Two weeks in and already it feels disingenuous to say “Happy 2018!”
Welcome back dear reader, and a hearty hello to all of the new readers we gained following the publication of our Best Podcasts of the Year. I’m so glad that you’re here. We’ve got big plans for Constant Listener in the coming months, highlighting many new and returning podcasts that you’re sure to fall in love with, as well as continuing to explore the themes and motifs currently dominating the podcasting landscape.
This week I’m highlighting a few brand new programs, as well as one that is new to me, and also looking back at two brilliant lights of the medium that we lost over the holidays.
It took me a long time to warm up to Twitter as a social media platform. I frankly didn’t see the appeal for a good many years. Over time, however, I developed a sort of anthropological fascination with it and haven’t been able to quit it since. What I find most interesting is how it showcases our ability to develop ersatz community with even the most skeletal framework of interactions.
Perhaps even more engrossing to me is the way it has acted as a catalyst for the return of epigrammatic humor. Brevity being the soul of wit and all, Twitter’s (previously) curt character length has served to usher in an entirely new era of concentrated comedy. There are few who dispense these bons mots with a positively acidic glee than writer Ira Madison III—late of the MTV podcast Speed Dial which he co-hosted with the equally brilliant Doreen St. Félix. Madison has become a bona fide Twitter celebrity for his biting and incisive cultural commentary. Particularly he is known for the Raymond Carver-worthy efficiency of his hallmark two-word rejoinder, dispensing a withering “keep it” to all things culturally suspect. Some enterprising soul even compiled a list of things that Madison has said “keep it” to over the past year.
Luckily for listeners, the heads over Crooked Media have given Madison his own, aptly-titled show—Keep It!—that will round up some of the more controversial events from the past week and read them to filth. In a time like this, it feels like a necessary endeavor. This week features Madison cutting it up with television writer Kara Brown and comedian Louis Virtel, discussing the topics that have dominated our attention earlier this week, namely the Golden Globes and Oprah 2020. It is a delightful, at times thought-provoking romp, adopting a particularly side-eyed view of the world, and one that I’ll definitely be clinging to as we wade further into the morass that is 2018.
The idea at the core of Punch Up The Jam is one whose time has come. Honestly, it is surprising that no one has ventured down this path before. Movies are regularly remade and reimagined but songs are this sort of sovereign territory, only allowed to be covered but never altered. Friends and comedians Miel Bredouw and Demi Adejuyigbe take a different approach to that maxim however. Each week on their new podcast the pari take a popular song and set about breaking down its components to better understand its core dynamics, before rebuilding them into far more successful jams. This isn’t simply about discussing the songs, Breduow and Adejuyigbe actually rewrite and record their own punched-up versions as well.
The podcast has been a perfect show to help kick-start my new year, given its perfect blend of absurdist comedy and astute dissections of each song’s lyrics, history, and instrumentation. That and some of the rewrites have brought tears to my eyes for their cleverness. In particular, the two most recent episodes really did it for me, which “fix” Hall & Oates’ “You Make My Dreams”and Dave Matthews Band’s “Crash Into Me”. The pair’s well-tuned rapport is born out of genuine friendship and there is sometimes nothing better to help propel a podcast into weekly rotation than that irreproducible quality. Every diversion that their conversations take is just as much an attempt to crack each other up as it is the listener, and it elevates the experience immensely.
BBC Radio 4’s The Untold digs into the many interesting stories behind the lives of everyday Britons. This week’s thrilling episode is all about the way Jay-Z turned a software consultant’s life completely upside down.
Which is worse in life? To have no big dreams, or to have them, only to watch them deflate before your eyes? For Kanan Keeney, it would seem that there is a third option, which is to make peace with your life’s ambitions and move on to a stable existence, only to have them come roaring back in surprising fashion. On this episode of BBC 4’s excellent podcast The Untold, producer Polly Weston profiles the incredible story of Keeney’s late success and its fallout.
An American living in Bristol, Keeney spent his tumultuous younger years as a songwriter before moving on and eventually finding a more placid life as a software consultant. That is, until one of the songs he had written becomes the crux of Jay Z’s emotional “4:44”, wherein he confesses to cheating on wife Beyoncé. Suddenly Keeney’s life is shaken. With the sudden recognition, he begins to question his place, finding himself facing down the choice between upending his stable life to follow his musical aspirations, or remaining in his present life, as a now-Grammy-nominated office worker.
I found myself shaken by this episode on a number of levels. As someone who has chased big dreams and watched peers succeed while I followed a less uncertain path, it tapped into a scenario that we don’t always consider. What do we do with the talents we’ve cultivated when we choose to move in a different direction? Is it possible to live a balanced life, with stability and creative fulfillment at the same time? The answer isn’t apparent, but that is to be understood. Questions like this aren’t the kind which have easy resolutions. That makes them all the more important to face, and who would imagine that they’d be lurking within a simple narrative podcast?
As well, the episode showcases the power that an artist like Jay Z wields. His choice to build a song around a particular sample has the ability to alter the lives of so many people in an instant. Following Keeney’s story provides a ground-level view of what it is like to experience such overnight success. It is a truly engaging listen, and one that is sure to leave listeners mulling over the question of our dreams, and whether it is worth having them fulfilled or to simply let them fade away.
Over the winter holiday season Australian radio and podcast producer Jesse Cox died of cancer at the age of 31. The podcast he helped create, This Is About, celebrated his life and amazing work with this moving tribute episode.
Audio has this magical ability, that it can make you feel a certain radical empathy and closeness to the person making it. Podcasters become like friends to listeners, simply because of the method of transmission. A show becomes a whispered secret, and as a result a certain bond is formed, even though it doesn’t exist in reality. I never knew Jesse Cox personally, even though I had enjoyed his work at ABC Radio National, whether it was This Is About or the entrancing Trace, for which he won a Walkley award (the Australian equivalent of our Pulitzer). I didn’t know Jesse, but in listening to this stunning episode of This Is About, I couldn’t help but be moved to tears.
It’s not to suggest that the show is a maudlin affair, because it is anything but. Cox’s fellow producers on This Is About, Jess Bineth and Belinda Lopez, have chosen instead to highlight his obsession with stories and audiocraft. One can’t help but be struck by the enormity of Cox’s talent and love of the medium, as well as people and their stories. It is in hearing these superlative works, particularly his Third Coast award-winning documentary “The Real Tom Banks,” that one feels the gut punch of his passing. It is the vibrancy of his personality, and the knowledge that, as an American listener, there is so much of his work that I will have missed. I never knew Jesse Cox, but I feel like I do now and my heart goes out to everyone affected by his death.
Also over the break the podcasting world lost Reggie Ossé, aka Combat Jack. I wrote about this episode of A Waste Of Time With ItsTheReal, revisiting an interview with Ossé from 2015, for The A.V. Club this past Monday.
A Waste Of Time With ItsTheReal
Remembering Combat Jack
Just before the end of 2017, the podcasting world lost a true giant with the death of Reggie Ossé, a.k.a. Combat Jack. As cofounder of the Loud Speakers Network, Ossé was instrumental in diversifying the largely alabaster podcast space. Shows like The Read, Tax Season, Brilliant Idiots, and his own Combat Jack Show brought many listeners to the medium for the very first time. Sadder still, 2017 was something of Ossé’s zenith, as Loud Speakers connected with Gimlet Media to co-produce the critically beloved hip-hop documentary podcast Mogul: The Life And Death Of Chris Lighty, which Ossé hosted. On this episode of the ever-entertaining Loud Speakers show A Waste Of Time, brothers Eric and Jeff Rosenthal—the clown princes of hip-hop—revisit their wide-ranging 2015 interview with Ossé. Their chat serves as a perfect memorial for the outsize personality of Combat Jack, running through his life with humor and verve. The tales display Ossé’s particular mix of charm and determination that made him so engaging as an interviewer, whether he’s recounting doing business with Puff Daddy in a bathhouse or explaining how taking mescaline at a club might have gotten him into Georgetown Law.