It’s never been a better time for podcasts. Better production value and hosts with voices like grassfed butter have transformed storytelling for our modern devices and lifestyles.
You can find lists on lists of top podcast recommendations. And I mean to get into them all – as much as I mean to start listening to Serial. One day. In reality, however, our time is increasingly limited, and not every single episode of a particular podcast hits home. Sometimes, instead of delving into endless archive hell, you just need to know exactly where to start.
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Here’s a shortlist of what I’ve been listening to, and why you should download them right now.
1. Dark and Story Night
Episode: The Secret History of Thoughts
Podcast: Invisibilia Podcast
Length: 60 minutes
Best For: Listening together during a moody evening
The premiere episode from NPR’s newest kid on the block is a stunner. I’ve gotten a bit tired of all of those slightly geeky male voices – they’re great, but a lot of them sound pretty similar to me. Co-hosts Lulu Miller and Alix Spiegel are brilliant in their way of getting out of the way, instead of relying on witticisms and nasal-y accents to draw you out of the spell.
The first part, Dark Thoughts, is an interesting exploration on forbidden thoughts that we generally don’t talk about. But it’s the second that you need to stick around for: Locked-In Man. It’s a story that I haven’t heard told in the same way before, and is a riveting and haunting tale of solitude – but not one that sounds overproduced or forced. It’s a strong start for Invisibilia, and I’ve got high hopes to see where they’ll go next. (But to be perfectly honest, the second episode, Fearless, hasn’t grabbed me in the same way)
2. Better Than Caffeine Wakeup
Episode: The Price of Lettuce in Brooklyn
Podcast: Planet Money
Length: 17 minutes
Best For: Short morning commutes
Planet Money is one of those podcasts that has gone a bit all over the place – some episodes are good, others are… a bit boring. Here’s one of their recent bits that reminds me why I used to look forward to every minute. Planet Money shines when they’re exploring a topic that I’ve never thought about, and trailing an official on his day job is brilliant.
3. OMG LOL XOXO: Shut The H*ll Up
Episode: Hey Ladies
Length: 15 minutes
Best For: Waiting for friends to show up (late)
Ladies, your days of ‘reply all’ to event planning group emails are numbered. This snappy little live-read is hilarious because it’s 100% accurate. I’ve been in these endless conversation loops before, and I dread them. Here’s a slice of life depiction of how mind-numbing, mindless, and absolutely pointless certain aspects of our ‘modern’ life really are.
Episode: Michael Enright
Length: 25 minutes
Best For: After work commutes when you’re trying not to fall asleep
So, Canadaland. This is one of the extremes, and the controversy is well-deserved. After breaking the Jian Ghomeshi scandal along with the Toronto Star, the podcast has ballooned in popularity and reach. It’s got a loyal Patreon following that ensures the podcast gets made for a long time coming. It’s also one of the most unbalanced podcasts I’ve ever followed – good stories one moment, too little editing the next. If you like this, it’s because you like the host. If you don’t… well, likewise.
Still, nothing beats out Canadaland’s inaugural episode, where veteran CBC broadcaster Michael Enright runs circles around host Jesse Brown. I wish people with public personas had more opportunities to show off their personalities in this way – they’d be much more interesting to us as Canadians. It’s the kind of sparring, give-and-take debate that I wish existed successfully in more podcasts – not just people talking over each other to be heard, as is usually the case.
5. Don’t Leave on a Jet Plane
Episode: Greyhound 100
Podcast: BBC Documentaries
Length: 30 minutes
Best For: Weekends, or the West Coast Express
Not all documentaries translate easily to audio format, especially when you’re dealing with a noisy commute. BBC’s British accents are quieter as well, which can make them harder to hear if there’s background noise. Greyhound 100 successfully made the jump, in a large part because it so mirrors what most of us experience on a daily basis, albeit in a limited basis. The interviews are memorable, and not all of them tie up neatly in a bow. “The young, the poor, and the down of heel” – that’s who travels on Greyhounds these days. And their stories are fascinating. Plus, British accents make everything better.
So that’s what I found fascinating this week. What about you? What single podcast episodes have stuck with you lately?
Feature Image: Beautiful girl with headphones / Pandorabox