Here at Van Sounds, we don’t normally post “Best-of” lists, as we feel that the concept of “best” or “good” or “of” don’t apply in most circumstances. So, instead I’m awake before dawn and feel like blabbing about the podcasts that I loved listening to this year.
BUNDYVILLE - A 7-part series reported and hosted by Leah Sotille. Sotille is normally a print writer and those skills show in this series. She teamed up with Oregon Public Broadcasting to cover the Bundys — the NV ranch family who’s had armed stand-offs with the federal government. Frequently, national pieces about the Bundys and their stances are written by people who don’t seem to understand the nuances that set this family apart. Sotille perfectly outlines what makes the Bundys unique + complicated, and what makes their beliefs + actions particularly extreme.
RUMBLE STRIP - After knowing about Erica Heilman’s podcast for a long time and somehow circling it, I finally got sucked right down into it. And I couldn’t be happier. This show is smart, funny, touching and absurd at all of the right moments. Heilman just knows how to interview, and how to set the listener in the backseat, or in the woods or in some scene you would never find on your own. It’s a really excellent show that relies on tone instead of theme, and does so very cohesively.
NOCTURNE - I had the extreme pleasure of collaborating with Vanessa Lowe this year. She featured a couple of Van Sounds pieces on an episode called “Careening” and I ran her piece “A Catalogue of Nights.” Nocturne is all about atmosphere, and Vanessa is incredibly skilled at world-building. From the opening tones to the end credits, you’re submerged into night and all of the conflicting emotions that come with it. From cold and challenging, to warm and comforting, Nocturne builds the exact world you want to live in, even if just for a little while.
Ascent to K-2 by Joe Frank - Radio legend Joe Frank died early this year and some of my favorite podcasts posted obituaries to him. I hadn’t listened before, but heard “Ascent to K-2” posted on Home of the Brave, and I stood in awe in my basement for the entire story. I was screen printing shirts, and remember letting finished shirts fall right off the conveyor belt onto the floor because I was too engrossed to pick them up. When I got to the end, I immediately listened to the whole thing again, and then showed it to everyone I could convince to listen. The rhythm, the playfulness and the enveloping humor completely floored me, and reminded me how lacking the wider world of narrative podcasts is in those three categories.
False Alarm - Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything - This series was sprawling, meandering and fucking interesting. Built on the concept that 2018 is a difficult time to make a podcast that is sometimes true and sometimes fiction, this series dives in to the real and the fake in continuously surprising ways. From the opening episode about the false nuclear alarms in Hawaii to Stormy Daniels to Nazi occult beliefs to an AI plant, it really makes you consider what it means to blend fact and fiction for art in a time where dangerous people are doing the same for power.
Devolutionary Design - 99% Invisible - I listened to this episode during the first snow of the year, hiking with the dogs in the woods. Maybe it’s particularly interesting to me because I’m also in a sort of concept band (that loves Devo), but this piece about their underlying philosophies leading them to use a picture of a pro golfer on their album cover is really fun and engaging. A really nice reminder of what 99pi does well.
Some others I enjoyed a lot:
I also had the pleasure of working on The City this year from USA Today. Season 1 is up now.
Ok, that will do it. I’m going to take December to work on some new stuff, new shirts, and a new album so no VS episode this month. Thanks for reading, and keep moving.
Contributor Lauren Baker reads a postcard from Florence. Recorded on a hike in the Sierra Nevada.
You are what you do but sometimes that line moves, then blurs.
“I think about how far away from here I’ll be tomorrow. But tomorrow is only a horizon. It’s the line wavering under my feet — just a trick I’ve played on my eyes to convince me there’s a destination in sight. This must be time travel.” - Em Jiang
Roots Connective - Yclept Insan
Field Recording of a song by Well (interviewee)