seven podcasts you need to listen to
As a new series from the creators of 'Serial' arrives, here are our picks of the preeminent podcasts to listen to now.
Fresh from the creators of Serial and This American Life comes this seven-part longform focused on 'Shit Town,' Alabama. Brian Reed, the This American Life senior producer, spent the last three years putting the series together. The idea for the series was sparked by an email from antique clockmaker John B. McLemore requesting help in solving a murder. The subject line read, "John B McLemore lives in Shit Town, Alabama." Described on the S-Town site as "a nasty feud, a hunt for hidden treasure, and an unearthing of the mysteries of one man's life," S-Town, like its Serial predecessor, takes many a twist and turn. After hearing a preview last week on This American Life, we're already hooked. Available all at once — right now. Get ready to binge.
See also: Serial, if you're not one of the 250 million people who have already. Or My Favorite Murder if you are.
2. The Life Scientific
Whether you're fully au-fait with atoms or you get lost in the galaxy of gravity like the rest of us, Jim Al-Khalili's Radio 4 series dissecting science is a riveting listen. Each 30-minute episode focuses on the human beings behind some of science's greatest brains — from Alison Woollard's study of mutant worms to a chat about Pluto with superstar scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson. This is about why these minds felt compelled to seek out science in the first place, and how they continue to strive for answers against all odds. Everything from cuckoos to seaweed, space travel to the Big Bang, is covered in a way that manages to be fascinating. For a crash course on the talking points of modern science, The Life Scientific is a must listen.
See also: An irreverent look at the world, The Monkey Cage, is hosted by physicist posterboy Brian Cox and comedy sidekick Robin Ince.
3. Death, Sex, and Money
Doing exactly what it says on the tin, Anna Sale's show discusses the three big things in life without giving into cliché. With simple stories from (mostly) ordinary people, and additional contributions from listeners, part of the show's magic is Sale's interview technique. Empathetic and inquisitive, Sale gleans illuminating moments from each contributor, whether the actor Mahershala Ali or a man named Tony, who talks about the discovery that his daughter wasn't, in fact, his daughter. Other highlights include the actress Ellen Burstyn's conversation with Gloria Steinem, any time Dan Savage shows up, and Giulia Lukach's reflections on the effect of her mental-health issues on her marriage.
See also: If you haven't already, My Dad Wrote a Porno. Sex, yes. Death, not really. Money, some — who knew the pots and pans industry could be so lucrative? And so lascivious.
4. The Daily, from the New York Times
"This morning demands an explanation. This show is on a mission to find it. Only what you want to know, none of what you don't." This short and sharp podcast delivers a succinct takedown of the day's big story in (mostly) American politics. Host Michael Barbaro dissects the latest ridiculousness from the world of Trump. In just 20 minutes. No more, no less, and from a highly informed, without-prejudice perspective — whatever Donald might have you believe.
See also: Pod Bless America. Featuring thoughts from Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett, Dan Pfeiffer, and Tommy Vietor.
5. Song Exploder
A brilliant idea, fantastically executed. Each episode features a different musician deconstructing one of her own songs in front of host Hrishikesh Hirway. From writing the bridge to figuring out a drum pattern, Exploder has featured the musings of musicians from Bonobo to Björk, and soundtracks such as The Martian and Moonlight. Invariably fascinating, each episode manages to squeeze heart and soul from its subject, not to mention you, the listener.
See also: The Popcast. A panel on pop led by Jon Caramanica, this is a pretty intellectual take on the big matters in pop — from Drake's "playlist" to Obama's most powerful moments in music.
One for the writers among us. A weekly one-hour show that features intense discussion with non-fiction writers about how they write. One of the most memorable is Ariel Levy talking candidly about her heart-wrenching essay, Thanksgiving In Mongolia, but that's just one highlight — other insightful interviewees include Malcolm Gladwell, Tavi Gevinson, and Ta-Nehisi Coates. Stretching back to 2012, the website is ripe for the plundering as it also features the finest longform essays from each year — the very best of writing from the New York Times, Slate, the New Yorker, Atavist and the Washington Post.
See also: The Heart. Not related, actually, but recommended by the same person that put us onto Longform and whose taste in podcasts is impeccable. You had us at "Deliciously smutty feminist pieces".
7. Call Your Girlfriend
Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman are two best friends who are bright, smart, interesting, and interested. This bi-monthly podcast sees the pair deliberate the latest wahalla in popular culture — ranging from Obama to Beyoncé. Warm, witty, and hugely popular, Call Your Girlfriend is usually found hovering in the top two mark on iTunes.
See also: The Read. Kid Fury and Crissle's weekly-ish read on the week's latest wahalla in (mostly) American black culture is so sharp it leaves a mark.
Text Hattie Collins
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