With the classics out of the way, the path opens for a longform discussion on Adam Scott and Scott Aukerman’s recent two night engagement at the U2 show. Aukerman has such a singular way of spinning a yarn that is both compelling yet easy going. There are so many twists and turns (and two of the coolest ticket agents of all time) that the story takes two acts to tell, but the payoff is worth it. The concert outing has seemed to reinvigorate the hosts and the episode is heavy on exuberance and humor. The two seemed poised to stave of legacy-status for quite a while.
What's The Tee?
Queens Helping Queens: Morgan McMichaels
Like all installments of RuPaul’s podcast, this episode covers a potpourri of topics in the drag and diva vein, but themes of tolerance and helping one’s fellow queen connect the threads of conversation. Michelle Visage starts the hour by complaining that a fashion label declined to have her wear its dresses because she doesn’t fit into the label’s “target demo.” Unfair realities in show business aside, the talk steers next to the unfortunate fact that social media surrounding RuPaul’s Drag Race has become increasingly negative as the show’s audience has grown. It goes unsaid that there’s a difference between malicious, anonymous internet bullying and the time-honored tradition of shade. The guest for this episode is Morgan McMichaels, a season two queen who doesn’t stand out for her personality but who does fill the role of gracious hostess to queens who come to L.A. without a travel budget. McMichaels comes fresh from a panel on padding at DragCon, where she lifted her dress to demonstrate how she achieves her exaggerated curves. In a final non sequitur, the three talk cigarettes. Ru and Visage have both quit, but their ability to lovingly recall all the various brands they smoked through the years speaks to the power of tobacco.
Who Stole What?
Music Clustering: Like Wine, Music Has Good Years
How does one characterize a great year for music? Can it be quantified by dollars earned, records sold? Does it have more to do with the number of great artists who were working at the top of their game? Does it correspond with a previously under-appreciated genre going mainstream? On their podcast, Who Stole What?, brothers Tristan and Rory Shields offer an elegantly simple explication: the ratio of decent songs to not-so-decent songs on the radio. To illustrate their thought process, the two musicians chose four years from the past half-century—two of them great for music, two of them much less so—and took a look at the top 100 songs from that year, which they then broke down into three categories: classic songs, memorable songs, and songs that you might not even know exist. Great years, according to their theory, might only have a few true seminal hits, but are loaded with songs that are unoffensive and pleasant, if not amazing. Bad years are deserts of the forgettable, speckled with oases of quality. The year that featured the most consistently enjoyable radio-listening experience turns out to be very unexpected.
This BBC program excels at presenting individual voices that illustrate each story with diversity and insight. Host Jenni Murray begins on the topic of young Yazidi women who have escaped from ISIS and now share harrowing accounts of their treatment with British youth who are at risk of being lured into the group. Murray speaks with the founder of the organization that’s running the program, but she gives more time to a 17-year-old Muslim woman who was in one of the audiences and affirms the prominence of ISIS propaganda on social media. Later in the hour, the show features a woman who was incarcerated for drug smuggling and became a pig farmer in prison. She shares her riveting recollections of a rough childhood and an ascent into the ranks of organized crime—followed by the story of a life renewed through pork. The former smuggler now owns 800 pigs and sells award-winning meats in the south of England. Finally, Murray addresses the trend of schools banning girls from wearing skirts. Two of the guests are men, a teacher and the head of an academy, and neither can hide his embarrassment when Murray asks if the skirts are really a “distraction” to male teachers.
You Made It Weird
There are times when the act of listening to a podcast goes beyond being a passive activity, replaced by the feeling that it is a more participatory experience. Like being engaged in a piece of great, witty conversation that sends all kinds of synapses firing, it takes on a more visceral quality. That sensation is created by this week’s episode of You Made It Weird, as host Pete Holmes sits down with the phenomenal comic Rhea Butcher, and the two engage in a conversation so rife with diversions that thinking about it after the fact is like looking at one of those dotted-line path comics from The Family Circus. Butcher has a delightful sense of goofy fun that infects Holmes, who is in rare form in the episode, as the pair discuss getting started in Chicago’s comedy scene, the “it takes a village” model for raising kids, and much more. Perhaps the biggest and best laughs of the conversation come from an anecdote about the pair watching an old G.I. Joe toy commercial featuring the phrase, “Eat lead, Cobra!” It becomes something like a joyous version of the Queen Of Diamonds from The Manchurian Candidate, unlocking hidden depths of mirth.
“I like when people get excited about something. There’s a lot of people who don’t get excited about much at all.” –Bill Murray on San Diego Comic-Con, Happy Sad Confused
“You wanna come in? We’re gonna give you an infusion of 5-FU and oxaliplatin today, and you also get an infusion of ranch—that’s what this IV bag is—ranch dressing with some complimentary jalapeño poppers.” —Jesse Case on how the waiting room pagers at his chemo facility remind him of those from TGI Fridays, Jesse Vs Cancer
“We’re talking about films. Not movies. Not flicks, certainly. You know what? Take that popcorn you’re about to eat and shove it up your butt one kernel at a time.”—Adam Scott on films and movies, U Talkin’ U2 To Me?
“If you imagine a pad in the shape of Africa, the Congo is where my butt is.”—RuPaul on his custom-made pads, What’s The Tee?