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.
A Podmass series spotlight
Dü You Remember?
Hüsker Dü was formed in 1979 in St. Paul, Minnesota. On Dü You Remember?, The Current provides a lean oral history of the band, from its working-class beginnings, to its debut album, to its ultimate breakup. Taking a page from the Netflix playbook, the five-episode series was released all at once, leaning into the notion of bingeable listening. Dü You Remember coincides with Numero Group’s collection of Hüsker Dü outtakes, live cuts, and rarities, Savage Young Dü.
The series is brisk and entertaining, even if you’re only a casual fan of the “fastest hardcore band around.” Their rock ’n’ roll tale is sure to engross anyone who’s played in a band or at least wished that they could. Not only are the three principals—Bob Mould, Grant Hart, and Greg Norton—featured, but there are a slew of stories from fans, hangers-on, and contemporaries, such as Henry Rollins of Black Flag and Jello Biafra of Dead Kennedys. Dü You Remember is at its best when it becomes a road story, with the Hüskers touring the country in the early days of punk when the internet was nothing more than a science-fiction concept (although it is revealed that Mould was an early adapter to email). Biafra recalls having to put them out after spending a month or so languishing in San Francisco, and the bandmates remember the days when you’d drive down a town’s main drag looking for anything that resembled “punk” in the days before Hot Topic.
Unfortunately, the Hüsker Dü story ends on some sad notes. But this five-episode series is a thrilling look into the creative process as well as the early days of punk rock, told by the people who lived and breathed it. [Mike Vanderbilt]
Closer Than They Appear
How Did I Get Here? (With Mahershala Ali)
Closer Than They Appear—the debut program from Jetty, Al Jazeera’s brand-new podcast network—is a show of profound questions. Hosted by the nimbly brilliant writer Carvell Wallace, the program is a publicly introspective forum for hashing out a means toward an equitable future for all Americans, but it is so much more than its mission statement. Produced in a spare and honest manner, the show feels like a bespoke creation carved in Wallace’s own image. The debut it is bold, artful, and insightful, but never without some humor. Midway through the episode, Wallace diagnoses what he believes is plaguing the nation’s discourse: The rules of engagement have grown opaque. Perhaps, Wallace believes, everyone is avoiding something that they fear, and his podcast can be a tool to help people ford their phobic flowage. To that end, Wallace talks with Oscar-winning actor (and 2017’s true Sexiest Man Alive) Mahershala Ali to discuss how they themselves work at moving past their fears to embrace others. Their personal and spiritual conversation is a hell of a way to kick off a series, and it signals great things for the show’s future. [Ben Cannon]
Methods is all about the facts. Each episode, host Brooke Borel (author of The Chicago Guide To Fact-Checking) interviews someone who “examines facts for a living.” Whether that be a journalist, scientist, historian, or other, Methods chooses one of the guest’s projects to dig into, asking questions about process, pitfalls, and publishing. This week, Borel explores gun control, asking, “When Americans have more guns, does it really make us safer?” To help answer this question, journalist Melinda Wenner Moyer shares her research linking guns and crime, focusing on her Scientific American article “More Guns Do Not Stop More Crimes, Evidence Shows.” Borel’s guiding and most interesting question—“What level of uncertainty should we all be comfortable with when it comes to calling something a fact?”—comes into play as Wenner Moyer explains the difficulty she faced in pinning down accurate statistics on gun ownership due to the lack of data available on where guns are and who has them. This leads to a conversation on the the clever ways researchers have created to study the correlation between guns and violence. Spoiler: the majority of studies do suggest that more guns do not make us safer. [Becca James]
Food For Thought
In the U.S. today, it might be easier to picture kids who’ve launched their own app than kids who deal with hunger, though there are decidedly more of the latter. Fortunately, a group of teen developers have stepped up to help their peers, and their story is told on Sincerely, Hueman, a short-form podcast that investigates innovations in generosity unfolding in the modern world. Approximately three-quarters of all school districts carry school lunch debt, or deficits in their lunch programs stemming from students’ unpaid bills. In response, some districts adopt a Dickensian “lunch-shaming” approach, where hot meals are denied to students whose families owe money to the lunch program. In some instances, a student’s hand may also be stamped with text reading, “I need lunch money.” Enter a group of five humanitarian teen girls. The quintet are in the process of launching the Food For Thought app, which allows users to anonymously subsidize meals for students at $2 to $3 each. The project is the brainchild of the extraordinarily gifted 17-year-old Alyssa Kapasi, with most of the code being created by her equally formidable 13-year-old collaborator, Emma Yang. [Zach Brooke]
On this KCRW podcast, the business in question is the all-alluring show business. Pushing beyond the glitz and glamor, however, host Kim Masters (The Hollywood Reporter) uses her journalistic prowess to get to the who, what, why, and how of making movies and television. Joined this week by Pamela Adlon, The Business finds itself in a unique position. Recorded mere days before The New York Times broke a story alleging that Louis CK, Adlon’s long-time collaborator, had a history of sexual misconduct, Masters was able to offer the actor a chance to denounce him. Unfortunately, Adlon plays it safe, and was not available for comment after CK admitted he had in fact sexually abused multiple women. (She has since publicly responded and fired the manager she used to share with CK.) This coats the rest of the episode with a somewhat bitter glaze. As Adlon speaks on her career and how she was finally able to break through once she stopped second-guessing herself, it’s difficult not to second-guess her initial actions. This raises the important question of what one considers to be complicit behavior in the post-Weinstein world, and hands it to the listeners. [Becca James]
The Gospel Of Ndegeocello
The Organist is a combination of reported stories, interviews, comic radio drama, reviews, and more that drops biweekly from KCRW and is presented as a cultural magazine. Host Andrew Leland spends this week discussing Meshell Ndegeocello, whose debut album, 1993’s Plantation Lullabies, kicked off the era of neo-soul. Its legacy includes being inspiration for Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, and D’Angelo. Ndegeocello is now producing a performance titled Can I Get A Witness? The Gospel Of James Baldwin for the Harlem Stage. Part theater, part church revival, the program focuses on Baldwin’s “intellectual curiosity and the way his work leads his readers to enlightenment through the force of argument and ideas as opposed to faith and mysticism.” Much of the performance’s text is an adaptation of Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, which comes with pointed and poignant commentary on the racial divide in America. Leland speaks to Ndegeocello about her experience as a person of color and how The Fire Next Time gave voice to everything she was thinking. With a reinvigorated cultural interest in Baldwin via I Am Not Your Negro, this episode hits a note that will surely resonate with listeners. [Becca James]
Unpacking the legacy of “Dixie” feels similar to encountering an “expanding brain” meme. At first blush, the rousing folk number appears a racist relic of the Confederacy, being played at the inauguration of CSA President Jefferson and adopted as a defiant, if unofficial, anthem of the Southern insurrection. Further investigation reveals the song is actually credited to Ohio-born white minstrel performer Dan Emmett, and was first performed and made famous in Yankee stronghold New York City. Digging still deeper uncovers a longstanding claim in Emmett’s hometown that the song was taught to him by his black musician neighbors, the Snowden family. Wrestling with these questions of ownership and legacy are Uncivil host Chenjerai Kumanyika and guest Justin Robinson, a banjo player who’s played “Dixie” in an all-black string band called the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Robinson views his work, in a broad sense, as narrative disruption and reaffirmation of an instrument that originated in West Africa. Yet the reality of touring meant playing before a lot of exclusively white audiences, some of whom booked the group at historical plantations and openly threw around the N-word. Those experiences spark yet another reevaluation of Civil War–era music. [Zach Brooke]
Will & Grace & Vodka
The Unsinkable Mommy Adler
Joining co-hosts and best friends David and Carolyn as their first-ever guest host, Tyler Dean Kempf (of The Second City) has a special connection to Debbie Reynolds and as such makes for a fitting guest for this episode. This episode of Will & Grace & Vodka takes a closer look at season 1, episode 13 of Will & Grace, in which Debbie Reynolds guest-stars as Grace’s mother, Bobbi Adler. As ever, the podcast is full of trivia about the show, fun reenactments of iconic exchanges, fashion moments—and also vodka. This week, the crew is drinking vodka sodas (specifically Ciroc) with a squeeze of lime, per Kempf’s suggestion. Listening to the hosts delve into the various iconic bits from the episode is a lot of fun, especially as the friends riff off one another; but the highlight of the episode would have to be a story Kempf tells about actually meeting Debbie Reynolds as a young man when he and his mother attended one of her shows in Los Angeles, and his overall wealth of Reynolds knowledge enhances David and Carolyn’s play-by-play of this classic episode. [Jose Nateras]
The Satanic Panic
The title of this episode might be a touch misleading, as it is less about the McMartin preschool scandal and more about the toys that were said to be leading children down the dark path to devil worship throughout the ’80s. Host James Hancock is joined by film editor Paul Murphy of Screen Psychics as they reminisce about playing with Thundercats action figures and engaging in Dungeons & Dragons campaigns, and how those things didn’t put them in league with the dark arts. The basis for this episode is a clip from 1984 titled “Deception Of A Generation,” which features Christian fundamentalists Gary Greenwald and Phil Phillips really stretching to find satanic and anti-Christian messages in Rainbow Brite, Masters Of The Universe, and of course, the most evil of them all, The Smurfs. Both Hancock and Murphy are of the right age to have been tricked by the devil himself through the power of Hanna and Barbera into the Satan’s realm, but instead come off as a couple of nerds who just really enjoyed playing D&D with their friends. It’s a fun listen, particularly after viewing the video, and the demonstration of God’s power within. [Mike Vanderbilt]