2018: The year in podcasts
Break out the selection boxes and settle down with some of the best podcasts of the year
Blindboy Boatclub: podcast of the year
Christmas is a great time to catch up on all the podcast highlights you may have missed during the year. Delving in, the sheer volume of content on offer may feel somewhat overwhelming, so to narrow things down, here are some of the best of 2018 so far.
Podcast of the year
In little over a year, The Blindboy Podcast has captured an audience large enough to give any director of radio programming sleepless nights. Come for the Baudrillardian simulacra and “Gas C**tism”, stay for the mental-health resilience tips and Yurty Ahern updates. A monthly Patreon donation will ensure this “podcast hug” of the year stays afloat – a small, but worthwhile investment in your emotional well-being.
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to wade through the saturated true-crime genre. But the return of Payne Lindsey (of Up and Vanished podcast fame), with another gripping whodunnit, Atlanta Monster, was a category highlight of 2018. This 10-episode series looks into the mystery surrounding 28 child murders which took place in Atlanta between 1979 and 1981.
Sign up for an Audible free trial and binge-listen to one of the best podcasts of 2018, West Cork. This 13-part series by journalist Sam Bungey and documentary-maker Jennifer Forde tackles the cold-case murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier in Schull, Co Cork, in 1996.
Honourable mentions: The Teacher’s Pet, In the Dark (season two), I’ll be Gone in the Dark, Empire on Blood.
For non-fiction fans, the standout production was Gimlet Media’s seven-part series, The Habitat, a true story of six volunteers picked by Nasa to live on a fake planet Mars in Hawaii for a year, to simulate what life might be like on the red planet for future astronauts.
The third iteration of Sarah Koenig’s investigative journalism podcast, Serial, returned in October, with this season’s twist being a shift in format, in the guise of single-episode stories of the American criminal justice system and all its flaws.
The New York Times’s The Daily became essential listening for anyone seeking out measured, political commentary on that administration.
Sticking with NYT, Caliphate featured some of the most impressive investigative journalism the format had to offer in 2018. Reporters Rukmini Callimachi and Andy Mills track Isis through recruitment chatrooms, social media, eyewitness accounts, victim statements, the gathering of thousands of files abandoned by militants, and the controversial revelations of life inside an Islamic State training camp through interviews with Canadian ex-jihadi, Abu Huzaifa al-Kanadi.
Love and relationships
If eavesdropping on couples’ conflict is your jam, then season three of Where Should We Begin? by Belgian psychotherapist Esther Perel should be prescribed listening. Anonymous couples agree to have their counselling sessions recorded, rewarding listeners with intimate, insightful stories of their struggles with themes as universal as sex, sickness, religion, infidelity and grief.
For more true stories of love, loss and redemption, Modern Love: The Podcast is an NPR production based on the popular New York Times series of reader-submitted essays, offering something a little bit different, with readings of said essays by actors such as Kate Winslet, Uma Thurman, Angela Bassett and Jake Gyllenhaal.
Due to copyright restrictions around the broadcasting of music, this genre has suffered somewhat in podcast format, but there are some notable exceptions. For any music nerd who loves a deep dive into composition, Song Exploder features an artist each week deconstructing one of their most popular songs. Episode 136, Jon Hopkins on Luminous Beings, is a great kick-off point.
For any drummer sick of being the butt of every band joke, you now get your very own podcast, The Trapset with Joe Wong, and it’s a belter. And in Lost Notes, we have a glorious eight-part anthology featuring “some of the greatest music stories never truly told”.
Finally, a sports podcast that everyone can enjoy. From the makers of the 30 for 30 film series, ESPN’s 30 for 30 podcasts are a collection of original audio documentaries that should appeal to hardcore sports fans and casual listeners alike. Season four is now live, but scroll straight to their five-part series Bikram, from season three, as Julia Lowrie Henderson takes a long-form look at the complex, dark world of Bikram Choudhury’s fitness revolution, Bikram yoga.
For some light relief, follow it up with the surreal and often hilarious Athletico Mince, hosted by comedian Bob Mortimer and Andy Dawson, featuring a cast of real and fictional characters, and bizarre segments such as ‘Gangs of the EPL’ – Mortimer’s stories relating to his encounters with gang culture in the Premier League.
Still suffering from post-World Cup blues? Check out the We Came To Win series on the beautiful game, which features some of the most memorable and remarkable stories in the tournament’s history.