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Dinner Parties, Ghost Churches, and 4 More Podcasts Worth Trying

Photo-Illustration: Vulture

Hey, everyone. So what the hell is going on here? Anyway, as always, tell me what you’re listening to. And if you like 1.5x Speed, please talk to me about Outer Range. I’m obsessed with the show, and I seem to be the only one on God’s green earth who’s seen it.

Not Lost

Looking for a good time, all over.
Listen here.

I’m not a particularly motivated world traveler these days — your correspondent has grown very suburban and profoundly lazy — but lemme tell ya, my appetite for travel media remains ravenous than ever. Italiano Tucci? Ancora, per favore. The hagiographies of Chef’s Table? Blast that Vivaldi, baby. Some rando’s YouTube travel vlog operation kept active even during the pandemic under questionable conditions? I don’t condone it, but boy do I consume it.

Anyway, while there could always be more travel podcasts, the format isn’t particularly devoid of travel shows. To take but three recent solid entries. Zach Mack’s Greetings From Somewhere offers a smart take on the travel documentary concept, refashioned within the modern podcast aesthetic. Field Recordings, an artsy independent project that dropped early in the pandemic, was a breath of fresh air with its windows into other places — what better way to escape lockdown than by hearing someone else’s pocket of the world? You’ll find a gem in WFMU’s The Blind Tourist, unafraid of crossing between languages. And if you’re inclined to dig even further, you’d be able to find all sorts of fascinating, exceedingly random YouTube-esque efforts in the podcast directories. For instance, I was just informed of the existence of a chat show entirely focused on Disney Cruise Line trips.

Add one new entry to the former list: Not Lost, which comes from the New York–based producer Brendan Francis Newnam, usually the EP of special projects at Pushkin. A brisk listen, the podcast picks up as we find Newnam in a state of emotional recovery, processing both the end of a long-term relationship and the long-running podcast he used to co-host, APM’s Dinner Party Download. Recalling the tradition of, you know, Eat, Pray, Love, he decides to work through his feelings by indulging his dream of hitting the road and traveling a bunch. As any smart radio producer does, he brings his recorder with him along with a fun little hook for his creative project: Each episode sees Newnam traveling with a friend — in most of the previews I’ve heard, it’s the writer (and former Vulture recapper!) Danielle Henderson — and in every locale, they embark on a quest to awkwardly weasel their way into a stranger’s dinner party.

What ensues is a charming show that does a really great job bottling the feeling of drifting through a place that isn’t your home and buoyed by the vague feeling of possibility. (Locations in this season are mostly in the United States and contained to North America: Las Vegas, Bozeman, Portland, New Orleans, Mexico City, Montreal.) Also interesting to note is a neat bit of compositional marvel: Not Lost frequently transitions between Newnam and his friends’ perspectives seamlessly and mostly minimizes the busywork of narration. The end result is a flighty labor of love and a helluva fun time.

Not Lost is available on all platforms. Produced by Cristal Duhaime, Tally Abecassis, and Bart Warshaw with associate producer Jackson Musker. 

Ghost Church

Florida, center of the spiritual world. 
Listen here.

Now would you look at that? A new Jamie Loftus has dropped, and it couldn’t possibly be more my shit.

Her fourth solo podcast project, Ghost Church, sees Loftus sojourning into the realm of spirits, psychics, and mysticism — also, Florida — as she sets out to learn more about American Spiritualism, a once-prominent movement notable for its belief that the spirit survives the death of the body and that human beings are able to communicate with the dead. American Spiritualism has dwindled in strength and numbers since its heyday in the 19th century, but its practitioners are still very much among us.

The opening sequence of Ghost Church follows Loftus as she attempts to visit and report on one of the few remaining spiritualist camps in the country: Cassadaga, dubbed the “Psychic Capital of the World,” which sits just a half-hour outside of Orlando. “It’s a place where mediums commune with the dead and have developed their own community since the late 1800s,” she explains in the narration. “The people around them find it to be the devil’s work or at best a little weird. The tourists find it intriguing. And I want to know, ‘Who ends up in a place like this and why?’” Along the way, she encounters thick reams of red tape and an array of peculiar characters.

Loftus’s adventures in Florida make up one half of Ghost Church’s material; the other involves a dive into the history of the American Spiritualism movement, the relationship between the country and “alternative” beliefs, and the thin line between organized and less-organized religion. Both tie into what seems to be her bigger interest in this project, which is to work through and figure out how she really feels about religion, spiritual belief, and one’s existential system to accommodate the radical horror of not knowing what comes after death.

Loftus makes her way to Cassadaga with an open mind — “it’s not a cult,” she emphasizes repeatedly across the first episode — that’s somewhat motivated by a recent loss in her own family. I’m interested in her interest, though I suppose I’m predisposed to being so, both as a fan of Loftus’s style and as someone from a part of the world that never completely adhered to the whole “industrialized society naturally becomes more secular” thesis.

You should also probably know I keep a deck of tarot cards in my office desk and go through cycles of whipping them out on the reg.

Ghost Church is available on all platforms. Produced by Sophie Rae Lichterman and edited by Ian Johnson. 


➽ The main fruit of Spotify’s deal with Warner Bros–slash–DC is dropping this week: Batman Unburied, featuring Winston Duke as the caped crusader and Hasan Minhaj as the non–Paul Dano Riddler. I’m planning to get to it at some point, and I suppose I should flag that part of the industry story around the project: The production is being simultaneously localized in nine other markets, typically utilizing performers drafted specifically from that region.

➽ Anyway, Batman Unburied isn’t the biggest Spotify story of late. As much as it looms over podcasting as the presumed platform to beat, the company seems to be going through tremendous reshuffling on the podcast side of things: Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen departures by dealmaker Courtney Holt and Gimlet managing director Lydia Polgreen, and earlier this week, Hot Pod’s Ariel Shapiro broke the news that Michael Mignano, who led the platform’s technology stack (by way of Anchor, intimately linked to company’s general push into YouTube-style territory), is also leaving. All this news comes alongside word that the Obamas are taking their audio business elsewhere.

These could be read as grounds for alarm bells when it comes to the platform. They could also be spun as customary reshuffles associated with a transitory phase. After all, the podcast biz as a whole has more or less wrapped up its most recent (and biggest) consolidatory wave, and in the wake of such phenomena, there will always be people who’d want to move on to do other things. In any case, Spotify’s recent earnings report yielded a mixed bag of headlines. Its subscriber numbers survived whatever cancellations were sustained by the most recent Joe Rogan controversy, but investors seem to be less confident in its non-music (read: podcast) investments these days as they were in previous quarters, and as a result, its stock price tanked to its lowest point ever since going public in 2018.

Meanwhile, the road ahead for big podcasting seems unclear as far as public companies needing big moves and bigger deals to impress the investor class are concerned. As highlighted in a recent issue of Hot Pod, there’s a line from SiriusXM CEO Jennifer Witz’s comments in their own earnings call last week that stood out to me: “A lot of the big podcasts in the top 10, top 15, have already traded … The inventory we have is largely set, I’d say, for this year.”

➽ Okay, that was maybe too much industry analysis for this recommendations newsletter. So if you’re looking for two new solid investigative audio documentaries to check out, consider picking up Dead End, WNYC’s limited series investigating a “New Jersey political murder mystery,” and Broken Doors, a Washington Post project that explores the use and consequences of no-knock warrants in policing.

➽ Also, a 20-part series on emo called Everything Is Emo, hosted by Hayley Williams? LET’S DO IT. I might even download BBC Sounds for this … well, I guess I have to, seeing as how it’s exclusive to that platform. Ah, I’ll just listen on the web.

➽ Mmm, eye-catching stuff happening over with the audio team for the New York Times’ “Opinion” section: That dedicated staff is now sized up to around 35 people, per Axios, and they seem to be playing around with one-offs, as evidenced by Cristal Duhaime’s recent piece on a post-COVID die-hard cruiser. At this writing, there are three active “Opinion” pods: The Ezra Klein Show, Sway, hosted by Kara Swisher, and The Argument, hosted by Jane Coaston. (Well, would you look at that, three Vox Media hires.) Quick reminder that a new show is currently being developed around Lulu Garcia-Navarro, recently pulled from NPR, as well.

➽ The Times also announced that it’s going to launch a new politics show around (frequent Daily contributor) Astead Herndon in time for the upcoming midterms. I’m intrigued by this; the genre has been static for a while. In addition, they’re bringing Ben Calhoun over from This American Life to serve as the new executive producer of The Daily.

➽ By the way, Slate has announced its next season of Slow Burn: Roe v. Wade.

➽ I’m sporadically keeping an eye on the audio entries in this year’s Tribeca Festival. Full list here.

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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Dinner Parties, Ghost Churches, and 4 More Podcasts to Try