5 Podcasts to Enhance Your Appreciation of Music

If there’s one thing the ongoing pandemic has taught us, it’s that the “too much time on my hands” concept no longer applies. If anything, we’ve got more than enough time to pursue all our audiophile-related passions — or, as Burgess Meredith put it in one of The Twilight Zone’smost infamous episodes, “There’s time now. Time enough at last.” As for me, I’ve finally been listening to many of the music podcasts I always said I’d get around to “someday.” To share some of my freshly unearthed aural rewards, I’ve zeroed in on five music-centric podcasts that best speak to our mutual interests — in addition to a sixth smorgasbord selection, just in case you can’t get enough of this stuff.

Song Exploder
The tagline says it all — musicians take apart their own songs note by note and tell the story of how they were made. Host/ creator Hrishikesh Hirway lets the musicians do practically all the talking by editing out the balance of his Qs, showing he very much knows the right things to ask to glean the best unfettered responses. While there are some astute recording veterans in the overall mix (Sheryl Crow, Semisonic), I got more out of the revelations from current artists whom I know tangentially. Hearing FKA Twigs dissect her visualization of the multi-layered reflection concept that permeates “Mirrored Heart” or how Tame Impala kept experimenting to find the right “serendipitous” tone for “It Might Be Time” enhanced my post-podcast listening with both songs. songexploder.net

Questlove Supreme
Roots and Tonight Show drummer/DJ extraordinaire Questlove and his occasional Team Supreme co-hosts go deep into the iHeart of “nerd-out culture,” whether it’s vintage hip-hop, smooth R&B, classic rock, or even stand-up/improv comedy. As Quest oh-so succinctly describes it, his focus is on “seeing the machinery inside the vehicle of the creative process” so he’s able to delve further into the mechanical meat of making art, due in no small part to his genuinely relatable pop-culture geek charm. This enables the likes of Kurtis Blow to feel comfortable enough to go long when detailing the importance of “the breaks” in soul/funk music and how it all fueled the block-party energy of late-1970s New York City — and, ultimately, the transition from the dominance of the DJ to the rise of the MC that accelerated the evolution of hip-hop. Supreme boom-bap cool in all the right ways. iheart.com

Sound Opinions
Longtime Chicago rock critic foils Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis are the modern equivalent of Siskel & Ebert — rarely wishy-washy, but each called out in kind by the other if even the slightest wavering occurs. Earlier this year, they both took a measured look at 50 years of King Crimson’s “no boundaries” sound by rightly concentrating on the apexes of their three distinct eras in fine, golden-eared detail. Other opinionated highlights include a look at their favorite songs about time, including (naturally) Pink Floyd’s “Time” — which, as DeRogatis correctly observes, has “the greatest tuned roto-tom solo ever” — and Kot’s take on Ice Cube’s temporary respite from societal ills, “It Was a Good Day.” wbez.org

Hanging Out With the Audiophiles
Producer Jamie Lidell is on an unending “quest to discover how to make things sound right,” and he shares all the nuts and bolts about his hardware/software discoveries with a wide-eyed excitement nothing less than bleeping infectious. Lidell’s childlike enthusiasm about experimenting with professional audio gear is palpable, whether espousing the benefits of the new LUNA DAW and legacy hardware with Universal Audio’s Lev Perrey or the differences between finagling drum-machine presets and the physical energy expelled playing acoustic drums with guitarist/vocalist Wendy Melvoin of Prince and The Revolution fame. “What we do is create,” Lidell intones, and he continues proving it every nanosecond. soundcloud.com

Rock’s Backpages
Manned by a trio of insightful British rock writers — longtimers Barney Hoskyns and Mark Pringle, plus younger-gen Jasper Murison-Bowie — RocksBackPages (RBP) often guest-lists fellow music scribes to talk about those being-there moments that also serve as the backbone of the acclaimed, same-named online international rock journalism library. One recent installment centered on the history of Island Records opened my ears to the added benefits of their sturdier gatefold album sleeves and the seeds of the initial herky-jerkiness that defined perennial quirk-rockers Sparks. rocksbackpages.com

Many of the topics at hand are supplemented with historical interview clips, such as the one with Island founder Chris Blackwell explaining why he wanted pink labels stamped on their more pop-leaning LPs.

Podcast Potpourri
Want more? May I suggest the following trio: Sid Smith’s Postcards From the Yellow Room (prog-leaning Brit writer accentuates overlooked artists amidst a superbly curated playlist); Disgraceland (what would happen if Law & Order and Tiger King met in a back alley to discuss sex, drugs, and rock & roll); and Now Hear This (guitar-oriented playlists balance deep cuts with compositional analysis from two pros).

Mike Mettler, a.k.a. The SoundBard, is the music editor of Sound & Vision.