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Three Excellent Podcasts to Start the New Year

(Source: newyorker.com)

Starting this month, the venerable music podcast “Song Exploder,” which has been hosted and produced by the musician Hrishikesh Hirway for the past five years, will have a new host: the appealing Thao Nguyen, of Thao & the Get Down Stay Down. (I’ve long been a fan of her raw, catchy single “Bag of Hammers,” from 2008.) The show’s format will stay the same: in each episode, an artist tells the story of one of her songs, piece by piece; at the end, we hear it all come together. Hirway, who interviews his guests and then edits the tape to remove his side of the conversation, has excellent taste and impressive range. He’s featured everyone from Björk to Yo-Yo Ma, Perfume Genius to Loren Bouchard, the creator of “Bob’s Burgers” and its delightfully plucky theme. Nguyen has been a featured artist on the show, and also a guest host; in August, she interviewed Neko Case. Hirway announced the change-up in December, at the end of the show’s hundred and fiftieth episode, in which Lindsey Buckingham breaks down a song that begs to be broken down—Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way,” about his breakup with Stevie Nicks.

The “slow” trend of recent years—slow food, slow TV, slow travel—finds a natural home in the audio realm, where producers have long made artful, patient use of scene-setting sound. The BBC Radio 3 podcast “Slow Radio,” hosted by Verity Sharp, takes us to soothing, aurally interesting places—an orchard in the Cotswolds, quiet former battlefields, the Kalahari at night—letting us hear, at length, pure, unadulterated sound. We hear natural and sometimes mysterious noises around us, imagining what they are and what we’d see, with just enough human guidance to orient us. If I could live inside a podcast episode, it might be “The Last Elfdalians,” full of footfalls and birdsong, in which children in rural Swedish forests learn to say “moose” and “cloudberry” in a disappearing ancient language.

One of the most emotional moments I’ve experienced as a podcast listener came in November, when the governor of California, Jerry Brown, freed Earlonne Woods, the incarcerated co-host of “Ear Hustle,” which is about life inside San Quentin State Prison. The show is hosted by Nigel Poor, a volunteer and visual artist, and Woods, who was more than two decades into a sentence of thirty-one years to life, for second-degree attempted robbery. Woods is a thoughtful observer and an exceptionally engaging, gentle, and funny presence. In 2017, in an episode about getting out, Poor had asked him about his dreams of freedom. “It’s unrealistic, but I think about getting out of San Quentin, jumping in the water, swimming to my yacht, and going around the world,” Woods said, and they both laughed. Now that he’s out, he’s been hired by PRX as a full-time producer for “Ear Hustle,” which he will continue to co-host as a free man.

More Info: newyorker.com

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