December 23, 2010 § 3 Comments
I listened to podcasts before this year, fairly sporadically – I think I downloaded Daniel Kitson’s “podcast” a year and a half ago, after I saw him support The Lucksmiths at their last gig in London (I say “podcast” because really it’s just an old Edinburgh show that’s been cut into four parts and put on itunes for free), and I downloaded a handful of BBC podcasts towards the end of 2009 to listen to while doing other things, which didn’t really work. But last Christmas, I started listening to Adam & Joe – I realised that to properly take them in, I needed to listen to them without trying to read things, without constantly checking twitter or whatever else I had on my computer screen at the same time. This fairly basic realisation meant that, this year, I fell hard for the format. I love listening to people talk about interesting things for half an hour. I even like them when they talk about boring things, as long as the people talking are funny enough. So here’s my list of the best podcasts I’ve listened to this year – I’ve put them in some sort of ranking, but it’s fairly arbitrary. They’re all great, and they’re all worth listening to.
Only three or so new podcasts went out this year (their special Glastonbury shows), although a few old ones are currently up for download as some sort of small present from the BBC, and there’s a new show airing on Christmas day (with the podcast following later on). The small level of their output is why they’re only getting a special mention – they’re not really a 2010 concern, unlike the other podcasts on this list. But Adam & Joe podcasts are the ones I listened to the most this year – they’re the ones I listen to when I can’t sleep, when I need cheering up, when I’m feeling groggy and sad and not particularly alert. They don’t have guests, they don’t usually pick a particular topic to base a show around – it’s just like sitting in the pub with two old friends, and listening to them talk. I’ve listened to some of them over and over again, I’ve listened to some of them while walking around Oxford, laughing stupidly and earned myself strange looks from strangers in return. They’re great. The blog post that announced their Christmas show, and the video that Adam and Joe filmed for it, seemed to strongly imply that this was it for them on 6music – that this was one last return to the station, and after that, no more. I hope that we’ve got it wrong. I hope they’ll come back for another run. But even if they don’t, we’ve still got the podcasts.
Daniel Kitson Podcasts
As I say above, these aren’t really podcasts, and this year wasn’t the first time I heard them. But I listened to this whole show while walking through rural, hilly Devon, and there’s something about it that just got into my head. The things he talks about – his best friend Sam, his discovery of the way that failure can be exquisite, and his relationship with food, as well as many others – have really affected the way I think about things. I find myself quoting him when I’m trying to articulate concepts, I find myself seeing things differently to how I did before. And it’s just a beautiful show. The recording’s also incredibly, incredibly quiet – even when my iPod’s volume is turned right up, it’s sometimes hard to hear everything he says. One to listen to through headphones when walking somewhere quiet, or when curled up in bed while everybody else is asleep.
3. Little Atoms
This is a podcast of a show on London’s Resonance FM., based around secularism and ideas of the Enlightenment. They usually get one guest in per show to talk about topics that are loosely related to this – sometimes they’ll be talking to scientists, sometimes comedians, and lots of other people besides. They also record shows with lots of shorter interviews backstage at Robin Ince’s Nine Lessons & Carols for Godless Children and other similar gatherings of nerdy people throughout the year – their special show from this year’s Big Libel Gig is great, especially when they ask all of the guests to libel one another, and they take to it with the amount of glee that you’d expect.
Their archive is fairly awe-worthy – you can click through to see any appearances made by particular guests, and often the most interesting speakers have returned lots of times. I’ve listened to a lot of their shows, but I’ve barely even scratched the surface of what they’ve done – next year I need to return and listen to more of their podcasts that feature guests I haven’t heard of. Their podcasts are available through both iTunes and their own website, which is wonderfully convenient, and there’s a new one available every week (although they’re currently on a break until January the 14th).
2. The Bugle
Possibly the best thing that’s ever been part of The Times, and luckily it’s one of the few things that they make that didn’t disappear behind Murdoch’s paywall earlier this year. The show’s tagline is “audio newspaper for a visual world”, but really it’s a satirical look at the week’s news, with a focus on the stupid things that various world leaders have done, international sports events (Andy Zaltzman also does shows about cricket for the BBC, and has a blog about it too), and giant penises that have been graffitied on roofs and lawns the world over.
Andy Zaltzman’s extensive lists of puns and general, tenuously held-together bullshit that dances around various topics are wonderful, as with each new sentence he bulldozes over John Oliver’s cries of pain and anguish, but the best bits are when they just gleefully discuss whatever the most ridiculous items in the papers have been this week; it’s like having Reuters Oddly Enough read to you in the funniest way possible.
I love when they respond to listeners’ emails, and the current, strange war of words between the show’s listeners and the new producer, Chris, has produced one of this year’s most admirably shit websites; the running joke becomes funnier, and meaner, with every passing week. It’s a weekly show, although sometimes when one of them is busy they put up a compilation instead of something new, but they often include material cut from previous weeks in these so it’s always worth the download. If you go to the rss feed then you can download loads of past shows at once, and hoard them in your mp3 player like a greedy child.
This podcast is less prolific than the others that I’ve written about – it’s not really weekly, and currently there are nine in this series (although there’s another lot available on iTunes from a couple of years ago, and there’s an episode with Edgar Wright that Robin said he was hoping to put up before Christmas). It’s more like Little Atoms than The Bugle, because each week Robin and Josie are joined by guests, but it’s more of a general, knockabout discussion than either of the other shows are; people often talk over each other, and sometimes it descends into wondeful, clattering chaos. Guests bring in objects to talk about every week, as do the show’s hosts, but really it’s just a discussion of whatever topic comes to mind, or whatever the people talking are currently most concerned with. This is wonderful. The Mark Gatiss episode becomes an involved, wonderful discussion of horror films, while Jon Ronson and his son spend ages talking about public baths, and Ben Goldacre complains about people taking photos of him outside burrito shops with wild hair and posting them on Twitter.
Josie Long often talks about politics and feminism, as well as things like crafts and zines, and although it’s impossible to really pick, this is often my favourite part of a particular episode – it’s nice to hear funny, smart people talk about the sorts of things that concern me, and then go on to discuss a million other things I hadn’t thought of as well. I think this podcast is genuinely educational, especially when the discussion focuses on film and books, while also being incredibly funny and warm. It was hard to decide what order to put these podcasts in, but really, this had to win. I hope they continue to produce these next year.
Podcasts that I also enjoyed this year include The Hackney Podcast, The Infinite Monkey Cage, and Richard Herring’s As It Occurs to Me. I know that I also need to try The Sound of Young America, This American Life and Answer Me This!, but let me know in the comments if you have any more to recommend (or if you want to disagree with my list, but I’ll probably disagree with you in return). 2010 was the year of podcasts for me, but there’s so much more that I still need to listen to. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to catch up with them all, but I look forward to trying.