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 firstname.lastname@example.org. (Image credit: Christopher Hill)
Between The Liner Notes
The Dance Floor Doesn’t Lie (Disco Part 1)
Disco music has been swallowed up and regurgitated by mainstream culture to a point that it’s now hard to understand why it was initially so hated. However, from its jazz-tinged origins in Nazi-occupied France, the discotheque lifestyle has always been one of cultural and political subversion where people from diverse walks of life could come together and exert themselves physically (take that as you will). In this episode of Goat Rodeo’s excellent Between The Liner Notes music documentary podcast, host Matthew Billy begins a two-part journey through the origins of this musical genre, aided by veterans of the vibrantly bespectacled trenches, like DJ Joey Carvello and RFC Records owner Ray Caviano. Even those without much interest in dance music or those with merely anthropological curiosity should find this to be a fascinating account. It could even recontextualize the overplayed songs enough to make them pulse with excitement again.
Buffering The Vampire Slayer
Buffy The Vampire Slayer is a show that always managed to temper its inherent campiness with feminist overtones, and the hosts of the recap podcast Buffering The Vampire Slayer capture that balance perfectly. Musician Jenny Owen Youngs and Everyone Is Gay cofounder Kristin Russo, along with their weekly guests, break down episodes of the beloved Buffy—a series both hosts have rewatched multiple times—covering its ’90s fashion, the inaccuracies of the mysticism woven into its scripts, and its themes of femininity and sexuality, which range from problematic to praiseworthy. This week, cartoonist and die-hard Buffy fan Kate Leth joins Russo and Youngs to cover season two’s “Halloween,” in which the Scooby gang turns into real-life representations of their Halloween costumes. The podcast tosses in some short and sweet prerecorded jingles, literally singing the praises of characters like Cordelia and Drusilla. But the cherry atop this delightful series is each installment’s finale, when Youngs sings catchy original songs recapping the central theme of the episode.
Emil Amos’ Drifter’s Sympathy
Back To Boston
In Emil Amos’ Drifter’s Sympathy, the titular (and prolific) underground musician Emil Amos narrates the dark and arresting stories of growing up in the ’90s as an outsider trying to find his way. With co-host Jonah Bayer, music journalist and A.V. Club contributor, Amos tries to sort through this rich personal history dotted with bleakness and struggle. The episodes are produced in a sort of audio fiction style, as Amos displays an acute awareness of how the players in his life echo classic literary archetypes. It’s an unflinching account of a hero’s journey, tinged with the wisdom of hindsight. “Back To Boston” takes place when he was 17, after getting a guitar broken over his head. Amos tells us how he somewhat accidentally got into college and returned to Boston to live with his “guru” one last time, indulging in various drugs and narrowly escaping death on the freeway. The music underscoring the episode lends it even more artfulness, especially the use of Holy Sons’ “Trampled Down,” a song given new weight and new meaning when coupled with Amos’ stories.
Good One: A Podcast About Jokes
Neal Brennan’s White Guy Being Called The N-Word While Feeding A Horse Joke
Vulture’s latest podcast offering, helmed by Senior Editor Jesse David Fox, provides a space for comedians to detail the creation of a single joke and how it factors into both their careers and overall senses of humor. In this episode, Chappelle’s Show co-creator Neal Brennan joins Fox to discuss a toss-off joke in Half Baked, the stoner comedy he co-wrote with Chappelle, wherein a black woman calls Harland Williams’ character the N-word after she mistakenly thinks he made a fat joke. It’s a stupid bit, but one that invites a fascinating discussion of Brennan’s talent for writing comedy for black actors as a white man, as well as his thorny penchant for using the N-word, which he here defends within the context of his personal philosophy and upbringing. He touches on his writing process with Chappelle, both in their earlier work and on Chapelle’s recent Saturday Night Live hosting gig, and he shares the growing pains he experienced moving into stand-up after getting his start as a comedy writer. Brennan, by his own admission, tends to rub people the wrong way, but this conversation goes a long way toward understanding what some might consider a problematic comedic presence.
Hello From The Magic Tavern
In this special 100th episode, the Magic Tavern crew is finally ready to embark on its quest to defeat the Dark Lord, a journey it’s discussed ever since Arnie first arrived. First, the hosts must gather the fellowship: Pimbly Nimblebottom the gem-pooping imp, Germ Crust the dual makeup artist/ghost handler, and Tannakin The Pinglet, a tiny flying pig who is not the least bit evil or suspicious. After running through punny nicknames for the quest, they’re interrupted by Squibbert and Baron Ragoon, affiliates of the Dark Lord himself. Baron is characteristically polite even in his threats, and a conversation with Squibbert reveals dark secrets about a certain member of the fellowship. The chatter finally culminates in action when a hatch is opened to the basement, and a dramatic battle ensues involving birds, an unwed mother, Pizza Skull, a heartfelt moment between best friends, and the greatest force of evil Arnie, Chunt, and Usidore have ever had to face. It’s a landmark episode in more ways than one, and the show has never been more confident than as it lays this groundwork for a new chapter of hilarious podcasting, adding unprecedented depth to its magical world.
Little Gold Men
What It’s Like Inside The Vanity Fair Oscar Party
For the past week, it’s been ever so remotely possible to stick a pin in political debates and argue instead about whether or not one’s preference of La La Land over Moonlight makes them fascist. Now that the Oscars have passed us by, we needn’t go back to discussing things that actually matter; instead, we can spend another few news cycles basking in the post-awards chatter about who wore whom and what was said to which people at which parties. For a better feel for what it’s like inside one of those parties, Thursday’s episode of Little Gold Men is quite handy. For the entire week leading up to the Oscars, Vanity Fair’s Katey Rich, Mike Hogan, and Richard Lawson hosted daily episodes focusing on specific aspects of Hollywood’s biggest night, and this particular installment is perhaps the most memorable. Julie Miller—co-host of the In The Limelight podcast—joins them to discuss the surreal glory of the annual Vanity Fair after-party, where one might witness Benedict Cumberbatch scarfing down cheeseburgers with Joan and Jackie Collins, and where even the biggest stars crane their necks to get a better look when Beyoncé makes her entrance.
While the engrossing subject matter and the glossy production quality have made Stranglers downright addictive, the capable hosting of Portland Helmich is perhaps less celebrated but just as worthy of recognition. This 12-episode investigation into the case of the Boston Strangler—who killed 13 women, ages 19 to 85—would have been an altogether different listening experience had it been presented by a man. With Helmich at the wheel, we are made to understand how these crimes affected the women adjacent to them, how each murder recast Boston as a more predatory place for its female inhabitants. In the Stranglers finale, the specifics of the case are largely stripped out, the program having closed the book on the killer himself in episode 11 to now focus fully on the personal legacies of the victims. Lucky survivor Adele Roof goes with Helmich back to the very Boston apartment in which she was confronted by the killer and explains why she hadn’t once returned to the city in over 50 years. Touching memorials are offered up to each individual victim, a group of women who, by the actions of one, will forever be “sisters in death.”
The Last Podcast On The Left
The Puerto Rican Chupacabra
Everyone probably knows at least a little about the chupacabra: large eyes, sharp fangs, spines or feathers running down its back, drinks the blood of animals. Despite the cryptid’s notoriety, the legend of the chupacabra didn’t actually exist before 1995. That year, a string of attacks on livestock in Puerto Rico gave rise to the myth of the “goat-sucker” and spawned a cultural craze on the island, complete with plush animals and a cartoon series. Such recent origins mean that podcast hosts Ben Kissel, Marcus Parks, and Henry Zebrowski have one of their best shots yet at separating truth from folklore. As with most LPOTL episodes on paranormal subjects, we’re never far from aliens showing up, and it isn’t long until listeners are given “evidence” suggesting the chupacabra appeared soon after UFO sightings in the area and might be a crashed alien species. Other possible explanations discussed include Santería rituals, escaped supersoldier monkeys from the very real National Institutes Of Health monkey reserve on a nearby island, genetically engineered Tasmanian tigers brought back from extinction and exposed to Agent Orange, and “a bigass bat.”
Thirty-three-year-old Donald Taylor was in a relatively good place in life when he vanished in January 2016. He had overcome a meth addiction and was closing in on a year of sobriety while also managing the schizophrenia he had endured his entire adult life, and he even had a romantic interest. But at 2 a.m. on January 3, a shoeless Taylor walked down a street in McKinney, Texas, and out of the lives of everyone around him. At least, that’s according to the person believed to have seen him last: his sister, Shirley. His other sister, Sandra, however, questions Shirley’s version of events, and in an emotional interview with host Jordan Sims, Sandra accuses Shirley of knowing more than she’s telling. Sandra reveals what she believes is an alternate version of the events that night, and goes so far as to explain how or why Shirley would have covered up the real story. Taylor remains missing, but Thin Air reveals that the police might have additional leads as to his whereabouts.