#84 Lost ground
We've missed you. But the last eight weeks have been fruitful, and we are pleased to present the auditory riches that follow.
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Lost in Larrimah
This true blue Aussie mystery is ostensibly about the disappearance of a man, Paddy Moriarty, from the outback town of Larrimah, population 12. Well, 11 now. Paddy vanished with his dog one stinking hot evening and hasn't been seen since. But what begins as a true crime caper - even a kind of locked-room puzzle, as our eyes run over the cast of 11 townsfolk - soon reveals itself to be something more. Lost in Larrimah is not so much about the disappearance of a man as it is the gradual disappearance of the town itself, and by extension, a particular way of life.
The mainly elderly residents of Larrimah are rendered in vivid detail, their eccentricities exposed but never mocked. The town, too, is presented through a prism that reflects both its gross realities (the heat, the flies, the petty disputes) and its absurd magic (the blindingly pink pub, complete with its own croc; a detachment from any real measure of time). Journos Kylie Stevenson and Caroline Graham do excellent work here, clearly themselves entranced by the contradictory wonders of the place and comfortably embedded among the old folk. Their writing is some of the best we've heard - truly funny, alive with genuine feeling, and not a pompous true crime monologue in sight.
Undoubtedly one of the best-spun yarns of 2018 to date. All six parts are available now.
From: The Australian
Released: 6 parts, concluded
In the West, our experience of ISIS is at a certain remove: frightening attacks, and the relentless grind of the war in Syria, are reported with varying degrees of horror and resignation. Beneath the external, reportable chaos, the inner world of ISIS - and the inner life of its soldiers - is invisible to us. But this series starring Rukmini Callimachi, the NY Times' foreign correspondent on the ISIS beat, aims to bore a hole into that inner world and let us peer inside with her.
We use the word "starring" deliberately - Callimachi is a charismatic talent, who goes scrambling through dustbins in war zones and regularly shrugs off death threats. In Caliphate, she recounts her discovery of a trove of documents outlining the bureaucracy of ISIS' one-time caliphate; she meets a young Canadian who claims to have joined ISIS and is willing to share his experience; and she races to document the fall of Mosul. These threads are drawn together to offer a sophisticated picture both of Callimachi's dogged work and the group's own machinations.
From: The New York Times
The Anthropocene Reviewed
These first-person essays written and read by author John Green (he who brought us teen angst-fest The Fault in Our Stars) rate the modern world on a five-star scale. Each episode selects two features of the Anthropocene - the age of humanity - for separate consideration. The two are not pitted against one another exactly because, well, that would be impossible. How could one fairly compare "Canada Geese" - that is, the bird - with "Diet Dr Pepper" - that is, the drink? But, in fact, all things are comparable on Green's universal scale. "Halley's Comet" (five stars) wins out for the comfort and magic of its regularity. "Cholera" (one star) falls down for obvious reasons. "Googling Strangers" and "Kentucky Bluegrass" sit somewhere in the middle.
There is comedy in this effort, of course. But while Green's delivery is pleasingly aloof, his observations are utterly sincere and often personal. They turn in surprising directions to reveal the world, and Green's own life, at strange and beautiful angles. New instalments monthly.
Cyber-security is deathly dull, you say? WRONG! Cyber-security is interesting and terrifying! We all like to think we're just minding our business on the internet - that nobody would want to peruse our boring old emails - but the idea that we're anonymous in the online crowd is a self-deceiving comfort. Data is power, and as far as hackers are concerned, every one of us dumb Muggles is a target.
In Breach, a co-production of Carbonite, Midroll and Spoke Media, you are likely to have your mind blown by accounts of famous hacks, meddling Russians, and the lengths to which bad actors will go to acquire what is useful to them. Episodes explore each issue thoroughly - at times, if anything, they are over-stuffed with effects and exposition, when the core content would easily stand alone - we were mesmerised with horror across five episodes. Plus, if nothing else, you might finally be inspired to set up that two-factor authentication.
From: Carbonite/Midroll/Spoke Media
Released: 5 parts, concluded
The Gateway / From Gizmodo, a new addition to the (surely peaking any minute now?) investigative-podcast-about-a-cult genre. The Gateway does boast some points of difference, including the active participation of the "internet spiritual guru" herself, Teal Swan, a disconcertingly affectless woman whose pseudo-spiritual vocabulary is as obtuse as her "healing" mission. She invites reporter Jennings Brown on a spiritual retreat in Costa Rica, where he'll be able to dig deeper into accusations that some of her patients have been counselled to suicide. We are listening, irresistibly, with interest. Gizmodo, weekly.
History Lab / The team at Sydney community station 2SER, which impressed with Just Words last year, now brings us this "investigative history podcast" in collaboration with the Australian Centre for Public History. Episode 1 remembers Lindy Chamberlain, who was wrongly convicted of her daughter's murder; it was later determined that the baby, as Lindy had claimed all along, was killed by a dingo. Host Tasmin Peach looks at the much-picked-over story anew, in particular examining the artefacts of the case - including an enormous trove of letters, written to Lindy in prison - which transform, at some point, from evidence to talisman. 2SER.
The Grenfell Tower Inquiry / In a spirit of solemn duty, this daily podcast documents the official inquest into the Grenfell Tower fire, which took 72 lives in 2017. The fire was able to rage for hours due to the building's cheap and highly-flammable external cladding, which was 14-times the government-approved combustibility limit. The inquest will examine the actions of all involved. But first, it allows the victims to be remembered publicly in a series of commemoration days, which comprise the first seven episodes here. Listen privately, unless you want to weep on the train. BBC, daily.
Decoder Ring / We are long-time fans of the work of Willa Paskin, perhaps the smartest television critic writing today (her analyses of The Bachelor franchise approach transcendence). In Decoder Ring, she aims to expose pop culture mysteries we take for granted. In Episode 1, it was the history of the laugh track: where did it come from, how did it become ubiquitous, and why did it become shorthand for the lame and cheesy? Episode 2 goes deep on Johnlock shipping in the Sherlock franchise. Slate, monthly.
To The Island / Of a piece with Lost in Larrimah, this indie podcast out of the Northern Territory pursues stories of "accidental explorers". Host and producer Rosa Ellendemonstrates her narrative chops (she's a radio-maker; see also the SPUN Stories podcast) in the story of Nick Kulikovsky, who lived out his twilight years in a quiet caravan park in Katherine. It's only after his death that his remarkable family connections come to light. Indie.
Death in Ice Valley / Though it's sometimes hampered by a stiffness of delivery - the natural outcome, perhaps, of a cross-cultural co-production between two national broadcasters - we've been enjoying this chilly (sorry) Nordic cold case investigation, which looks to identify the mysterious Isdal woman, who smelled of garlic and carried eight passports. Hosts Marit Higraff and Neil McCarthy attempt to fill in the gaps, and make genuine progress. BBC/NRK, weekly.
Empire on Blood / This underrated wrongful conviction serial is a real treat, once you lean into host Steve Fishman's hammy delivery, which we came to regard as a feature rather than a bug (another idiosyncratic delight is his use of Squarespace ads to plug his own Brooklyn-based cocktail bar, Irv's). For seven years, Fishman (who also helmed the more thinly-sketched Ponzi Supernova) has been drawn deep into the story of ambitious drug dealer, Calvin Buari, who served 22 years for two murders he claims not to have committed. Blessed with a cast of the charismatic and unreliable - Fishman not least among them - Empire on Blood rises, as a character piece, above the level of grist-for-the-mill true crime. All seven episodes available now. Panoply.
The Habitat / Of Gimlet's latest crop, this entry from science reporter Lynn Levy was the standout - a fly-on-the-wall series about a team of civilians who sign up to live in a sealed Mars-like colony for a year, in the service of scientific research. What begins as a merry adventure for like-minded companions descends, over the course of a year, into a morass of human foibles and feeling, including that most elemental experience: irritation. Gimlet.
30 for 30, Bikram / If you think 30 for 30's sports documentaries aren't for you, allow this jaw-dropping five-episode arc to convert you. Julie Lowrie Henderson, a former devotee of the torturous hot yoga method devised by guru Bikram Choudhury, investigates the rise of the Bikram method, and burrows down to its rotten core. ESPN.
Other People's Problems / For those missing Esther Perel's intimate therapy sessions, Other People's Problems makes a fine substitute. Host Hillary McBride's manner is less severe than Perel's - her conversations with patients are interspersed with gentle exhortations - "Oh, wow"; "Oh, of couse" - and repetition. She counsels individual patients on everything from the stifling press of motherhood to reckoning with PTSD and battling eating disorders. CBC.
Alone, Season 2 / Returning in all its inward-gazing glory is this diaristic account of CBC producer Michelle Parise's life-collapsing divorce. Having separated from her husband, Parise ricochets into a new world of single parenting, hard drinking and new lovers - including, eventually, one man in particular, who by series' end has her backed into a corner. Mesmerising as ever. CBC.
The Doorstep Murder / BBC Radio Scotland just dropped all six episodes of this characteristically thoughtful cold case investigation. Banker and family man Alastair Wilson was shot on the doorstep of his family home, by a stranger who presented him with a creepy envelope that later disappeared. Was Alastair involved with the criminal underworld? Was the murder financially-motivated in some way? Theories abound. BBC.
Moya / Narrated by its author, this indie fiction is set in an environmentally-desolate, bureaucratically-strangled future landscape. Into this grim field enters Agent Nevin, who has arrived to investigate a mysterious murder. We mark it down for occasional linguistic missteps, but award bonus points for ingenuity and atmosphere. Whole season available now. Indie.
Make No Law / "Crush"
This podcast about the First Amendment is a great find for off-the-wall legal stories, including this stand-out episode about a (non-existent) crisis of women crushing animals beneath their heels. Legal Talk Network.
Seriously / "Meeting the Man I Killed"
A searching, heartbreaking post-mortem of presenter John Izard's hit-and-run catastrophe. BBC.
Edge of Fame / "R. Kelly vs the Savages"
WashPo's podcast from behind the scenes of celebrity nails this special expose about R. Kelly's abuse of young women. WBUR/Washington Post.
Invisibilia / "The Call Out"
What happens when a champion for victims of harassment turns out to have been a bully herself? Invisibilia pulls apart a complicated tangle of hypocrisy, public shaming and unkindness in a local hardcore music scene. NPR.
Anger Management with Nick Clegg / "King of Chaos: Nigel Farage"
The former Lib Dems leader and deputy PM puts his "nice dad" vibe to good use here, pushing back against the current climate of bi-partisan rage with civil (yet spirited) conversation. That includes, in this episode, the vile Nigel Farage, with whom Clegg attempts valiantly to reason and relate. Indie.
Still Listening & Coming Soon
Cosmic Vertigo, Season 2
Nancy, back with its third season
How to Be a Girl prepares for a wedding
Mission to Zyxx, Season 2
Three new shows from Radiotopia: ZigZag, Everything is Alive and a new series of Showcase, "The Great God of Depression"
The Tip-Off, Series 3