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6 Spooky Podcasts to Listen to Right Now

Photo-Illustration: Vulture

Hey all! It’s officially Halloween week, so we’re doing an all-spooky newsletter today.

As always, tell me what you’re listening to. You can reach me at nicholas.quah@vulture.com or find me on Twitter.

Snap Judgment: Spooked 

Ghost stories with a beat. 
Some episodes available on all platforms. Listen here

Few podcasts are more reliably creepy than Spooked, the spinoff podcast from the fine folks at Snap Judgment. The show started out as an annual Treehouse of Horror–style set of special ghost-story episodes put out by the long-running storytelling radio show every Halloween season, and you know how these things go: Those specials turned out to be really special, and the prospect of breaking them made too much sense not to do.

Ghost stories play directly into Snap Judgment’s strengths as a production, The show leans hard on sonic atmosphere, which, when paired with the team’s affinity for the single-voice narrative format, creates a kind of telescopic effect. Listening to the show, you often feel like you’re falling down a deep, spiraling rabbit hole. With Spooked, the question goes: What if that rabbit hole was full of ghouls?

These days, a good deal of the sonic responsibility for Spooked is shouldered by Lauryn Newson, credited as the show’s manager of sound. Newson joined the team in 2019 after moving around the audio-production business for several years; she started out with her own projects, found her way onto movie sets as a PA, and even scored some time as a mentee at Skywalker Ranch.

Over email recently, Newson described her distinctly ghost-first sound-design approach for Spooked as follows:

For me, this information serves as a great reference point to get started. One of the biggest things I’ve learned about scoring stories is that you really have to tune in to what the story is asking for and make sure that each ghost is being depicted in their uniqueness.

For me, this information serves as a great reference point to get started. One of the biggest things I’ve learned about scoring stories is that you really have to tune in to what the story is asking for and make sure that each ghost is being depicted in their uniqueness.

As with any good artisan, Newson has a grab-bag of reliable tools. “Adding dissonance and reverb can help make things sound more creepy … lots of FX [sound effects] and finding different ways to make the music weirder using plug-ins,” says Newson. “And this may seem counterintuitive, but knowing when to dial back from the spooky, so that when the scariest moments do come, they have more of an impact.”

Newson’s favorite piece that she has worked on so far is the fifth-season opener, “Take Me Home,” produced by Chris Hambrick, which involves a ceramic musical lamb that’s haunted (natch). Some poltergeist action worked its way into the mix. “There’s a scene that involves all of the kitchen cabinets flying open, dishes flying, appliances whirling, the whole nine which was fun to re-create,” she says. “I even covered a portion of an Elvis song to work into the score (which the story called for), which was an interesting twist.”

Despite her day job, though, Newson doesn’t seem to be a huge consumer of horror herself. “I actually don’t watch a lot of scary movies because I like my sleep and my peace of mind,” she confesses. “But every once and a while I do like to give myself a good scare. My favorite movie is the original Candyman (1992). Great story line, and Tony Todd is a living legend. Candyman had bars, iykyk.”

Oh, ik.

You can listen to some Spooked episodes for free on the widely available Snap Judgment and Spooked feeds, but the show’s full archive sits behind the Luminary paywall, which you can access via Apple Podcast Channels or the Luminary app.

Close to Death

Knockin’ on heaven’s door.
Available on all platforms. Listen here

When I was younger man, I had gothlike tendencies … what am I saying, I have gothlike tendencies today. Point is, I’m predisposed to enjoying a show like Close to Death, a new six-episode series that dives into the worlds of people who spend their lives working close to the land of the dead, including obituary writers, crime-scene cleaners (not crime-scene investigators), and witches, among others.

The series comes from Transmitter Media, USG Audio, and Paul Feig’s Powderkeg Studios, and the way it handles its business involves pairing each episode concept with a correspondent. This season, there are three: the producer and writer Greg Heller, the comedian Mary Beth Barone, and the TV writer Jourdain Fisher.

I’ve listened to about half the season, and you know what? I enjoyed what I heard. It definitely suffers from mimicking the This American Life aesthetic a little too much, and I don’t quite understand why the framing of the show relies on a host-anchor who isn’t himself a correspondent — in this case, it’s the actor-musician Utkash Ambudkar — but the stories themselves offer vivid windows into the subterranean textures of the worlds of the dead. These are worlds where the phrases “the death space” and “the death business” get thrown around as banalities, where you learn that there exists a “Society of Professional Obituary Writers,” which hands out biannual awards called “Grimmies.”

It reminds me of a book I love — Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons From a Crematory, by the mortician, author, and death-acceptance advocate Caitlin Doughty — and the core learning I got from it: You will die eventually, so have fun with the details.

Close to Death debuts today and releases new episodes weekly.

Meanwhile…

It’s Vampire Veek here at Vulture, so I figured I’d stick with the theme and dedicate this grab-bag section to all things vampire and bats.

First of all, if you were into my Scream, Queens! pick from a few weeks ago, and perhaps found that you enjoy the podcast subgenre of “vicarious horror-movie consumption,” I highly recommend Random Number Generator Horror Podcast No. 9, hosted by Night Vale’s Jeffrey Cranor and Cecil Baldwin. Think of this show as a starter kit: The point of the podcast is to make horror movies more approachable, and they do so by giving listeners content warnings, a general description of what happens, and an estimation of how scared you should be by a chosen film. And keeping to the vampire theme: Check out the episodes featuring as a guest the actress Symphony Sanders, who pops up to cover Night Watch (2004), Blacula (1972), and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014).

I know Radiolab has a new miniseries all about mixtapes, but we’re really here to flag the 2010 episode “Blood Buddies,” which is all about, you guessed it, bats!

Speaking of bats, were you aware that there’s something called the Bat Conservation Trust? If you didn’t, all you need to know is that it’s British, and that it’s said to be the only national organization solely devoted to bats. Also, they have a podcast, obviously, called BatChat, obviously, which is about bats, obviously.

Many moons ago, Eric Molinsky, of the independent podcast Imaginary Worlds, produced a short radio story called “True Vampires of New Haven,” which is a fictional piece, played straight, that answers the question: If there were vampires living among us, how would a local public-radio station cover the story?

And that’s a wrap for 1.5x Speed! Hope you enjoyed it. We’re back next week, but in the meantime: Send podcast recommendations, feedback, or just say hello at nicholas.quah@vulture.com.

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6 Spooky Podcasts to Listen to Right Now