2017 is brand new and we have squared our shoulders for it. But just like every other year, the past isn't going anywhere.
This week: podcasts about repercussions, renewal, and the persistent echoes of history.
Your devoted friends,
Sam Sabin never knew her dad. He left her family when she and her brother were little. She did know that he was Native American, but it wasn't until she read his obituary that she learned he was a member of the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe. There were other mysteries, too - like why the date of his marriage, posted publicly on Facebook, clashed with the dates she knew he was with her mother. Now a recent journalism graduate, and a 2016 AIR Media New Voices Scholar, Sabin has set out to uncover who her father really was. Her quest will take her across the country, to her family's ancestral places, and into the secret past. It's dynamite material, put to work by a talented voice, and though it's not a perfect production - prone, at times, to a kind of narrative naivety - that's also what makes the show feel new. In the tradition of Not By Accident and First Day Back, it is radically vulnerable; it is trying to reach us; and it's a story bigger in every direction than its parts. We think it'll be an indie darling in 2017. Certainly we'll be listening.
Gateway episodes: 01 Pilot (12 Dec 2016)
Pod Save America, "Repeal and Go F*ck Yourself"
We thought we were done with podcasts about US politics, but turns out they're not done with us. The former Obama staffers behind our favourite 2016 election companion, Keepin' it 1600, have broken from Bill Simmons' network to launch their own independent show, Pod Save America. In the lead-up to 8th November, our hosts were certain about the likelihood of a Clinton victory. (If we never again listen to their post-election episode - a document of baffled and humiliated apology - it will be too soon.) But they have rallied in this new venture, which sees them deploy their needling wit and righteous indignation in service of reporting and resistance. Twice-weekly episodes will offer the same insider analysis that made 1600 essential, as the show covers headline news, speculates about the future, and interviews key players in politics, activism and media. In this inaugural episode, they've landed the founders of the forthcoming Women's March On Washington.
From: Crooked Media
Released: 10th Jan 2017
For some light relief from global politics, try this paranoid view from the underside of the World Wide Web. In each 15- to 20-minute episode of Hacked, Jordan Bloemen probes his friend and computer security expert Scott Francis Winder about our eminently hackable world, and all the big and little ways we expose ourselves online. Whether the subject is rogue USBs, the perils of open wi-fi, or our crappy passwords, there is a thrill of complicity in the act of listening; we feel ourselves to have been inducted in the secrets of a creepy little club. The appeal of this premise is so evident, in fact, that the show has been optioned for television. Episodes are released with cruel indifference to any schedule, so binge the seven available episodes now, and don't hold your breath for the next one.
Gateway episodes: Episode 2: Honeypots, Evil Twins, and the Perils of Open WiFi (28 Oct 2015) / Episode 3: The Problem with Passwords (2 Dec 2015) / Special: Hacking an Election (8 Nov 2016)
In Your Dreams
We were surprised by the inspired weirdness at work in this Casper-mattress-branded production (maybe it helps that Casper is a beloved and long-standing podcast sponsor, and that host Chris Gethard's personal brand embodies an intimate, free-wheeling honesty). The premise: comedian Gethard sits down with his friend and fellow comic Gary Richardson to hear listeners' accounts of their dreams. Richardson purports to be qualified in dream interpretation and Gethard strives to understand his analyses, which - like his qualifications - are presented with confidence, but don't hold up well under scrutiny. In each episode, the two are joined by another comic, who improvises gamely along (Jo Firestone in Episode 2 is a stand-out). The overall result is both silly and good.
Gateway episodes: Episode 2: Jo Firestone - Enter the Bloodtality (20 Dec 2016) / Episode 4: Janelle James - We Talkin' Butts (2 Jan 2017)
The Stroma Sessions
The Beeb is one of the oldest and mightiest destinations for radio drama, and she proves she's still got it with this scary fiction, produced for BBC Three by Afonica and now a finalist in the 2017 BBC Radio Drama Awards. In it, we are confronted with 'found audio' featuring The Blackletter Quartet, a newly formed musical ensemble. They've travelled to the abandoned Scottish island of Stroma in order to write and record an album, hoping that the bleak setting will inspire them. Instead, they lose their minds and disappear. This podcast series documents their experience on the island (which is not as deserted as it appears to be, natch). Five 15-minute episodes are a sonic treat.
Gateway episodes: Episode 1 (24 Oct 2016)
From: Afonica/BBC Radio 3
Style: Radio drama
Released: Five parts, concluded
Secrets, Crimes & Audiotapes, The Handmaid's Tale
This audio dramatisation from the Wondery network's Secrets, Crimes & Audiotapes will whet your appetite for the forthcoming Hulu drama, and also entertain on its own merits, as Margaret Atwood's classic dystopia is brought to life. Across three episodes to date, we follow our protagonist, Offred, who was once a perfectly normal citizen - a partner, an employee, a mother. But the twin crises of a declining birthrate and religious fundamentalism have led to the formation of a new society, in which women are reconditioned and assigned strict societal roles: that of wife, or child-bearer, or domestic servant. Offred is a handmaid - her sole job is to provide children. She is physically restricted, but her internal life is still rich, and her past is not so distant as to be unreachable. Hear it unfold in weekly episodes.
Gateway episodes: 6. The Handmaid's Tale: Part One (3 Jan 2017)
Style: Radio drama
Love & Radio / Blink Once for Yes
Internet Explorer / The Worst Things On The Internet in 2016
Re:sound / #232 The Baffled Show
Rose Buddies / 53. Janet Jacksoned
The Guardian Audio Long Reads / The big gamble
Someone Knows Something / S2 Episode 6: The Stepbrother
This is About / 006 How to Escape