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.
This episode of 99% Invisible is a crossover that features interviews with Hrishikesh Hirway of sister show Song Exploder. Hirway has two stories to tell that cross over with 99% Invisible’s usual theme of unexplored design. The first half is a thrilling deep dive into the sound editing of NBC’s Hannibal. Those unfamiliar with the show will have no problem appreciating the interviews, which paint an intense audio scene, making no pre-existing visual necessary. Composer Brian Reitzell crafts sleigh bells into a deeply upsetting, twinkling grind of dust and particles beneath the foot of a snail, and his ability to create a perfect acoustic analog for brain synapses is magical. His intention is to create a feeling that the characters in the show can perhaps hear this score as well as the audience does. The effect is a mixture of biology and nightmares. His final sample, the sound of a mysterious harbinger of death and hunger known on the show as The Stag, uses an old musical instrument known as a bullroarer. The circular whipping whine is enough to chill someone listening on a crowded bus. The second half features a walkthrough of masterful song creation by John Roderick of The Long Winters. Though this songwriting process is sad, sincere, and moving, it serves as a palate cleanser for the bloody violence of the episode’s unforgettable first half.
Another Round Live!: Roxane Gay
It’s easy to forget BuzzFeed’s Another Round podcast has only been around for two months. The weekly podcast skipped the learning curve and found its footing right around its second episode—thanks in large part to the chemistry between its hosts Heben Nigatu and Tracy Clayton. Nigatu and Clayton have very quickly established themselves as funny and insightful hosts, bringing their infectious personalities to conversations that range from squirrels to self-care to microaggressions in the workplace. Even when it comes to their less serious subjects, Nigatu and Clayton remain passionate and sharp in their distinct points of view. On their first live episode, they’re joined by Roxane Gay to talk about women and publishing, The Rock’s freakiness, and how to seduce the ladies. The live episode also features some of the show’s best recurring segments, like a reprisal of Nigatu’s quiz-making skills (this time, she tries to trick Clayton with made-up names of white men who work in public radio) as well as Clayton’s Joke Time. But the best Another Round segment of them all, Drunken Debates, also returns, with Nigatu and Clayton duking it out over the power of flight vs. Sandra Lee’s Kwanzaa cake and the power of invisibility vs. high heels. They might slur their words, but even during a nonsensical Drunken Debate, they are fun, easy to listen to, and somehow convincing enough to make listeners fall in love with hyenas.
[Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya]
BuzzFeed's Internet Explorer
The Online World Of People Who Fantasize About Eating Other People: Max Plenke, Erin Lee Carr
Internet subcultures don’t get much ickier than cannibal fetishists. (Or do they? If there’s one thing we’ve learned from Internet Explorer, it’s that human perversity knows few bounds online.) For this week’s show, Katie Notopoulos and Ryan Broderick tackle the topic of people who want to eat—or get eaten by—other people, and they do so with their trademark mix of juvenile humor and humane sensitivity toward misunderstood weirdos on the internet. The most famous would-be cannibal, Gilberto Valle, also known as the “Cannibal Cop” from Queens, was arrested on suspicion of plotting to kill and eat women. Broderick speaks with Erin Lee Carr, the director of the HBO documentary Thought Crimes: The Case Of The Cannibal Cop, about why Valle’s conviction was overturned, which leads them to the question of online privacy. If pressed, most of us would probably agree that our Google searches should be considered private thoughts more than actions, a key concept in the Valle case. Earlier in the episode, Notopoulos and Broderick talk with Max Plenke of Mic About Vore, a thriving cannibal fetish site. It’s a given that eating people is not okay, they acknowledge, then they go on to speculate about the people who are active on the site, and why there is so much cuteness to be found in such a dark corner of the internet.
Cane And Rinse
Silent Hill: Downpour
The Cane And Rinse crew labels each of its installments an “issue” rather than an “episode,” a fitting distinction as the U.K.-based video game podcast adopts the comprehensive bent and clinical tone of an academic journal. Led by host and game critic Leon Cox, Cane And Rinse devotes each issue to a single game, then breaks it down by topics such as story, character, music, and more. It’s candy for hardcore players, and boasts a huge, four-year backlog that runs the gamut from lauded RPGs (Chrono Trigger) and novelty games (PaRappa The Rapper) to current blockbusters (The Last Of Us, Wolfenstein: The New Order). With this discussion of 2012’s Silent Hill: Downpour, Cox and his co-hosts conclude a months-long dissection of the Silent Hill series, and draw some interesting conclusions about this final and mostly forgotten entry into the franchise, namely that it’s misunderstood. As always, the crew’s finer points are articulate and well reasoned, and the presence of an actual downpour in the background of this discussion adds a welcome dash of eeriness to the proceedings—it even sets off an alarm at one point, effectively spooking the hosts. Arguments occasionally arise, but Cane And Rinse is more interested in analysis and discussion than fireworks, which is refreshing in a field often fueled by hyperactivity.
Double Blind Science
Questionable Data And Cold Storage
Lucas Kavanagh hosts a weekly podcast about scientific events that is explained in such great detail that anyone can wrap their heads around them. Opening with the concept of retracting a huge media story, Kavanagh references heavily an episode of This American Life that serves as an excellent primer called “The Incredible Rarity Of Changing Your Mind.” It begins with a story about acceptance of gay marriage that was published based on a false research study. This willful deception made it past peer review and many other fail-safes, spreading to This American Life and hundreds of other media outlets, making it impossible to completely undo. But what is especially interesting is that, as much as this story was clearly falsified in at least some key aspects, the blame fell more on process than on individuals. Kavanagh does an excellent job of explaining the objective flaws, but also throwing his hat in the ring and saying he thinks the co-author who green lit the research should himself be held accountable regardless of the effectiveness of his retraction efforts. Then the program moves to what might be one of the more exciting scientific discoveries happening right now, some researchers who have frozen earthworms and brought them back with an ability to retain their memories. What they’re really focusing on is cryoprotectants, substances that keep our bodies and minds from being damaged by ice crystals. The results are exciting, but even better, listening to this podcasts helps listeners understand exactly what’s so bad about having cells burst.
Hello, From The Magic Tavern
Music Of Foon
Over the course of its 14 episodes Hello, From The Magic Tavern has built something of an impressive comic Rube Goldberg device that is triggered on this week’s show, resulting in an episode that is an absolute delight. The show’s sense of humor has ever rewarded close listening, and with this entry a lot of the patient world-building begins to pay off as threads connect and simple repeated jokes achieve near-transcendence. Host Arnie Niekamp, along with co-hosts the wizard Usidore (Matt Young, at his blustery best) and the newly shape-shifted Chunt (deliciously deadpanned by Adal Rifai), is visited by traveling bards Glenn Miller and Spants (expertly voiced and sung by Nick Gage and Meredith Stepien, respectively), who grace the Vermillion Minotaur with truly wonderful and hilarious songs. From a children’s lullaby about ghouls and ghosts to a ballad explaining the grisly funeral rites performed in Foon, the songs continually surprise in their polish and hilarity. The episode ends on a triumphal ode to Usidore, which may be the best thing fans of the show will hear all week. While easily the most laugh-out-loud funny episode of the show, one is left feeling that this is nowhere near its peak, and that is a good thing.
Henry & Heidi
Rollins & Shatner
“I Can’t Get Behind That,” a spoken word track from William Shatner’s 2004 record Has Been, is one of the more fun collaborations that Henry Rollins has been involved with. As they trade off calling out things they can’t abide, Shatner and Rollins are at their most playful and unhinged, the piece driven forward by a frenetic, jazzy drum beat and squealing Adrian Belew guitars. Looking back on it as more than just a special day, Rollins points to the session as marking the start of an enduring friendship, one that began in the studio before eventually earning Rollins a standing invitation to watch Monday Night Football at Shatner’s house. Telling this story in depth for the first time, Rollins characterizes Shatner as a nurturing, fatherly figure, someone who not only understands what Rollins is about but is also able to temper some of the more intense, antisocial aspects of his personality. This is best demonstrated when Rollins relates Shatner’s reaction to a run-in with a conservative media personality (left nameless so as not to spoil a great reveal) at a Monday Night Football get together. A story about an unexpected studio pairing that led to an unlikely friendship between two very different people, this is one to get behind.
The Underwear Department At Macy’s: Aimee Mann, Ted Michaels, Michael Oosterom, Colleen Smith
Paul F. Tompkins’ improv podcast Spontaneanation is only 11 episodes deep, but it’s already a well-oiled machine. It doesn’t hurt that Tompkins is a veteran of the format, and his particular circle of friends and colleagues grants him access to the cream of the improvisational crop. Tompkins’ twist is that he spends the first third interviewing a guest, and uses threads from that discussion to build out a bonkers story with a rotating troupe. This week Aimee Mann is the guest, and it’s a treat to hear a conversation between two friends with a long history. In a poignant discussion, we learn that Mann’s most shameful desire is to have everybody like her. As the guest, Mann provides the set up for the improvisation—the underwear department at Macy’s—and Tompkins is joined by Ted Michaels, Michael Oosterom, and Colleen Smith from Fusion’s No, You Shut Up! Tompkins has made a lot of comedy hay over the years talking about not wanting to be a father. After listening to this deliciously bizarre yarn about a clueless father helping his daughter be okay with wearing white panties, listeners may be inclined to agree that Tompkins is not cut out for parenthood.
Sex With Strangers
Alpacas Gone Wild: Kelly, Tamale Sepp
Despite centering somewhat on animal play, “Alpacas Gone Wild” stands out for being a fairly tame installment of Sex With Strangers. That’s not a put-down, either. Where as many of the podcast’s episodes delve into sexual fetishes with illuminating yet sometimes nauseating detail, “Alpacas” focuses largely on people who use their unconventional pasts to make a fairly conventional living. The most notable example of this is Kelly, a former dominatrix whose commanding tone, open mind, and skills with the whip make her an excellent farmer and practitioner of animal husbandry. Likewise, comedian Tamale Sepp—recently recognized for publicizing a creepy two-way mirror in the bathroom of a Chicago bar—talks about her past life as a horse-semen scientist, and how it’s possibly informed her love-life and comedy. Listeners in search of something kinkier than the price of stallion DNA or the mating habits of pigs still get an in-depth look into the strange erotica subgenre of “hu-cow,” but even that plays into the episode’s theme of how to spin kink into honest, hard-earned cash.
Australian comedian Wil Anderson has been steadily building a reputation as the conduit through which much of the world’s comedy flows. Though an established antipodean stand-up and solo performer, Anderson has achieved this distinction more through his freeform discussion podcast TOFOP (the acronym stands for Thirty Odd Foot Of Podcast, a play on Russell Crowe’s former band). Even more so, Anderson’s status was solidified when original TOFOP co-host Charlie Clausen took an extended hiatus from the show in 2012. It was then that Anderson chose to create an alternate version of the show, dubbed “FOFOP,” with various comedians filling the role of “guest Charlie”; the first—and most prolific—of which was Dave Anthony of Walking The Room and The Dollop fame. From there the “FOFOP” shows have become a way for Anderson to converse and joke with comedians from all over. In this 200th episode, an absolute murderer’s row of past “guest Charlies” come on and carry forth in the show’s signature irreverent style. Including the aforementioned Anthony, Anderson is joined by Dollop co-host Gareth Reynolds, the sublime Jen Kirkman, Probably Science’s Matt Kirshen, and wünderkind Daniel Sloss at L.A.’s NerdMelt Showroom where an absolute mess of a celebration is made. It is a spectacular affair, and a perfect time for new listeners to get on board.
The Truth is a podcast that presents bite-sized pieces of radio drama in an attempt to create a “movie for your ears.” A subculture of podcasts has been attempting this for quite some time, and this particular podcast is a member of the respectable circle of Radiotopia public radio storytelling shows via PRX. This episode takes special advantage of the stereo format with an elaborate, realistic sound design and employs some celebrated New York actors like Amy Warren and Ann Carr. To recreate the sensation of having a stroke in real time the listener is pummeled with increasing urban white noise mixed with layered dialogue, then hit with an audio baseball bat in the form of pulses, buzzing, and hissing that sounds like it is occurring within the actual ear canal. The effect is terrifying, and the story completely original. Having it occur in the middle of a woman’s personal crisis as she cares for her baby and fights to connect with her already weakened communication abilities makes it all the more gripping. The noise is layered on top of the mother’s efforts to regain consciousness and follow the sounds of her baby. It’s a simple plot to be sure, but it invokes century-old storytelling while using 2015 audio cues. There’s nothing else like it.
The debut episode of The Underscore starts with a neat conceit: Co-hosts Eric Brandner and Davin Coburn want to create a new slang word, getting people to use the word “ruckus” the way they use “cool” (e.g., “Man, that was ruckus!”). This episode explains how slang words are popularized and legitimized. Brandner and Coburn keep the podcast to a brisk 15 minutes, yet they incorporate interviews with four experts, including linguist Connie Eble and lexicographer Kory Stamper, to find out if they can really make “ruckus” the “cool beans” of today. Eble’s impressive collection of slang words could form the basis of an entire podcast, and Stamper explains how a word moves from street slang to dictionary entry. Meanwhile, Brandner and Coburn trace a number of common slang terms to their criminal roots and discuss what it means for language to signify membership in a tribe. The interviews are well edited into a concise narrative, though Brandner and Coburn do unfortunately reduce Stamper—who has been a lexicographer at Merriam-Webster for 18 years—to “the dictionary lady.” The podcast’s succinct tag line, “Explaining America,” is a little too vague to guess where Brandner and Coburn might go next, but overall this episode bodes well for the future of The Underscore.
[Laura M. Browning]
“What I thought… was so interesting to me was that …the guy who usually identifies with being prey or being eaten, he was explaining to me that he was really unsure about his own sexuality, like he doesn’t really know how he feels, he doesn’t know what the word for it is, but with vore, he doesn’t have to pick.”—Max Plenke on cannibal fetishists, BuzzFeed’s Internet Explorer
“Even goats know it’s probably not a good idea to disobey a former dominatrix.”—Chris Sowa, Sex With Strangers