15 Music Podcasts Packed with Brilliant Tunes and Analysis – Time Out

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From heart-stopping documentaries to album guides, if itโ€™s music podcasts you want weโ€™ve got you covered
Why not just tune into a radio station? Frankly, there are many reasons. A music podcast can mean a hell of a lot of different things. Some of these shows are searingly good documentaries about musicians rather than being foremost a selection of tunes (although they’re usually that too). Others delve into albums or even individual songs with the sort of deep-dive expansiveness that you’re unlikely to hear on even the hippest of radio stations. And others just have really cool hosts who you want to spend more time with. Needless to say, there are a lot of good choices for a long road trip or when you fancy having something on in the background – it goes without saying that most of these podcasts come with terrific soundtracks.
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If you want to get properly geeky, this hugely acclaimed show hosted by Cole Cuchna is most certainly for you. Rather than dedicate a single episode to a single album, ‘Dissect’ dedicates whole seasons to them. With an emphasis on modern hip hop, Cuchna gets thoughtful and forensic about each sample and lyric in modern masterpieces like ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ or ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’. It’s sublime stuff by a man who really knows his shit, and if he basically only covers two albums a year (if that) then you’ll hardly feel underserved by ‘Dissect’s lusciously deep dives.

This terrific series of podcasts from US radio station KCRW aims to bring you ‘the greatest music stories never told’. The net is cast pretty wide and each season comes with a theme, though there’s a heavy focus on the ‘80s and the heyday of independent and alternative music. From season to season the tone, host and even intent of the show varies; the excellent 2021 series Bent By Nature is loosely centred on influential underground LA DJ Deirdre O’Donoghue, and features a bonanza of big-name guests including Michael Stipe and Henry Rollins.

The great-granddaddy of the ‘some dudes talk you through their song’ genre that dominates modern music podcasting, the Hrishikesh Hirway-presented ‘Song Exploder’ is an immaculate fortnightly show in which host Hirway and, well, the dudes that wrote that week’s song under the spotlight talk you through it. At around half an hour a time, the episodes are thorough without descending into abject nerdery, and there’s a good balance of classic oldies and contemporary tracks – it’s as good a way to get into new music as it is to find out more about old faves.

If you’re looking for something really long, really in-depth and – crucially – with absolutely loads of music in it, you can’t go wrong with Spotify’s Yasi Salek-hosted ‘Bandsplain’, in which an advocate for a band or artist will explain what’s so great about them to the strains of a carefully handpicked curated playlist. The episodes are not short: some stretch past the four-hour mark, or are divided into two parts that add up to even more. Acts tend to be canonically approved legends – whether huge or cult – though there’s plenty of variation. 

Let’s be real here – many of the guests on the BBC’s jaw-droppingly long-running concept show have absolutely terrible taste in music. Heck, when ‘Desert Island Discs’ started in 1948, pop music as we understand it didn’t even exist. However, there’s a reason it’s lasted so long: nothing makes you feel like you know a guest like hearing them pick their favourite tunes: if you’re interested in the guest, you’ll be interested in the songs they’ve chosen, good or bad. (And no, podcasts weren’t a thing in the ‘40s, but the BBC had put much of the archive up on the usual podcast channels).

The legendary drummer from The Roots (and Oscar-winning documentary maker to boot!) is also something of a podcasting pro. ‘Questlove Supreme’ offers long-form, interview-based deep dives into the worlds of a wide selection of artists. The emphasis is on hip hop and soul, but Questlove is a musical magpie, and there’s all manner of fascinating delves into gospel, rock and electronic artists, many of whom you won’t have heard of – which is a big part of the fun. The interviews are great, and the accompanying mixtapes are unmissable.

Though essentially now wound up, the back catalogue of this NPR show is essential. Hosted by Rodney Carmichael and Sidney Madden, ‘Louder than a Riot’ is a piercingly intelligent look at the interplay between hip hop music and mass incarceration in the US prison system in the modern era. Each week is focused on a different artist and their experience with prison, and what that meant for their lives and career. One of the heaviest going entries on this list, but also one of the most rewarding.

Music podcast meets true crime in the third season of the excellent ‘Slow Burn’. Slate magazine’s investigative series started off looking at the Watergate scandal, moved on to Bill Clinton’s impeachment in season two, and for the third looked into the murders of ‘90s hip hop icons Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur. Presented by culture journalist Joel Anderson, the series is a meticulously researched look at the East Coast/West Coast hip hop feuds of the ‘90s and the rise and downfalls of the two icons. Although it covers the vast number of conspiracy theories surrounding the pair, it’s also blessedly conspiracy free itself, aiming to lucidly marshall the established facts rather than believe it can solve things itself.

This wonderfully pungent podcast is devoted to the manifold eccentrics and eccentricities of the country music scene of the twentieth century. Presented by Tyler Mahan Coe – son of country musician David Allen Coe – ‘Cocaine and Rhinestones’ is gleeful and humorous and completely alive to the fact that a lot of the characters involved in country music are very weird and very funny. It probably helps if you like the music, but it’s compulsive viewing any which way.

The New York Times’ monolithic music podcast is a huge and mercurial thing that changes shape from week to week depending on how they decide to direct their enormous resources. Sometimes it’ll offer a straight-up artist profile; more often than not, it’ll pursue a more esoteric trend or report a fascinating story from a foreign country. It’s got all the scrappy outsider charm of the Death Star, but it’s brilliant big-budget music journalism, quite probably the best in the world.

There are surprisingly few really great electronic music podcasts out there – possibly because such a visceral medium doesn’t necessarily thrive off a chat-based format. But respect to influential music website Resident Advisor’s long-running podcast ‘RA Exchange, which offers an in-depth weekly profile of an electronic musician, new or veteran. These thoughtful profiles are some of the only places you’ll ever hear some of the biggest names in electronic music speak at length.

There hasn’t been an episode since 2018, but even as an archival thing, this podcast from Jesse Cohen is a real treasure trove of ‘10s music goodies. A musician himself – you may or may not remember the band Tanlines – Cohen offers frank, no-frills chats with his guests that are notable for a singular lack of the usual journalistic sophistry – his promise is (or was) that he would never ask anybody what their band name means. Subjects vary from giants like The Killers to more obscure acts like Niia; to date his final show. 

We’re generally steering clear of musical theatre podcasts here seeing as that’s basically opening a whole different can of worms, but music is music and the ‘Hamilcast’ is a pretty remarkable show, being a long-running podcast devoted to – yup, you guessed it – the musical ‘Hamilton’. Running since early 2016 – less than a year after the first off-Broadway preview of Lin Manuel Miranda’s hip hop musical opus – Gillian Pensaval’s podcast long ago went through the show’s main creatives and is a gloriously gossipy trawl through the many productions and casts of the show now out there in the world.

All sorts of bands have their own dedicated podcasts, and frankly, the quality is wildly variable and heavily based on the goodwill of hardcore fandoms. But if you’re going to try one, this Irish Beatles podcast is a cut above, with hosts Jason Carty and Steven Cockcroft having spun a seemingly inexhaustible number of episodes out of the story of the Fab Four. Their secret is a combination of microscopic attention to detail – each episode usually only deals with an absolutely tiny bit of the band’s vast legend – and the fact they’re extremely entertaining and funny chaps.

In a world full of slick podcasts devoted to carefully dissecting cutting edge modern pop and artists and iconic hits of the past, ‘That’s Not Metal’ isn’t afraid to stick out like a sore thumb. It is, in fact, metal, though the podcast – which has had a varying lineup of presenters over the years – is deliriously enthusiastic about every nook and cranny of the genre, from the silliest rap-metal to the baffling extremes of metal’s jazzier end.
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