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The Best Podcasts of 2011

December 30, 2011

Late-period Gen-Xers like to believe that our experiences regarding the birth of new technologies and the witnessing of cultural events exceed the levels encountered by generations before or since. My favorite summary of this collective “I was there” was Bill Simmons’ article about 1984 being the best year ever. Perhaps such myopia wouldn’t be so prevalent of the purveyors were not so damn convincing.


I’m just as guilty as anyone else in lionizing the import of the ten-year span from 1982 through 1991, aka the Delayed 1980s (the Delayties? No, that’s stupid, forget that). This serves as a far more accurate account of the decade, largely because it coincides with MTV’s first anniversary through that ridiculous musical year of ’91. If you reside outside of a semi-decent radio station, you might not have heard that Achtung Baby, Out of Time, Ten and Nevermind were all released in that annum, in addition to Metallica and some minor release by a future Aussie power-pop star. The truth is that every year has a similar litany of great records, but the Gen-X propaganda machine featured some of the greatest agitprop agents then, and even moreso today. Hence, our ascension into dictating the New Canon of culture. Most significantly, however, is where we cast our evil eye, and how that sets the cultural agenda. And nothing has been the source of more coffee-breathed bile than the shameless recasting of our most treasured nostalgia for a quick buck.


Towards which element of this dichotomy (love those Gen-X words) does our emotional intensity reach a higher point: hating the constant drip of yet another piece of our childhood being re-sold to us, or expressing the frustration about said re-selling? Your guess is as good as mine. The reality is that recasting of these talismans actually enhances our convenience, because we can now consume our past favorites at our terms, rather than the forced inefficiency of the Dalayed ’80s distribution model – and nothing serves as a better Voltron of nostalgia and convenience than the podcast.


While not all podcasts aim at the past as much as a recasting of a conversation for ease of consumability, the explosion in the number and the quality of this medium acts as a mark in favor of this idea. Yeah, I know – the connection is tenuous at best.


While there were about fifteen podcasts that are must-listens,m there were five that truly deserve not just a download, but an attentive attitude.


5. The Popdose Podcast. I interviewed this troika a few months ago after listening to entire run as they were released. For true culture geeks, hearing Dave Lifton, Jason Hare and Jeff Giles crack wise about music, films and the overall importance these items play in our lives is like observing a debate between three sides of your brain. Despite the relative obscurity of their podcast, I like to think that an early 2011 episode effectively killed the whole Charlie Sheen junk-food news dictatorship (Dave and Jason’s reaction to Jeff’s “I’m looking forward to…winning…” was a highlight of the year). Two caveats: I’d advise a cursory familiarity with their written work before diving into the library, and I recommend that you start with one of the Chart Attack! episodes, where they examine the Billboard Top 10 from 1983, ’84 or ’85. The juxtaposition of good-natured digs and earnest expressions of joy for the same songs is one hell of a way to make a commute less hellish.


4. Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review

The favorite podcast for grammar pedants and those that detest crinkly movietime snacks. I’ve written about them on multiple occasions, and am likely to do so again, as their ability to publicise (ha ha English spelling) worthy films, all while casting doom upon those deserving it (Michael Bay, anyone?). This week is a must-listen, as their Year in Review won’t just bring a few smiles to your household – it might just save your life.


3. The Bugle – More Brits! John Oliver, who is slowly collecting a Cultural Hall of Fame resume (The Daily Show, Community), is joined by Andy Zaltzman, a clever cricket-enthusiast with a Simon Mayo-esque wry wit. The Bugle, which offers a satirical takedown of our more odd world leaders, was the perfect companion for a year when we lost a litany of crazy so massive even Berlusconi would bow in obsequience.


2. The Best Show on WFMU with Tom Scharpling – It’s easy to go straight to the Gems, where classic moments like “Unfair Record Reviews” and “The South South Newbridge Hardcore Scene” can be found. But much of his best bits are available with your cash, and he deserves it. “Hippy Justice”, “Kid eBay”, and – of course – “Rock Rot and Rule” will live on, as well they should. So hit up sterolaffs, you’ll thank me later.


1.WTF with Marc Maron – Geeks like me love to say “We were there”, regardless of what “there” might be. In this case, it was pretty awesome to be down with Maron from the second episode, getting to watch him grow up before our very ears. The Gallagher episode reminded us that money, fame, and undeserved critical success – at least from the 1980s – still cannot cure bitterness and asshattery. The Louis CK interview was revelatory and compelling, as you would expect. Tom Scharpling needs to come back, and soon. But the best episode of his run – and of the year – has to be his discussion with Anthony Bourdain, which I’ve been waiting to hear since Marc first plugged in a mic in the garage at the Cat Ranch.


Honorable mention:

Hang Up and Listen, The B.S. Report with Bill Simmons, Men in Blazers with Roger Bennett and Michael Davies, the NBA Today with Ryen Rusillo – all great sports podcasts, and all worth your time if you like those sporty things/

On the Media – The best media criticism online

Kunstlercast – James Howard Kunstler and Duncan Crary like trains, walkable streets and smaller cities. Good for them.

Reasonable Discussions: the Onion AV Club has finally nailed the podcast.

TV on the Internet: Todd VanDerWerff and Libby Hill were hilarious, especially when dropping a neutron bomb on the Paul Reiser Show.

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