Music podcasts hit the right note
Keeping in mind that quality in the genre varies wildly, JOHN MEAGHER rounds up the 10 best music podcasts
After crude beginnings, podcasts have become an essential part of the day for many of us but, until now, music podcasts have lagged behind those amazingly absorbing crime ones like Serial, S Town and Dirty John, or peerless longform politics series like Slow Burn, which first tackled Watergate, and is now exhaustively looking at the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal.
There are innumerable music podcasts out there, but the quality varies wildly and the US is where it’s at when it comes to the best in class.
The following 10 are well worth exploring — you’ll learn a lot about new music and plenty more about the songs and albums you already know and love, and all will make the daily commute that bit more interesting.
There’s no better place to get into a great music podcast than these very digestible 20-minute programmes taking a look at a particular song. The beauty of it is that it’s the artists themselves who takes presenter Hrishikesh Hirway though the composition— talking about everything from its conception and inspiration to music and words and on to the recording. One of the best episodes sees St Vincent talk about ‘New York’, while any U2 obsessives out there will be intrigued to hear Bono and the Edge talk about ‘Cedarwood Road’, the song named after the street that the frontman grew up in.
I touched on this marvellous podcast when writing about dealing with ‘musical paralysis’ a few weeks back and it’s especially appealing to those of us who love the long-form standard of true-crime shows like Serial. Here, it’s applied to albums, Kanye West’s epic My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The third season looks at Frank Ocean’s Blonde and, as before, the album is explored in the most trainspotterish detail: each episode is roughly 30 to 40 minutes per track and manages to be both erudite and fun.
The New York Times may have been in Donald Trump’s crosshairs ever since entering the Oval Office, but America’s ‘newspaper of record’ has long been a byword for great journalism and superb arts criticism. If their coverage of the music is sometimes a little stuffy, there’s none of that in this lively topical podcast, which centres on the week’s big album releases and events. Sure, much of it is US-oriented, but host Jon Caramanica and guests are always engaging. Last week’s, on the legacy of the late Aretha Franklin, is captivating.
Country music is a source of endless fascination once you dive in, and this podcast is really strong on some of the genre’s most fascinating artists. Musician Tyler Mahan Coe is steeped in the industry — he’s the son of veteran country star David Allen Coe — and he finds intrigue in conflict and controversy. He looks at Loretta Lynn’s recording of ‘The Pill’ and the inspiration behind Merle Haggard’s ‘Okie from Muskogee’. The 14-episode first season offers a wonderfully sideways take on the history of country and Coe’s storytelling is so strong that the 90-minute episodes fly by quickly.
Only launched in May, this entertaining podcast by the US arts and culture website, The Ringer, offers an irreverent view of the latest pop and rock releases. You can glean something of the tone from the episode titles — ‘How much is too much Drake?’ being a case in point — but there’s much knowledge and insight among the contributors too.
NPR — National Public Radio — has There’s more than music covered, but
— which just released its 110th episode — is an engaging podcast presented by Dave Hanratty and created by Headstuff. A series of No Encore podcasts, dubbed The Revisit, take a look back to a specific year in Irish music.
Niall Byrne needs little introduction to anyone interested in new Irish music — and new music, full stop — and the DJ-blogger-journalist’s podcast takes a look at music news and happenings at home and abroad. Andrea Cleary co-hosts.
It’s just started, but Roisin Murphy’s
sounds promising. The brain child of a beer company, the Moloko singer will interview a different artist over six episodes and the first one features Groove Armada in conversation. long been a key resource for lovers of US indie and before Internet 2.0 it was likely the place that fans heard Animal Collective and Grizzly Bear for the first time. This podcast has been running a long time — since 2005 — and centres around discussion of the best new music.
There are serious podcasts out there for lovers of rock, jazz and classical, but pure pop is less well served. One of the most illuminating is this podcast, hosted by musicologist Nate Sloan and songwriter Charlie Harding and run by the US-based Slate Media. “We break down pop songs to figure out what makes a hit and what is its place in culture,” goes the blurb. “We help listeners find ‘a-ha’ moments in the music.” And a bit of a-ha too, no doubt. The beauty of Switched on Pop is the entertaining way Sloan and Harding go about their work.
If you’re a music fan hooked on all those true-life crime podcasts — and West Cork, in case you haven’t heard it, is a masterful true-life podcast close to home — you’ll want to listen to Disgraceland. Billed as a series looking at “musicians getting away with murder”, it zeroes in on some of the most notorious moments in music history — including Jerry Lee Lewis, aka ‘The Killer’, and the mysterious death of his fifth wife — and the strange case of a Norwegian black metal band and a murder conviction.
Chris Molanphy is a pop writer on the online culture magazine The Slate and his entertaining and informative podcast takes a look at all aspects of pop history. He focuses on trends and looks at their starting points and developments. After the Grammys this year, Molanphy examined the ubiquity of rap in the charts and looked at how the genre only started to become mainstream when Aerosmith went into a studio with Run DMC in 1986. You may know the story, but this podcast fills in all the details.
Something of a loose canon but a cool idea nonetheless, this podcast pairs musicians, artists, filmmakers and actors in conversations about their work. The episodes typically focus on music, but there’s discussion on film and art too. They artist-on-artist conversations are unmoderated and guests have included the National’s Matt Berninger and saxophonist extraordinaire, Kamasi Washington.
‘Musicians getting away with murder’: Jerry Lee Lewis and the mysterious death of his fifth wife feature in Disgraceland