vulture lists

Looking for a Distraction? Try These Escapist Podcasts

Photo: Vulture

Well, it looks like we may be sheltering in place for a while, with days turning into weeks and, eventually, months. One of the more taxing qualities about this state of affairs is the sudden drop in the range of different day-to-day experiences we’re able to have, and more specifically, the experiences we used to enjoy without much difficulty. Bookstores and music venues are closed, leisurely travel is strongly discouraged.

It might be a little absurd to suggest turning to podcasts in order to re-create those real-life experiences — but then again, these are extenuating circumstances. With that firmly in mind, here are six podcast picks that have been helping me fake a sense of normalcy.

Field Recordings (Independent)

You might not be able to roam far and wide for a while, but you can still travel. Eleanor McDowall’s experimental audio project is a collection of postcards, where each missive offers a different raw field recording — or a recording of places and things that can be broadly construed as a field — by a different producer. So far, the collection has amassed a wide range of environmental sounds from across the world: nighttime in Hachioji, Japan, a tropical rainforest in Sri Lanka, and a campsite in Zion National Park, Utah.

Desert Island Discs (BBC Radio 4)

The record stores are closed, but you can still bask in someone else’s love of music. First hitting airwaves back in the ’40s, BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs is an age-old stalwart. Nowadays also distributed as a podcast, the show brings on a steady stream of guests to talk about the music that’s meant something to their lives, or that they simply enjoy. Typically executed at a brisk pace, the straightforward format is as comforting as it is nourishing. When it’s hard to keep the spirits up, listening to someone talk about something they love can be genuinely lifting.

Tiny Desk Concerts (NPR)

It’ll be some time before live music venues can fill up again. In addition to further building your collection and checking out an assortment of concert livestreams, consider also plumbing through the deep archives of NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts series. There are the YouTube versions of these performances, of course, but they are also accessible as audio-only versions through a podcast feed, so you can listen to them on the go while on your daily walk or a grocery run. And if you really want to create the live-music-venue environment, you can always turn up the volume, dim the lights, and stand behind your roommate, whose height blocks you from seeing anything on the nonexistent stage.

The Lonely Palette (Independent)

Even though museums and galleries remain shuttered, you can still have a felt moment with a piece of art. The Lonely Palette, Tamar Avishai’s fantastic, independently produced podcast, is an admirably accessible vessel for arts education. Each episode trains its attention on a different noteworthy painting, with the ultimate goal of providing listeners with the kind of historical context that helps them establish a relationship with the piece. This month, Lonely Palette is the “podcast in residence” at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, specifically focusing on an ongoing exhibition called “Women Take the Floor.” The partnership introduces a further sense of place to the podcast, evoking the feeling of actually wandering through an art museum.

The Paris Review Podcast (Stitcher)

If you miss book readings, you might consider downloading an audiobook. (In which case, this app is a good start.) But you should also consider The Paris Review Podcast, which offers the value of serving up a wide range of stories, essays, and poetry harvested from the publication’s extensive archives, all delivered by a fascinating roster of performers that includes Charlotte Rampling, Molly Ringwald, Robert Pattinson, and Morgan Parker (who reads her own poem). Always interesting and always surprising, the production is further elevated by consistently strong sound design. Alternatively, the podcast is probably also good for people who miss dressing up for a fancy dinner someplace.

The Anthropocene Reviewed (WNYC Studios and Complexly)

For just about everything else, there’s The Anthropocene Reviewed. The premise is simple yet compelling: Each episode features the author John Green providing listeners with essays reviewing different aspects of the Anthropocene, i.e. the geological age in which human activity has profoundly affected the Earth. That concept might come off as pretentious, or even like an ironic bit from Andy Daly’s Review. But Green’s podcast is gently self-aware and sincere to the concept. Whether it’s a work of art or the Taco Bell Breakfast Menu, his reviews are observations that double as exercises in memoiristic empathy; he’s trying to get you to feel about something the way he feels about that something. Since its launch in early 2018, The Anthropocene Reviewed has built a nice catalogue of mundane and unexpected experiences alike, an inventory of potentially new things for you to connect with.

Looking for a Distraction? Try These Escapist Podcasts