We truly live in the era of mixed media. We have become omnivorous consumers of content, and even the most artistically narrow-minded of us will still dip their toes into unfamiliar creative waters once in a while. Films, novels and albums aren’t the only go-tos anymore; our world of content is expanding, collecting up TV, visual art, vlogs and podcasts.
Indeed, it’s the latter that has suddenly become the source of some of the contemporary art world’s exciting and groundbreaking work. Rather than just a way of idly passing the time, podcasts are now widely accepted as genre-bending forms of creative expression, capable of covering everything from true crime and murders to the fall of Ancient Rome. There’s just so much podcast content to consume, and the world of the art form is ever-expanding
Which, to be perfectly honest, can all get a bit fucking overwhelming. It’s hard to keep track of which new podcast is suddenly breaking out and becoming a viral phenomenon, and keeping up with the raft of exciting, gamechanging new work is an exercise in outright futility. Which is where we come in. Here, for your listening pleasure, are six podcasts you would be downright foolish to miss out on; challenging works to test and to reward you.
All Songs Considered
Are you a diehard music fan looking for a classy, expertly produced podcast that will introduce you to a swathe of new bands? Then look no further than NPR’s All Songs Considered. Hosted by the smooth-toned Bob Boilen, ASC combines live concert recordings, interviews with established acts, and a plethora of tunes provided by emerging bands hailing from the world over. If Boilen and his team aren’t covering an act, they probably aren’t worth checking out.
S-Town was a viral sensation when it first dropped last year, and for good reason. After all, the twisting, heartbreaking investigation into small town crime and greed didn’t get downloaded 10 million times in four days for nothing – it is audio storytelling at its most compelling, a highly bingeable story centred around reclusive polymath John B. McLemore.
Part detective story, part tender portrait of a misunderstood man, S-Town uses interviews with the tale’s real players and the eloquent narration of host Brian Reed to spin a yarn that is unforgettable in the truest sense of the word. S-Town will cling to you like a curse.
The Real Thing
There might be nothing more cringey than a podcast that promises to “search for the real Australia”, but The Real Thing does just that – and with subtlety and with skill. Indeed, rather than an unremittingly patriotic series of soapy stories, TRT is instead a surprisingly taut, genuinely compelling look at the kind of twisty, defiantly mundane quirks of life that will be familiar to any fans of This American Life. Oh, and it also happens to be funny as hell to boot.
My Favourite Murder
Back in 2015, comedians Karen Kilgarrif and Georgia Hardstark met at a Halloween party, instantly clicked, and spent the night pouring over a brutal car accident Kilgariff had recently witnessed. That set the tone for their ensuing friendship and for the podcast they host together, My Favourite Murder.
Uniting both comedy and horror, the alternately hysterical and galling show opens with the pair picking a true crime story to recount and messily goes from there, skimping on no detail, no matter how horrible. It’s bone-chilling stuff of course, but to their credit Kilgarrif and Hardstark somehow make the whole thing feel oddly optimistic and affirming. A bizarre show it may be, but it’s a brilliant one too.
Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History
Historical podcasts sometimes have the misfortune of being characterised as a little glib, or surface-level: they’re more likely to be considered intellectual appetisers than main meals. But if there’s any show to disprove that misnomer, it’s Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, which is to historical non-fiction as Guernica is to painting.
A sometimes bafflingly comprehensive look at key turning points in international history, most instalments of the show run to about three hours, and feature nothing but the soothing sounds of Carlin’s voice. But don’t let the sheer scale of the project put you off: Hardcore History might be time-consuming, but it is nothing if not involving, and dive into any one of the show’s dozens of episodes and you will find yourself wrapped up in some truly transformative real-world stories.
Comedy Bang! Bang!
In one of the rare cases where you really can judge a podcast by its name, Comedy Bang! Bang! is a bizarre, emphatically zany comedy show hosted by writer Scott Aukerman, the man behind some of the later seasons of Bob Odenkirk and David Cross’s groundbreaking sketch show Mr Show. Combining novelty tests of skill, deliberately inane interviews, turns from good natured celebrity guests and some good old-fashioned surrealism, Comedy Bang! Bang! is that rare thing: a true comedic innovation.