#82 The devil's in the details
This week: stories that get up close.
We remain, your servants,
Closer Than They Appear
In this, the first show from Al Jazeera's new audio outfit Jetty, journalist Carvell Wallaceenvisions America as a fractured, fractious family. In his view, the division being played out in capital-letter Politics and Culture can be scaled all the way back down to the personal - the failures of individual people to communicate, to address past pain, to give an inch. Or, as he frames it in Episode 1, "Maybe this whole nation is just 320 million people who all need to talk with someone that they're afraid to talk to."
In conversation with smart, interesting people (Mahershala Ali; Shereen Marisol Meraji) who are also worrying away at this question - the question of what, exactly, America is now, and what it might become - Wallace shines as a giving, deep-thinking interlocutor. He also puts his money where his premise is, interweaving his personal anxieties with the political. We hear from his teenaged children, for example, and learn about his estranged relationship with the white woman who, for a time, raised him (and whom we'll eventually meet). Mesmerising and moving, this is therapy for America.
Gateway episode: 1. How did I get here? (with Mahershala Ali)
October's Very Owned
Drake - the dad-dancing, Rihanna-loving, sad-rapping Canadian - is a complicated figure in pop culture. He's an object of ridicule and worship, a muse for meme-makers who winks back at meme culture, and a global mega-star who never gets the girl. How much of this is real? What is cultivated by the man himself, and what are we just projecting? Also, how can we decode his Instagram? What does he do on Sundays, like, just chill? These important questions and more are answered by the team at Noisey, Vice's music brand, over the course of this light-hearted, month-long daily podcast, which concluded at the end of October. Special guests include an array of music journalists, the rapper Heems, and a guy who hung out with Drake for two hours one time. Requires a basic familiarity with the 6 God, obviously, but for those so equipped, it's entertaining.
Gateway episodes: 3. The Origins of Sad Drake (3 Oct) / 10. An Appreciation of Drake's Instagram (10 Oct)
Released: Daily, concluded
The Dollop, Donald Trump Parts 1 & 2
We've been aware of The Dollop, a long-running show in which comedian Dave Anthony explains a person or moment of historical significance to fellow comic Gareth Reynolds, but hadn't heard it till recently, when a friend insisted we listen to an episode about total scoundrel Errol Flynn. It was great - madcap, factually jaw-dropping. This two-parter about Donald J. Trump, which traces his life from childhood ("I am no different today than I was at the age of five" ¯\_(ツ)_/¯) through the slippery sewer of New York real estate, all the way to the presidency, raises the bar again. There is ample fodder for comedy here - Anthony and Reynolds could clearly do this on their heads - plus an interesting effect of cumulative outrage.
From: The Dollop
Released: 14 November
Here's a remedy for what ails you, if what ails you is the same stuff that ails put-upon podcast reviewers (e.g. restless, racing brain; compulsive urge to multi-task). How do you feel about an immersive audio experience of a Benedictine monastery, complete with chanting and monk wisdom and garden ambience? Or a 20-minute trip down the Tennessee River on a shanty boat, featuring a thunderstorm on a tin roof and a chorus of frogs? BBC Radio has cleverly repackaged radio stories that fit the bill for Slow Radio - an experience of mindful transportation, making use of long periods of ambient sound - and presents them here in short, soothing instalments. Good for you, weekly.
Gateway episodes: Living and working in a monastery (6 Nov) / Life on a shanty boat (20 Nov)
In this spooky new show from Panoply, writer and documentarian Danny Robins collects ghost stories from ordinary people and asks "Why did this happen?" - or, perhaps more accurately, "Why does the teller believe this happened?" This reframing of the question at the heart of the ghost story - not what or if, but why - is what makes Haunted interesting. On the face of it, these are straightforward accounts, supported by eyewitnesses and (slender) circumstantial evidence. But through Haunted's obliquely skeptical lens, they become stories of human frailty: after a burglary, a young couple no longer feels safe in their home, and perceive a supernatural threat; those who have lost loved ones begin to see "absence as presence". Robins' manner is gentle and earnest, and though he does consult with academics, he does not actively attempt to debunk the tales he hears, which casts a lovely ambiguity over the whole. New episodes weekly.
Gateway episodes: The House That Had to be Sold (31 Oct) / Death is Not the End (14 Nov)
Here Be Monsters / HBM085: Ascended Fiction
The Messenger / We Are Looking After Each Other
Forensic Transmissions / 36. Charles Manson Parole Hearing
Is it On? / Episode 31: YES
Broken Record / Walk on Water
Tracks / S2 E4 Pleistocene
Tomorrow's World / Electric Sheep