We spend every minute of the working day bringing you news, reviews and features on every aspect of technology. Like everyone else, though, we also use tech outside of work hours. Last month we launched a new series about the gadgets we use every day, the apps and services we can’t live without and what we watch and play.
This week, it’s time for music and podcasts. We start with a personal story from Dana Wollman on her on-again-off-again relationship with podcasts, before four other editors offer quick takes on the music and shows they’ve been obsessing over this month.
The first time I tried to get into podcasts, it was to impress a guy. He loved podcasts, so I was going to love them too. Looking back, my early collection mostly amounted to NPR’s greatest hits, with a few other public radio standards thrown in. Think: Planet Money, Marketplace, Radiolab, This American Life. Generally speaking, it was basic stuff, with a heavy dose of pundits engaged in rambling conversation.
Being the purist I am, I made myself back-listen to older episodes that had piled up, even news programs like NPR Politics that, by definition, had a limited shelf life. It didn’t help that I had a tendency to listen precisely when my concentration was at its most impaired. Pro tip: If you’re riding the train home drunk from Brooklyn to Harlem at 2AM on a Sunday morning, Ira Glass’s voice isn’t the best pick-me-up.
Soon enough, I burned out. I went on to date men who were indifferent to podcasts, and I ignored all of you as you grew obsessed with Serial. I continued to appear as guest on various programs — including Engadget’s own! — but never subscribed to any myself.
When I finally did give podcasts another try, it was also because of a guy — one who I didn’t want to think about any more.
Incidentally, when I finally did give podcasts another try, it was also because of a guy — one I didn’t want to think about anymore. I had to get out of my head, away from my tired Spotify playlists and daydreams of running into him on the street.
This time around, I started with S-Town from the team behind Serial and This American Life, which launched to critical acclaim about a month before my current podcast kick. Despite those accolades, I somehow loved it even more than I expected. No longer was I nodding off on the train, losing 10-, 15-, 20-minute chunks. I was listening intently, on my commute to work, and then home again. When I walked through my door, the episode continued, on my phone or laptop speaker.
This was aural literature and, indeed, I was as reluctant to finish it as I would have been a great novel. I wanted to talk to people about the storytelling, the narrative arc, the ethical problems with delving into the life of a man who never consented to be profiled, per se. I even tried to get my dad (a book lover in his own right) to give podcasts, and S-Town in particular, a try. Who was I?
The truth is, I like my brain better on podcasts. I’m learning, I’m thinking critically and I’m not ruminating — or if I am, it’s nowadays usually not about myself. In my case, podcasts have distracted me from disappointment and sadness. But I’ve heard various friends say the same, including people with obsessive-compulsive disorder, and others still who would otherwise find their workweek dull and repetitive.
In addition to S-Town, I’ve binge-listened to Codebreaker, The Leap and Still Processing, along with the first season of Serial. You guys were right: It’s pretty good. For politics, my current diet includes Pod Save America, Lovett or Leave It and the occasional Pod Save the People, with a tolerable amount of overlap there. My Dad Wrote a Porno is the only podcast that can make me laugh out loud on the subway, though I’ve also been enjoying 2 Dope Queens, a standup-comedy roundup hosted by Jessica Williams ofThe Daily Show fame.
Not everything I’ve tried has stuck. I feel like the only human on the planet who doesn’t find Jordan, Jesse, Go! funny. I listened to Missing Richard Simmons with interest but ultimately found it ethically suspect, with one interview, in particular, amounting to a character assassination. I also gave The Human Race from Runner’s World, Girl Friday and New York Magazine‘s Sex Lives a try, but haven’t yet committed to any of them.
I did also give news podcasts another shot, by the way. The Daily from the The New York Times is a 20-minute morning podcast in which host Michael Barbaro interviews two or so Times reporters about whatever big story they broke the afternoon or evening before. I’ve been enjoying the concise length, the added insight and, in particular, the behind-the-scenes element of hearing journalists discuss their work. Even so, listening to The Daily still sometimes feels like eating my vegetables before I can proceed to dessert (in this case, true crime stories and tales of dating schadenfreude). Maybe news podcasts really aren’t my jam.
My Favorite Murder
Like many women across the world, my life is tinged with the subtle yet constant anxiety that, one day, when I least expect it, I’m going to be raped and murdered. On top of this anxiety — or perhaps because of it — I’ve sustained a lifelong obsession with the macabre mental processes of serial killers. How do they choose their victims? Why do they do such horrific things? Would I be able to spot a murderous sociopath at the bar? Would he be able to spot me?
My Favorite Murder doesn’t answer all of these questions, but it scratches all of my most morbid itches. It’s hosted by two hilarious women, Georgia Hardstark (Drunk History) and Karen Kilgariff (Mr. Show), who manage to infuse the most disturbing descriptions of brutality with sarcasm, wit and warmth. My Favorite Murder is a podcast about the violent death of innocence, but it feels more like a slumber party at Rory and Lorelai Gilmore’s house.
True crime has been hot since Serial and Making a Murderer burst onto the scene, and there’s no shortage of podcasts covering crazed killers. But My Favorite Murder occupies a unique space within the genre. Consider The Last Podcast on the Left: It’s a fantastic show that happens to be hosted by a group of dudes who often dive into murders from the perspective of the killers, using words like “prostitute” to describe female victims without pause. My Favorite Murder tends to focus just as much attention on the killers and the victims, often with an undertone of, “That could have been any of us.” This is usually followed by a joke about the dangers of men with briefcases, of course.
My Favorite Murder has spawned a litany of fan-favorite lines, including “Fuck politeness,” “You’re in a cult. Call your dad,” and “Stay out of the forest.” But, the show’s sign-off offers a perfect summary of its place in the true-crime podcasting universe: “Stay sexy and don’t get murdered.”
Reviews Editor, Engadget UK
I swear by my Spotify Discover playlist, but first thing on a Monday morning, my brain typically relegates it to white noise. On this initial playthrough, it’s rare a track stands out enough to steal my attention away from stimulants and Twitter. One recent such song, however, was “Vireo’s Eye” by Future Islands; thus started a several weeklong binge of the band’s back catalog.
The dominant bassline and muffled, repeating vocals of “Vireo’s Eye” gave me serious Cure vibes, leading me to believe Future Islands were an ’80s group that had somehow passed me by. I was surprised to see, then, that the synthpop act — Wikipedia’s description, not mine (I’m useless at genre determination) — had released a new album just a few weeks before my fortuitous discovery.
Turns out that Future Islands have only been around for the past decade, but the influence of late-20th-century rock and pop is palpable throughout their music. And that is very much my jam — or one of them, at least. For a time, the five albums available on Spotify were even upgraded to offline download status, which is quite the honor considering storage space on my 16GB iPhone is at a premium.
Not all of Future Islands’ tracks are quite as anthemic as “Vireo’s Eye,” which is the perfect introduction to their signature sound of slightly OTT vocals, commanding bass guitar, melancholic undertones and healthy doses of synth. It’s variety within the band’s catalog that’s kept me coming back, though. “Walking Through That Door” and “Long Flight” are relatively high-intensity, whereas “The Great Fire” and “Where I Found You” sound like tracks pulled from Donnie Darko‘s slow-dance playlist. Then there’s the aching vocals on “Beach Foam,” which make it one of my favorites.
A friend tells me that vocalist Samuel Herring is even more charismatic live than he sounds on studio recordings, so I’ll most definitely be catching a Future Islands gig the next time the opportunity presents itself.
The Handsome Rambler
Timothy J. Seppala
Hannibal Burress isn’t the only comedian with a podcast, but he’s the only one I listen to. In fact, The Handsome Rambler is the only podcast I listen to, period. Like my boss Dana, I took an extended break from podcasts, but my reasoning was I got tired of listening to video game shows and not having a commute means my time for listening was basically nonexistent. And when I’m home, I’d rather listen to music than talking heads or my TV. After switching over from night shift recently, though, I started walking a few miles a day for exercise and needed a soundtrack for my jaunts — something to completely zone out to and take my mind off from work and current events. At the recommendation of my coworker Richard Lawler, I gave Rambler a spin.
I’m a stand-up comedy nerd and have devoured almost everything Burress has put out in the past few years. I even saw him play in Michigan last fall. I’m not sure what I was expecting out of Rambler but what’s there never fails to make me smile. The show isn’t him just testing out new material or talking solo into a mic for an hour. More often than not, it’s just Burress having a conversation with his friend and touring companion Tony Trim about everything from the Airbnb reviews they’ve gotten, life on the road and the different “energies” everyone gives off.
The best parts, though, are the commercials. A running joke is that once he finishes his comedy career, he’s going to become a rapper and producer. He doesn’t have a record contract, so commercials for MeUndies, Seat Geek and Squarespace are his outlet. They’re absurd in the best way possible, usually freestyle rapped over a beat from Trim. There’s no real way to do them justice by describing them, though, but know that Autotune and a Moog Theremini appear in the most random places at the most random times. Listen to the SoundCloud embed above to hear what I’m talking about.
Lofi Hip Hop Radio
Associate Editor, Engadget UK
At the peak of Vine’s popularity, I was obsessed with a six-second subgenre that blended classic anime moments with relaxing, jazz-infused beats. I’ve seen the terms “vaporwave” and “chillwave” attached to the movement, but honestly, I have no idea if they’re accurate — music categorization isn’t my forte. What I can confirm is their sumptuous tone and considered, note-perfect editing. Studio Ghibli films were a popular choice, no doubt because of their slow, melancholic tone. Cowboy Bebop, Akira and Neon Genesis Evangelion would crop up too, slowly stretching the genre and the people that stumbled upon it.
Vine’s collapse left a Spike Spiegel-shaped hole in my heart. Thankfully, a similar community has popped up on YouTube. Channels like AnimeVibe and Lophee are posting the same sort of music in full, but with anime stills or fanart in the background. The thoughtful editing is gone, and while that’s a shame, I can still appreciate the music and nostalgic anime callbacks. My favorite upload, however, is a 24-hour livestream managed by “ChilledCow.” It’s a nonstop playlist of lo-fi hip hop that is constantly updated with new tracks from up-and-coming beat-makers. For a writer like me, it’s the perfect office soundtrack.
The legality of such a setup is unclear. From what I can tell, ChilledCow has (or at least seeks) permission from all of the artists he or she streams. YouTube, however, was never designed to support internet radio, and I have a hunch this playlist breaks some service terms somewhere. Regardless, it’s a hypnotic, serene and lovingly crafted playlist that never fails to brighten my mood. The looping GIF ripped straight from Studio Ghibli’s Whisper of the Heart. The live chat box that slowly scrolls by as new listeners voice their appreciation. It’s a weird but wonderful corner of the internet — one that I hope keeps streaming for many months to come.
“IRL” is a recurring column in which the Engadget staff run down what they’re buying, using, playing and streaming.