The best podcasts for the week of May 4, 2019: Mobituaries, The Stakes

The best thing about podcasts is that you can listen to them while you’re doing other things: Dishes, going for a run, coloring, and especially, driving. But there are so many podcasts these days that it’s simply impossible to keep up. There are new ones debuting all the time, and it’s hard to know whether they deserve a spot in your feed.

Every week, we highlight new and returning podcasts we couldn’t put down. Whether you’re looking for the latest and greatest or you’re just dipping your toe into the vast ocean of podcasts, we’ll find you something worth listening to. This week, we’ve got podcasts about mountain goats, suburban sprawl, disastrous advertising, and unusual obituaries.

Music podcast

I Only Listen to the Mountain Goats

Why should I listen? You love the band called The Mountain Goats, poetry, or songwriting.     

How many episodes are there and how long are they? The band’s new album has 12 songs, and the second season will have one episode per song, each around 50 minutes.     

Describe it in one word: Voluble.

If you spent the mid-00s on the website Song Meanings, as I did, then I Only Listen to the Mountain Goats is the podcast for you. The Mountain Goats’ songs ooze with imagery and symbolism. (“Fill your mouth with berries/by the full light of the moon/Work all night if you have to/The magpie comes at noon.”)

John Darnielle is the singer/songwriter for the prolific band. In the podcast’s second season, he and host Joseph Fink dissect The Mountain Goats’ new album, In League with Dragons, song by song. Much like how the Longform podcast dissects how nonfiction writers tell stories, I Only Listen … explores the songwriting and recording process. As is not surprising for a man who litters his songs with historical, biblical, and literary references, the conversations between Darnielle and Fink are often filled with the names of authors, directors, and musicians. It’s a bit like hanging out with a college philosophy professor who has a wayward past.    

History podcast

Mobituaries with Mo Rocca

Why should I listen? Because this podcast gives the dead room to breathe.      

How many episodes are there and how long are they? There are eight episodes, between about 40 and 50 minutes.     

Describe it in one word: Revivified.

In 2018, The New York Times started running “overlooked” obituaries — important people whose deaths the paper didn’t cover, often because they were women or weren’t white. Obits are often the public’s first introduction to someone who’s changed lives. Once your obituary has been published, it’s certainly more difficult for you to make the news again.

Mo Rocca loves obituaries, and in his Mobituaries podcast, he covers them in a unique way. It’s pretty lighthearted for a show about dead people. The episodes may be about someone you’ve never heard of, like silent film actress Lois Weber. Sometimes Rocca talks about someone you think you know but brings up facts you probably weren’t aware of — like that conjoined twins Chang and Eng were slave owners.

Culture podcast

Winnetka: A Memoir

Why should I listen? While suburban life was idealized in TV sitcoms during this era, not everyone was living the dream — even if it looked like it from the outside.      

How many episodes are there and how long are they? It’s a 10-episode podcast, and each is about half an hour.     

Describe it in one word: Bittersweet.

Frank and Lillian Gilbreth were efficiency experts who used their research to keep their household of 12 children running smoothly. Their family life is portrayed in the book Cheaper by the Dozen and the 1950 movie of the same name. In the 2003 remake, gone are the efficiency experts, and life is much messier for the dozen kids and their parents. When you learn a little more about screenwriter Sam Harper’s life, the changes start to make sense.  

In her podcast Winnetka, actress Jessica Harper (who was in both versions of Suspiria) examines memories both big and small from her childhood in the Illinois suburbs. Growing up in the 1950s and ‘60s, she and her five siblings (including Sam Harper) had unsupervised adventures that often led them to get into trouble. Though the Harpers had half as many children as the Gilbreths, their home was often chaotic and sometimes violent. Through interviews with her siblings, Jessica Harper unspools the story of her childhood, bringing to life her complicated father and overwhelmed yet loving mother.        

News podcast

The Stakes

Why should I listen? In case you need another reminder that corporations aren’t your friends.      

How many episodes are there and how long are they? There are two half-hour episodes so far.      

Describe it in one word: Diligent.

When I was little, my younger sister cut her own hair, ultimately resulting in a chin-length bob. I called her “The Little Dutch Boy” because she looked like the kid on the paint can commercials. It turns out, I wasn’t the only child who made a connection with this identifiable mascot. The results were much more insidious than me just being a jerk to my sister.

On the first episode of The Stakes, host Kai Wright visits a mother whose young children have been biting the windowsill in their home because its sweet. The lead in the paint makes it taste appealing. Even though paint companies knew the dangers of putting lead in paint, they continued to do so, and Dutch Boy used its mascot to endear kids to its brand. The episode explains how doctors figured out how unsafe lead is and the changes that followed — and how not everyone has benefited from those changes.  

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