New Podcast Love: Song Exploder

After listening to Hrishi Hirway (and Josh Malina) on The West Wing Weekly podcast (which is just getting up to one of the best episodes in the series, so catch up now!), I finally listened to Hrishi’s other podcast, Song Exploder.

Man, it’s good.

Right now, while we’re in Peak Podcast[1], I’m finding myself gravitating to podcasts that are either less than 30 minutes, or are in the 45 minute range done by people that I can reasonably understand when I play the podcast at 1.5x speed[2].

Song Exploder is a music podcast, is almost always between 12 and 20 minutes, and is about one song per episode. There’s no continuity to worry about, so if I don’t like the song, I just skip the episode.

Frequently, though, it’s a song or band I’m already a fan of, or at least curious about. And listening to how a song gets created—either the incredible work that goes into it, layer by layer; or the random ebbs and flows of the universe—is pretty fantastic listening.

On top of that, you often hear the stems and tracks of a song as it was created. It’s pretty remarkable at times. For example, the Solange episode, where you can hear her voice isolated or the CHVRCHES episode when you hear the initial jibberish track and then the real vocal track.

Anyway. I’m late to the game, but you can catch up on this podcast over the course of a few hours, and you get to listen to some great music while doing it.

  1. ™ me.  ↩

  2. I know, I’m a heathen and a horrible person. But, most people talk far too slowly for me in real life already (I am working on my bad habit of jumping to the end of your sentence so that I can speed you up). When they talk on a podcast, they enunciate and drag things out. It’s interminable. There are few podcasts (music podcasts, This American Life, Harmontown) where I find the normal cadence required for the enjoyment of the show. Everybody else gets the 1.5x treatment. Sorry.  ↩

Top 10 of 2016: #1 Beyonce (featuring Kendrick Lamar) – Freedom

Beyonce (featuring Kendrick Lamar)Freedom

Listen, I make no bones about being a Bey fan. When Destiny’s Child reunited at the Super Bowl, I was riveted. You just can’t doubt the woman’s talent.

I took way too long to listen to Beyonce’s Lemonade. It’s got at least three great tracks.

Hot damn. This is just so good. It’s angry, in a year when we need women to be angry. It’s an anthem for black women, in a year when we need black women to be angry. Yet, it’s still very much a Beyonce track.

It’s got a fantastic, 60s tinged beat. And a fantastic verse by everyone’s favorite guest star, Kendrick Lamar.

This is the best I can do … do yourself a favor and go buy it on iTunes or your music service of choice.

Top 10 of 2016: #2 Frightened Rabbit – Get Out

Frightened RabbitGet Out

The annual appearance of a moody, melodic, Scottish rock band on the list! I think “Get Out” is another one that first showed up on a KEXP podcast for me, and then I think it popped up on Pandora for me a few times. And it’s just one of those songs that keeps growing on you.

It’s got this great opening line (“I’m in the arch of the chuch, between her thumb and her forefinger, I’m a worshipper”). It’s Frightened Rabbit’s typical melancholy style, and then it hits the chorus, and you get that great “Get out of my heart, she won’t, she won’t” for the first time. How can you not be hooked?

They also know that this little beauty could run out of gas, so it bows out before you even get to three and a half minutes. A little bit of brooding perfection.

Top 10 of 2016: #3 Nada Surf – Believe You’re Mine

Nada SurfBelieve You’re Mine

Nada Surf just keeps cranking out these great albums full of power pop songs, stadium anthems, and heartfelt rock songs. This falls in the last category. It’s a breakup song (or almost breakup song?), but it’s got such a sweet, singalong chorus (like a lot of Nada Surf songs).

Lyrically, this is one of my favorite Nada Surf songs, with lots of great imagery (“but this oven is burning coal, I got a big supply”) and some nice harmonies hiding out behind the choruses.

It’s got everything you could want from a Nada Surf song, which is why I love it.

Top 10 of 2016: #4 Lucius – My Heart Got Caught On Your Sleeve

LuciusMy Heart Got Caught On Your Sleeve

I’m a sucker for harmonies. Lucius’ particular brand of nearly identical, overlapping vocals just works for me. This one, a somewhat sparse piano ballad that is really there just to hang beautiful vocals off of. The lyrics aren’t amazing, but they serve their purpose. You can’t help but feel the emotion of this song.

(Come on, at the end when the strings pick up and there’s a little burst of soprano? Fantastic.)

Top 10 of 2016: #5 Twin River – Settle Down

Twin RiverSettle Down

Canada might produce some of my favorite music, just behind Scotland (don’t know what it is about the Scots, but they know my sweet spot).

“Settle Down” is such a glimmering, shiny song. This is one of those rock songs that you could imagine being a hit in pretty much any era. There’s some Smiths-Blondie sound to it; it definitely could have been one of the videos that popped up on MTV in the late 90s; and it certainly fits right in with 2000s indie rock.

I’d never heard of Twin River before, but this song (and a good bit of the album) just hits in the right way. If you asked me tomorrow, I might tell you this was my favorite song of the year.

Top 10 of 2016: #6 Haley Bonar – Called You Queen

Haley BonarCalled You Queen

Figure out the pattern? This was a great year for solo women cranking out awesome poppy rock songs. This one’s another one that I think I picked up from KEXP. And it’s another one where the power-poppy-bounciness of the track underplays the more gloomy lyrics.

This really feels like it could fit in on Anna Waronker’s solo album from 2002, and I mean that in the best way. Haley Bonar’s Impossible Dream fits in nicely with Lucy Dacus’ No Burden as one of the better albums of 2016.