It was a big year for podcasts. The breakout success of This American Life spinoff Serial finally gave the internet fodder to give a podcast the same kind of obsessive, episodic coverage as True Detective and create an institutionalized canon for the medium. Though it's still mostly known for public radio-style storytelling, comedy and longform interviews, there were a number of music themed podcasts that caught our attention this year. Some are full-time music podcasts, some are other podcasts that found interesting stories to tell about music, riff on new albums or delve deep into music criticism (or, in one case, meta-criticism). I tried to create an even balance in the list below. Even Serial makes the cut.
You can listen to most of the podcasts below. I've also provided links to the individual showpages, where you can download the podcasts, fill your iPhone, and kill some of those endless holiday commutes. Enjoy!
Turned Out A Punk, "Meredith Graves (Perfect Pussy)"
Anyone who's ever interviewed Fucked Up or watched The Wedge, (R.I.P.) knows Damian Abraham can talk. Podcasting is the perfect medium for him, and punk rock is his subject. That said, the premise - "talk to people from all walks of life with one thing in common: they all grew up listening to punk" - risks getting too deep into the rabbit hole of obscure record ephemera or "punk rock changed my life, man" personal mythology cliché. So it was absolutely crucial for Perfect Pussy's Meredith Graves to be an early guest. She doesn't take long to unearth the seeded gender discrimination that exists in the supposedly inclusive subculture. Or, really, any subculture. Essential listening.
Jesse Brown became well known this year for being the journalist to break the Jian Ghomeshi sexual abuse story, but he also made a splash in music writing circles for this interview with Carl Wilson, current writer for Slate and the author behind Let's Talk About Love, a breakthrough tome in the spread of "poptimist" music criticism. In this in-depth interview, he talks about how music criticism is becoming clickbait, why the job of "professional music writer" is going extinct, and how things have changed since he wrote his book. There's little scandal involved, unless you're scandalized by inside baseball media talk (which Jesse Brown is proving you should be), but it's illuminating nonetheless.
Serial, Whole Series
Yes, obviously, Serial isn't a music podcast. But it is one of the biggest podcasts of all time, and Nick Thorburn's now-iconic staccato piano theme song was one of the most ubiquitous pieces of music on the internet this year. 1.5 million people heard it every week when tuning in to learn about the series' central mystery (whether or not the Best Buy in Baltimore had a pay phone), and it turned up in countless mashups and memes. In a year when The Unicorns reunited, Thorburn's last-minute instrumental for a show he'd heard one episode of was improbably his biggest cultural contribution.
U Talkin U2 to Me?, "Songs of Innocence"
If there's one upside to U2's album release stunt/debacle that defined 2014 it's that it heralded new episodes of Scott Aukerman and Adam Scott's hilarious podcast, including this supersized catch-up sesh. Whether you like U2 or not (and, hey, if you hate them so much then why did you download their album?), you'll find much to enjoy in Scott and Scott's banter about free t-shirts and films (they love films), old sourpuss Brian Eno and, occasionally, U2. It's the only review of Songs of Innocence that matters.
Comedy Bang Bang, "DuALity"
Scott Aukerman was doing his usual push-any-non-sequitur-as-far-as-it-will-go hosting routine when he needled "Weird Al" Yankovic about when his new album comes out, going so far as to bet a free copy of the album on its release date. It turns out it was much closer than he could have guessed. But since Al wasn't yet in promotional mode he was free to follow the insane logic of Aukerman's mind, do some improvising with Paul F. Tompkins as Alan Thicke, and prove he's just as funny outside the rhythms of other people's songs. Maybe he should start his own podcast.
Song Exploder, "The Thermals"
Each episode of Song Exploder breaks down a song into its constituent parts to explain what makes it work. That might sound like poking a dead frog, but hearing the individual tracks of songs you may have heard thousands of times is both revelatory and uncanny. While it's fascinating to hear how intellectual collagists like The Books construct a song, this episode with Portland anthemists The Thermals demonstrates how even a super lo-fi two-minute punk tune has layers beneath the surface.
99% Invisible, "Longbox"
"R.E.M.’s Out of Time is the most politically significant album in the history of the United States. Because of its packaging." So begins this episode of 99% Invisible, which then spends 18 minutes justifying that dubious-sounding claim. Back in the '90s CDs came in cardboard packaging called longboxes (a huge material waste designed so record stores didn't have to replace their record racks). Noted environmentalists R.E.M. used them as the raw material for a petition to congress for voting reform, and that vote was indeed rocked. A fascinating story that's also a bit of a time capsule.
TLDR, "The Mystery of Childish Gambino"
Erstwhile Community actor Donald Glover is better known for his rap pseudonym Childish Gambino these days, a name that he famously got from from an online Wu-Tang name generator. But which one? There are two competing Wu-Tang name generators, and both spit out "Childish Gambino" when you type in "Donald Glover." So is Childish Gambino just Donald Glover's a priori hip-hop name? TLDR gets to the bottom of it, with more depth than you ever knew you wanted.
Kreative Kontrol, "Episode #100: Andrew Nathan Hood Interviews Me About Nathan Hood"
There seem to be hundreds of WTF-clone comedians-talking-to-comedians podcasts, but Vish Khanna's Kreative Kontrol is one of the few longform interview shows with musicians. For his 100th episode, he took another cue from Marc Maron and handed over the reins to another journalist to interview him. Andrew Nathan Hood's interview is ostensibly for a book he's working on about Jim Guthrie, but it delves deep into Khanna's connection to the Three Gut Records scene in Guelph, Ontario that hosted Constantines (hence why we interviewed Khanna for our own oral history), Feist, Royal City and more. It's a period of Canadian music that deserves that historical spotlight. So, hey, when's that book coming out?
The Arcade, "Perfume Genius"
When you hear "interview podcast" you usually assume rambling, freeform discussion. Not so for Hazlitt's show, hosted by Anshuman Iddamsetty. The Arcade is tightly edited and tastefully produced, which aren't always things you associate with the DIY-skewing medium. The show often has authors and literary types, but this one hosts Mike Hadreas a.k.a. Perfume Genius and interviews him the way one would interview a poet. Thoughtful, well-spoken musicians like Hadreas should get that kind of treatment more often.