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Perk up with these quirky podcasts

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"[These podcasts] all steer clear of politics, news and the entertainment industry, and best of all, are unabashedly weird and embrace it."

Sasha Hassan

Sasha Hassan

"[These podcasts] all steer clear of politics, news and the entertainment industry, and best of all, are unabashedly weird and embrace it."

Oce Bohra, Copy Editor

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In ninth grade, I (along with a few hundred other students) sat down for a dozen hours to listen to “Serial,” a podcast that explored whether Adnan Syed, a teenager in Baltimore, was wrongfully convicted for murdering his ex-girlfriend. While I’ve done my best to block out all and any memories from my (extremely awkward/humiliating/depressing) freshman year, I do remember the way that the podcast elicited a feeling that was utterly strange – like books, it sequestered you inside this reality of its own, but the way it broke the fourth wall made you a participant of that reality. While I shall forever remain a bibliophile, I definitely do think there is something about podcasts that makes them the perfect backdrop for car rides spent dramatically gazing out a window, nights after binge-watching Netflix destroyed the eyes, or simply a study session for calculus so boring you’d rather contemplate the absurdism of your own existence than look at another derivative. In a nutshell, a good list of these can provide enough excitement to fill all the spare moments of your day.

So, I’ve included a short list of the most strange, existentialist podcasts that I can find. These have all withstood the test of my impatience (I gave each podcast three minutes to prove its worth before I mentally screamed “DUMP IT” and cut my losses). They all steer clear of politics, news and the entertainment industry, and best of all, are unabashedly weird and embrace it.

 

“THIS IS LOVE” Episode 1: “The Run”

This Is Love Podcast
“‘This is Love’ investigates life’s most persistent mystery. Stories of sacrifice, obsession, and the ways in which we bet everything on one another.”

The first episode began with David Alexander, an elderly man, recounting his meeting with his wife Jessie. The start was not particularly appealing. Alexander had an ever-so-slow voice that made me want to bash the speed button (which didn’t exist), and there were strange linguistic gems peppered throughout — his wife was described as “muscular slender.” Not to mention, their love story began with him asking her ,“Would you like to go to the ballet?”, a mere fifteen minutes after he asked her, a complete stranger, to hold his keys while he ran around a park. Not exactly relatable. In short, the beginning dragged and I had no patience to deal with another half hour of his somewhat cutesy, clichéd love story when I had another few hours of APUSH homework to do. Yet the next few words convinced me to stick around: “It’s easy to tell this part of the story. The rest isn’t so simple. Nothing good ever is.”

I realized I definitely didn’t have the patience to stick around with this podcast — if not for the article I was writing, I would have given up before the man reached his second sentence. Yet what this podcast does well is weave something entirely strange and unexpected into a story, so that once you’ve braved the initial few minutes, your attention is almost assuredly focused on it. The stories are quirky: the strange initial meeting gave way to a surprise Indian wedding in which “parrots screamed in ecstasy” to a grieving process for Jessie’s death involving a boat to the daughters putting sling wrap on Alexander’s new girlfriend’s toilet (whom he met by putting an ad in a newspaper called “The Indie”). The slow pace starkly juxtaposes with the rapid slinging around of new topics.

Yet the most overpowering emotion I felt when listening to “This is Love” was a sense of eavesdropping on something that wasn’t meant for my — or the public’s — ears. The unassuming beginning gives way to a narrative that is as emotionally rich as it is complex. At the end of the episode, Alexander’s daughter concludes, “He’s a real cut-your-losses type of guy when it comes to love. Either it’s there, or it’s not, and there’s no sense in trying to build it. That’s not how it works.” From a podcast with such hopeful beginnings, the ending isn’t so sugary-sweet. It’s tough to swallow such a tale.

With its dynamics, interplay, confessional style of interviews and even the music in the background make the story feel too real, “This is Love” stops being about entertainment and becomes something else entirely. Listen at your own peril: these stories can make you sick to your stomach, but for some unexplainable reason, it’s entirely worth it.

Rating: 8.5 (equal parts beautiful and torturous)

Episode to Listen To: “Something Large and Wild”

 

“ALICE ISN’T DEAD” Episode 1: “The Omelet”

Nightvale Presents
“A truck driver searches across America for the wife she had long assumed was dead. In the course of her search, she will encounter not-quite-human serial murderers, towns literally lost in time and a conspiracy that goes way beyond one missing woman.”

“Alice Isn’t Dead” has a way of captivating your attention from the get-go. Written in first person, the narrator, a truck driver named Keisha who lugs travel-sized “deodorant from one place that doesn’t need it to another,” begins by addressing her dead wife herself: “I want to start by saying that this is not a story. It’s a road trip. Which … same difference. In a good one the start is exciting, and the finish is satisfying, and we end up somewhere else … somewhere a long way away from where we started.” The voice, the emotion and the first- person format make listening almost uncomfortably intimate (and no, not in THAT way).

The music that marks her musings gives the podcast an air of uneasiness, a sharp edge to the seemingly innocuous words. If you strain your ear, it sounds like a orchestra of muted screams, which I suppose, is fitting. Keisha herself is brutally descriptive; stream-of-consciousness style, she sputters out details of the scene so clearly that the podcast could rival a movie in terms of the image it embeds in your brain. It’s the (rare) type of podcast that makes me put down my pen and just truly listen.

The barely-sixteen-minute introductory podcast is centered around a creepy man eating an omelet in a diner. Said man stares at Keisha. It sounds like a pretty basic premise, yet the podcast further twisted the ordinary creepiness of gross men at diners into something grotesque and downright frightening, using the episode to introduce the listeners and Keisha into a world populated by supernatural beings in which nothing is what it seems.

What struck me the most was the intentionality of each word, as if the words weren’t jostled together in sentences but rather, each one was deliberated, debated, discussed before being strung to the next. The variability of Keisha’s voice — the way a host of emotions ranging from hatred (“There are times I hate you more than any of them, Alice”), resignation (“We are nothing if not absurd. We are nothing”), tenderness (“Of course I cried, Alice. Of course I did”), to fear (“I didn’t think that dark could have a bottom until I saw a dark that didn’t”) — provides emotional depth to a podcast characterized by a single voice. The flittering tone, coupled with the radio cutting out mid-sentence, leaves the listener at the precipice of learning a truth, but leaves the clues tangling just above their fingers. The gore is approached unabashedly, and the mixture of detailed horror, dancing thoughts, and vivid descriptions of the country make the podcast — more than anything else — art.

This is a podcast for late nights. In the words of the podcast, “People say that bad experiences are like nightmares. This [isn’t] a nightmare. What I remember the most about it was how real it was.” You’ll find yourself shivering and reaching for that nightlight you had long discarded or stowed away.

Rating: 10 (It sounds like the brainchild of an emo poet and a horror movie producer.)

 

“GOSSIP”

Gossip Podcast

Self-professed “soap opera meets audio drama,” the premise of this podcast episode is simple: three female friends sit around a table, and true to form, gossip about fellow inhabitants of their suburban city. With episodes like “Elderly Escorts” and “Meth Airbnb,” the podcast includes as much controversial content as it does fluff. The rhythm of the syrupy shallowness provides a great background to whatever menial or boring task you have at hand: Access and my never-ending Spanish project seemed to fly once I put this on. “Gossip” cues flashbacks to listening in on my own aunts’ snarky gossip sessions, but this was infinitely more satisfying.

Rating: 9 (Whatever it does, it does well.)

 

“SANDRA”

Gimlet Media
“Being Sandra is like having a superpower. You know [the users’] shopping habits, their browsing history, all the major events in their lives. You even know their heartbeat, but they know absolutely nothing about you,” mentions one of the characters in audio thriller Sandra.

The podcast invents a world where the dominant AI assistant Sandra —think Siri or Alexa — isn’t powered by technology but by a mass of people who respond to queries, call-center style. Sandra’s strength lies in the fact that it’s not in your face about its message: it raises questions about privacy invasions, the powers of technology companies, and the increasing amounts of “humanity” injected into artificial intelligence as well as about what these problems mean for our society (all pretty heavy material) but it does so by placing an itch in your mind that you can’t help but scratch. Sandra is far from a perfect podcast, however. The truckload of advertisements are placed at downright obnoxious intervals and the logistics of the company that creates Sandra aren’t fleshed out or even rational. I’d advise any listeners to let the tiny details go over their heads and focus on the overall storyline: the experience is far more enjoyable that way.

Rating: 7.5 (It’s got all the ingredients right, but the product was a mess.)

 

Other podcasts I’d definitely recommend looking into are “Welcome to Night Vale,” made by the same producers as “Alice isn’t Dead,” and “My Favorite Murder,” which, true to its name, retells history’s most grisly murders. While “My Favorite Murder,” may be an elixir to true-crime diehards, it also doubles as a support group for mental health and substance abuse problems (their affiliated virtual support group on Facebook has over 100,000 members) and the hosts’ witty commentary can leave anyone enthralled for hours. So there you have it: six podcasts perfectly calibrated to embrace your strange side.

 

 

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