If it’s self-improvement you’re after in 2020, the podcast world has got you covered. At this time of year, it’s still all about podcasts that focus on betterment, or ‘life kit’ shows as they’re often called.
There are podcasts on how to take up a foreign language, have better sex and improve your bank balance. Podcasts that teach you to cook, recommend books or promise to make you run further and faster. And podcasts that teach you how to balance yourself without doing any of those things. You get the point. If that all feels like bombardment, take the chance to subscribe to a few, and revisit them later in the year. Y’know, when it all feels a little less like January.
But don’t worry, we’re not trying to make you a better person – just entertain you. So it’s onto the first Podcasts For The People of the year with five recommendations from me and five from you. Remember you can suggest a podcast for the next column – reach out to me on @GregCochrane on Twitter or hit up @NME using the hashtag #PodcastsForThePeople. Let’s go!
What Greg’s been listening to
The low-down: Much like the unveiling of the Christmas TV schedule invites excitement (and a once yearly dash to WHSmith to get the Radio Times), it’s the same with podcasts now. Sort of. Blood Ties was released days before the holidays, no doubt in a bid to accompany soul-crushing journeys and any spare minutes away from the extended family. Smart strategy really, as BT is a thoroughly binge-able six-part mystery-meets-thriller audio drama. The central characters are Eleonore and Michael, who are heading to the Caribbean for their festive family vacation. Alarm bells immediately start ringing when their parents don’t arrive. Their small private plane has crashed. Their mother’s body is recovered but their father (a renowned cardiologist, and head of a wealthy, influential medical company) is nowhere to be found. Maybe he had good reason to go missing? And who knew about a dark past that might have led to an elaborate disappearance?
Where to hear it: Apple Podcasts, and other major podcast apps
The Bugle presents… The Last Post
The low-down: A new show from the team behind The Bugle, the legendary satirical podcast that started way back in 2007 (yep, there were podcasts back then) by comedian Andy Zaltzman and John Oliver (now a regular on US TV). This daily show fronted by Alice Fraser is loosely set in an alternative universe where the cycle of stories sound batshit crazy – a bit like now. It’s set out like a topical newspaper – complete with letters page and classified adverts. And with comedy guests so far including Nish Kumar, Tiff Stevenson and, of course Zaltzman himself, it’s a predictably sharp and silly companion to our increasingly surreal modern world.
Where to hear it: Acast, and other podcast places
Childish: The Podcast Musical
The low-down: Apparently there’s a whole bunch of musical podcasts out there, a discovery that only came to me courtesy of this show. Inspired by Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino and his beginnings as a Resident Assistant (a university dorm support worker), the story centres around Dante (played by Reginald Keith Jackson). He’s the new guy in the team at a New York City college and has aspirations of becoming a rapper. But he’s also eager to please which lands him scrapes with his colleagues (devious deadpan Ricky who has the best lines) and students. The Gambino influence also shines through in the original music score. Like most musicals the delivery is rarely subtle – there’s a Glee-esque hyperactivity that runs throughout – but it’s undeniably innovative and energetically entertaining. A real sugar-rush listen, with new episodes weekly.
Where to hear it: Stitcher and other podcast places
James Veitch’s Contractual Obligation
The low-down: Following a short series of shows Veitch made for BBC Radio 4 in the spring of 2019 – A Dark Web was particularly masterful – the whip-smart comedian shared a handful more before the holidays. He’s playing himself as “an intrepid yet incompetent investigator” looking into a variety of mostly tech-related subjects. “I sort of try to deconstruct the medium while also being part of the medium, which is a bit grotty, if you think about it,” he quips in the introduction. His journey into Mindfulness is particularly brilliant, whereby he spends the first part of the podcast procrastinating sat in a floatation tank. “Now that we have podcasts, do we even need meditation?” he asks one bewildered expert. Fans of Philomena Cunk and Screen Wipe will adore this.
Where to hear it: BBC Sounds
Freak Flag Flying
The low-down: David Crosby isn’t short on opinions, or stories, which makes him a particularly attractive candidate for a show like Freak Flag Flying. Essentially it’s a career retrospective conversation with the 78-year-songwriter, most famous for being one-third of Crosby, Stills & Nash. It’s steered by journalist, and Crosby’s friend, Steve Silberman, who promises listeners a “probing and unusually frank conversation” with “one of the most consistently inventive and gloriously weird musicians of our time.” There’s also some rare, and unreleased music. While it’s nowhere near as cleverly done as last year’s Dolly Parton’s America, the premise isn’t dissimilar. As Crosby states in the opening episode, he’s never cared if people like him and has little time for pleasantries.
Where to hear it: Apple
What you’ve been listening to
I’ve Never Seen The O.C.
Recommended by: @allymccrae on Twitter
The low-down: For a certain generation, ‘00s teen drama The O.C. was a big deal. Remember Seth with his beautiful curls, tearaway heartthrob Ryan and Sandy Cohen’s eyebrows? Phantom Planet are probably also still dining out on the licensing of the intro music (“Califoooorniiiia”), too. Hosts Kerry (devout O.C. fan) and Heather (never seen it before) are rewatching and reviewing every episode. The highlight isn’t just the opportunity to relive the show, but Kerry and Heather’s own infectious back and forth.
Ally McCrae tweets: “A total deep dive into something that seemed so woke at the time. Everyone loves Sandy!”
Where to hear it: Spotify, Podtail and other podcast apps
Mark Can’t Rap
Recommended by: @suzfoley54 on Twitter
The low-down: In which a 37-year-old Peterborough poet, performer and ex-English teacher enters a world of spitting bars, with mixed success. The idea is laughed off by his mates, but he takes the plunge and jumps on a plane to meet the only person he can find willing to help – a global head of music innovation, who happens to be in Mexico. The professional’s mildly crushing feedback starts a journey of self-discovery and sets Mark on a course to try and record his own EP by the end of this heartwarming and funny seven-part series.
Suz writes: “Poet and English teacher’s foray into learning how to rap. Loved it.”
Where to hear it: Spotify, Player FM and elsewhere
Pen Pals with Daniel and Rory
Recommended by: @Amylynne9411 on Twitter
The low-down: Kind of like Gossipmongers, but a little less obscure, this podcast is built on listeners sending in letters instead of rumours. Those messages can cover any topic – from haunted houses to divorce advice – and each one gets a response from hosts Rory Scovel and Dan Vankirk.
Amy says: “People can write letters about anything and everything and receive funny, heartfelt responses in podcast form. It’s amazing. Get on it.”
Where to hear it: Stitcher – or your prefered podcast app
Recommended by: @OasisPodcast on twitter
The low-down: It’s been encouraging to see conversations around music and mental health grow the past couple of years – they’re happening more frequently and openly. This podcast, hosted by Katy Georgiou, delves into the topic via a run of enlightening, candid conversations. Check out the recent chat with Skunk Anansie’s Mark Richardson discussing his life-altering work with Music Support and his own struggles.
OasisPodcast tweets: “Brilliant host with a therapist background so she delves much deeper than your usual rubbish. Great interviews with Alan McGee, Bez etc.”
Where to hear it: Major podcast apps
Recommended by: @k4liforniaaa on Twitter
The low-down: Mates Dan Hanzus and Bob Castrone get together in a garage and talk music. If that sounds like a modern podcast take on Wayne’s World it’s not far off. They pick some albums from the past and revisit them track-by-track. Oasis’ ‘Definitely Maybe’ recently got the Throwback treatment.
Kara writes: “Because it’s hilarious and covers 90s/2000s albums.”
Where to hear it: Podbean – and other podcast places