You know those lists you get in December? The Best Whatever of Whenever. I always think ‘yeah I should do one of those about podcasts’ but can never remember anything that happened before October.
So this year I’m going to be a bit more on top of things.
Note – It’s likely that some episodes were actually released in previous years. The only rule is that I listened to it in 2017. The second rule is that I can make up more rules whenever I want, even if that means inventing multiple new rules within the same paragraph.
Radiolab: Lose Lose
The point of sport is to win. But sometimes it’s strategically or socially better to lose (e.g. letting your girlfriend win at arm wrestling as a lead-in to some sexy time). I once watched some so-called ‘elite level tennis’ with two Spanish players ‘competing’. The stronger player had already got through to the next round and if he lost, his countryman and best friend would get through too. It was super tedious since I knew what they were up to. And guess what? The best player won in the end. Which didn’t fit my conspiracy theory narrative at all.
But this Radiolab episode is the true story of some shenanigans at the London Olympics. The twist – both teams wanted to lose.
Featuring Radiolab’s trademark over-production, mellifluous voices, and superbly constructed story, this was a super start to podcasts in 2017.
James Bond Radio: You Only Live Splice
The JBR guys have taken it up a notch since I reviewed the best James Bond podcasts. They’ve got a musician (Warren Ringham) helping them with episodes about the James Bond theme music (much more interesting than you’d expect – there was a bitter court case about it) and the one about the James Bond trumpeter was a good listen.
But today’s episode was from their other new recruit, audio/film editor Dan Gale. He did one about the James Bond audiobooks that was fairly incredible – he spliced himself into some bits of the audiobooks – really funny and clever. This latest thing was the same but with video, which I imagine is 200 times more time-consuming. It was his tribute to John Glen, who edited and directed a bunch of Bond films.
Now, I despise video-format podcasts. They’re like 6 times bigger than audio-only files, and if you’ve got limited space on your phone or a limited data plan, you’re not going to want too many video podcasts coming down your pipes. Also, I listen to podcasts while doing other things – I can’t play Skyrim while watching a video. But as a one-off I’ll give this one a pass. It’s about film editing, after all, and how better to show that than by… showing that.
Long story short, it’s outstanding and funny but not really a podcast, so head over to their website and watch it there. You’ll be hooked within the first couple of minutes.
Special mention goes to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, episode 59 about the history of nuclear weapons.
This month I was on a bit of a history tear for my ‘Best History Podcasts’ article.
History Hit: Why Do Empires Build Walls?
Timely. Relevant. Fascinating. Dr Adrián Maldonado from the University of Glasgow explains how walls are built by weak, crumbling empires.
The Land of Desire: The Three Alexandres
A 4-part series telling the adventures of 3 generations of dudes all called Alexandre Dumas. I knew the one who wrote The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers, but the best episode was probably the one about the invincible cavalry officer spreading fear into the heart of every Austrian.
I spent countless hours listening to pods about the soap opera for men known as Arsenal Football Club, and catching up with The Greatest Generation’s backlog of Star Trek episodes. Love those nutjobs!
The Beef and Dairy Network: The Church Of Eli
This one provoked various emotions. 1) The emotion of lolz. 2) Beef pangs. 3) Craving to be part of a cult again.
It’s a really layered podcast, with slabs of world-building being laid down on one another like thin cuts of beef in an all-beef beef lasagna. For that reason I suggest you go back to the start and work your way through previous episodes, since the Church of Eli features the continuation of two previous story arcs.
So what tickled me? In the first 90 seconds alone:
- Bovine pacification lozenge
- “Stay tuned for the beef forecast”
- “He took the rare step of burning the premises to the ground, an action which cemented him as one of the most exciting young cases officers working at the [Food Standards] Agency.”
And most of all, everything to do with ‘Mosquito Mayhem’.
To ensure a steady stream of this podcast, I signed up to the Maximum Fun ‘Drive’ to pledge my eternal loyalty to beef – the first money I have ever knowingly given to a podcast.
HDTGM: #161 The Fate of the Furious
I am not the target audience for the Fast and Furious films. Not really into cars or macho challenges, and I rarely mumble things like ‘It’s all about family’. But the guys from How Did This Get Made are obsessed with the franchise. As far as I can remember, these are the only new movies that they review – their typical material is from the 80s and 90s.
So I was only half-listening as they began gently poking fun at the movie’s ludicrous plot and unlikely alliances. But my attention was increasingly drawn to the audio as the hosts’ enthusiasm for the movie they’d just watched seeped into me. They said Vin Diesel did proper acting and electrified the screen! They said the partnership between The Rock and Jason Statham was destined to be a legendary combo in cinema history! And the action scenes they described BLEW MY TINY MIND even though I only heard what goes on.
This episode did a rare thing – it made me excited to break my daily routine and go and do something.
This article about the best podcasts for cat lovers had a surprise in at number 2. Purrcast is simply a short recording of a cat purring. A different cat every time and it’s all in a good cause. Hearing the purrs brought a big Cheshire Cat grin to my face.
My Day Wrote a Porno: S2E14 Texas, USA
Possibly the single greatest moment in podcasting history is the cliffhanger at the end of this episode. The podcast as a whole is EXTREMELY funny and you should listen to it from the start. (I listened to series 1 on my own, and then went back to the start and listened with my girlfriend. She normally hates cringey humour but is a huge fan of this and remembers all the past characters etc.)
I won’t go into the cliffhanger itself – I’ll just raise a glass to the hosts. The narrator’s American accents are wonderful (in their way) and the co-hosts’ reaction to the cliffhanger are perfect.
The next episode and the revelations that come in it are equally amazing, though I had some aches from cringing too hard.
Roll on the next series!
The Beef and Dairy Network: Wendy Axminster
There’s a real danger of this list becoming overly beef-heavy, but oh, lordy! I had tears streaming down my face listening to this. A joyful experience.
Revisionist History: A Good Walk Spoiled
I do love me some Malcolm Gladwell, and he’s always trying to craft a story and hook you and keep you interested. It doesn’t always work but I’m just not all that interested in a lot of his topics. But that’s where he’s great – some of those ‘who gives a shit?’ themes of his turn out to be the most fascinating.
This first episode of Season Two (weirdly sponsored by Chanel – what happened to Squarespace and Blue Apron’s monopoly on ALL AUDIO ADVERTS EVERYWHERE?) was about golf and how it distorts society in weird ways. It confirms my dislike for Los Angeles which has one piece of green space – an exclusive golf club that YOU can’t visit and is subsidised by the taxpayer.
Also, if you are on a ship and during your voyage you replace every piece of wood, is it still the same ship?
Thought-provoking and super-high quality. Yass Malcolm.
(Just did some extra research and the golf community hates this episode.)
James Bond Radio: The Loving Delights
I’m sure there’s a whole bunch of podcasts that are designed to act as a commentary track for a show or movie, but this was the first one I’d ever come across. Interesting concept but that’s not why it’s here. It gets on the list because it’s an episode from Dan Gale (who did You Only Live Splice in January). It’s his homage to the Bond movie The Living Daylights and takes the form of a 17,000 word lecture timed to reflect what’s happening on the screen (assuming you have the movie on while listening, which I didn’t).
Gale has a great voice – he’s very calm and soft-spoken, but very funny. I seriously listened to this about 4 times in 2 days. The rest of the James Bond Radio lineup is great and I listen to everything they put out but Gale is like Cadbury’s mini-eggs. Sure, you only get it once a year but you devour it when it’s on the shelf. [Note to self, improve on this simile as a matter of urgency.]
or iTunes Link
How Did This Get Made? – Timecop LIVE
I love me some HDTGM and this was a great episode. I think it was because they recorded it in Austin, Texas in front of some super fans and the energy in the room was electric. The shows from Largo in LA are good, but LA has to be the worst city in America and the audience is half composed of aspiring actors and people trying to get noticed. Boo, LA! The guys in Texas seem amazing and they’ve restored my faith in America. Until the next Presidential tweet, anyway.
By the way, Timecop is great material for a movie discussion. Probably a good starter episode if you’ve never heard this podcast before – if you love this there’s a large back catalogue you’ll enjoy.
Was that video taken down? Please let me know in the comments, then try this attractive iTunes Link
James Bonding – Park, Theme Park
The two Matts are joined by Paul Scheer (see How Did This Get Made, above) and they design a James Bond theme park together over the course of 1 hour and 21 minutes. Soooooo great. If you like Bond, theme parks, Paul Scheer, or just unfettered creativity, give this episode a chance.
How I Built This – The Chipmunks
This is one of the easiest-to-listen business podcasts you’ll find. It tells the story of how huge businesses were created, from humble origins and countless rejections to billion-dollar turnover, fame, and glory.
Which is why I was confounded to see The Chipmunks pop up in the feed. Wait, what? But apparently those squeaky little guys are a huge deal! Listen for yourself. It’s a cute story about the power of perseverance, with just enough skulduggery to keep you on your toes, and what seems like a happy ending.
The /Filmcast – Mother!
Prnounced ‘the slash film cast’, this is a pretty decent movie podcast hosted by Dave Chen who also does one of the better Game of Thrones pods.
In this episode they tackle the movie Mother! It’s a film that has divided people into two camps. People who hate every second and walk out of the theatre, or people who think it’s genius. As you might expect, it makes for a good discussion!
Spoilers abound, so only listen if, like me, you have no intention of watching it. (Note, they are good about labeling spoilers – they normally have a spoiler-free review followed by more in-depth analysis for people who have seen the movies.)
Well, Apple finally did it. They made the Podcast app so unusable that I had to buy an alternative. I went with Castro and I’m very happy with it. So far the only downside is that it doesn’t show the video for video podcasts, but people shouldn’t make video podcasts anyway so that’s not even a gripe. The interface, the thought that’s gone into it – this little company run by three Irishmen have made a better product than the 300 clowns at Cupertino (unless they were actually tasked with destroying the podcast ecosystem, in which case ‘good job!’).
James Bonding – James Bond by the Numbers
You’d think I’m a huge James Bond nutjob, but I’m really not. There’s just something fascinating about Bond fans discussing who the best Bond is, or rating the henchmen, or ranking the theme songs.
The Matts from the excellent James Bonding podcast have apparently signed a deal to produce one episode a week, so they’re filling them with mad filler material like ‘who’s the best henchman?’ and ‘what’s the best villain’s plot?’ Except it isn’t filler – it’s hugely entertaining and easy to listen to.
In this episode, the Matts grabbed a guy from the 538.com website (which analyses data to make predictions about elections and sports) and he crunched the numbers on various aspects of the Bond movies. Fun.
The New Yorker Politics and More – Any Episode
So after the trauma of Dump winning the election, I tuned out of political podcasts for a good long while. Setting up the Castro app I noticed the New Yorker podcast and remembered that I used to listen a lot. How refreshing it is to hear Americans talk about politics in such an educated way! How calmly they discuss the most OUTRAGEOUS corruption, lies, and stupidity! They’re so educated and wise and good. They are the best of us! These guys give me hope for the future, and that’s in short supply these days.
The Dollop – Episodes 300A and 300B: Donald Trump
The Dollop is an American History Podcast. Every week, Dave Anthony reads a story to his friend, Gareth Reynolds, who has no idea what the topic is going to be about.
The start of this was one of the most infuriating ten minutes of my year, and I’m very easily irritated so there’s a lot of competition. 7.5 minutes of adverts made longer by some really unfunny bantz (badinage for our American readers) followed by some eye-grating nonsense. Raaaaage.
The hosts are two comedians, Dave and Gareth, though I’m not a big enough fan of the show to go back and find out anything else about them.
If you feel like I didn’t enjoy it too much… you’re half right. But it’s not that November was a bad month for podcasts and there was nothing else to include. This was legitimately memorable.
It came very highly recommended by a dude on Reddit so I stuck with it through the horrible first ten minutes, and I have to say the next couple of hours have stuck in my head. In the show, Dave takes the other host, Gareth, through the life of Donald Trump. I suppose in a normal episode Gareth responds with witty comments and whatnot. This time, Gareth – a comedian, remember – is left speechless by the corruption, filth, and hypocrisy.
When he does find his voice, he tries to be on the side of Trump, explaining away the mob ties, the incompetence (bankrupting two casinos), non-payment of workers (and the ruination of various small businesses), the epic scam that was Trump University etc etc. That dynamic actually adds a really fun element to the show, because his defense is so obviously ironic. He says things like ‘Well, it’s HARD to make money running a casino!’
But Dave just hits him over the head, time and again, with an endless stream of Trump facts, ghastly anecdotes, disturbing comments about his own daughter, details of lawsuits that any decent human would be ashamed of and which in a functional society would disqualify someone from being in the public eye, let alone in the political sphere, etc etc. There’s one point in the podcast where they both burst out laughing because their sound engineer just put his head in his hands after hearing the latest ‘what Trump did’.
But it’s a sad laughter.
Skip the first ten minutes, but don’t listen while driving or chopping vegetables – you WILL be brought to boiling point.
Listened to loads of fun stuff but nothing that really stands out. I love the James Bond Radio Boxing Day Quiz, and went on a huge relisten of old How Did This Get Mades. I tried a couple of new podcasts but nothing stuck.
Final thoughts – looking back on this article I really do remember all the episodes I wrote about. They’re good stuff – go and check them out if you’re looking for something new!