Welcome back to IRL, our series dedicated to the things that Engadget writers play, use, watch and listen to. This week, we're focusing on music and podcasts, from Chelsea Wolfe through to Kelela. First up, Senior Editor Daniel Cooper explains why he can't stop listening to an erotic novel.
My Dad Wrote a Porno
If something gets really, really popular very quickly, then I instantly have a knee-jerk reaction toward it and want to avoid it forever. I've stayed away from plenty of very popular pieces of pop culture, like Garden State, because I was thoroughly sick of hearing everyone bang on about how great it was. Similarly, I've taken a pass on Blade Runner 2049 because of the sheer volume of critical mewling that makes me inherently mistrustful of its quality.
It's why, despite my degenerate tendencies, I kept the smash-hit podcast My Dad Wrote a Porno at arm's length for nearly three years. It was only due to the persistence of my colleagues and the need for something to enjoy on a long flight back to the UK that I thought I'd give the show a go. And so, in September, I dived into the first episode and found myself bingeing the first year in the better part of a fortnight.
If you're unfamiliar, the show is a live, chapter-by-chapter reading of the erotic e-book Belinda Blinked, written by (host) Jamie Morton's retired father. Morton Sr. (under the alias Rocky Flintstone) wanted to cash in on the Fifty Shades craze by penning his own series of digital erotica in search of a fortune. Morton Jr. is joined in the recordings by friends James Cooper and Alice Levine, who comment and react to the book's numerous failings.
This is a story, after all, in which people routinely probe each other's internal organs because Flintstone has no idea how human anatomy works. Characters change names partway through chapters, and there are typos galore. ("Vaginal lids," rather than vaginal lips, is an early standout.) Then there are the awful turns of phrase, like when one character's nipples are described as being like "the three-inch rivets that held the hull of the fateful Titanic."
You may find it initially disconcerting to listen to a podcast with such high production values, in a way that feels overslick. Chalk it up to the fact that all three are in broadcasting, and that slickness is a natural by-product of their style, but there are times, early on, when things feel cynical and contrived. Thankfully, the trio's natural warmth and obvious friendship, and the clanking schadenfreude that the book engenders, keep you listening.
Now, nobody spoil the rest for me. I've just started season two.
The Sounds in My Head
I started listening to the podcast The Sounds In My Head back in 2004. I was instantly smitten with the musical choices that host Daniel, a UX designer and graphic designer from Dallas who lives in Brooklyn, made each week. There's nothing better than getting a half hour or so of curated songs from a guy whose musical taste is as close to my own as possible. While I was bummed that he had to switch to a bimonthly format a few years in, I totally appreciate how much energy it takes to continue a purely independent, unsponsored, unpaid hobby like this. (Daniel gave me a shout-out on my own mid-2000s podcast of local Anchorage-based music, TheANC.)
Thirteen years later, The Sounds In My Head is still the number-one podcast I listen to in the car or on the go; it's so much better than the crap radio here in town. Daniel talks in between songs, sure, but usually to explain why he chose this band or that song. He'll also occasionally add interstitial audio with a liberal political bent, which only adds to the experience for me. The podcast and its voluminous archive, available on Daniel's site, is one of my favorite spaces to hang out when I'm looking for new music. He's even got Spotify playlists these days, sorted into various seasons so you can just listen. If you're in the mood for indie, twee, melodic pop and rock music, and you don't mind listening to this smart dude talking about it, the Sounds In My Head podcast is the place to be.
Timothy J. Seppala
I've had a huge thing for female pop singers for the past few years, which would've shocked my 15-year-old, heavy-metal-or-nothing self. But Lorde's Melodrama, Katy Perry's Witness and the string of singles from Taylor Swift's forthcoming album haven't really struck me the way their respective past work has. Sure, Swift might be getting a little darker with her music, but she wouldn't go anywhere near the gothy, industrial depths of singer-songwriter Chelsea Wolfe's Abyss, from 2015, or her Hiss Spun, released in September. And only Wolfe would do a black metal duet ("Vex") with former Isis frontman Aaron Turner. Which is why I'm so smitten.
Wolfe's music sounds like what would happen if Deftones singer Chino Moreno and Nine Inch Nails mastermind Trent Reznor had a daughter. She deftly marries the former's atmospherics and sultry lyrics with cave-troll-ugly guitar riffs that'd sound at home during NIN's Broken era. And then she buries her haunting vocals behind layers of reverb in a way that makes me think of Lana del Ray. But it all feels earnest, not like she's trying to tick off boxes to make an A&R guy happy.
"Heavy with melody" was a nü-metal signpost in the early aughts, but it always felt like a disingenuous way for heavy bands to get radio/MTV play they otherwise wouldn't. That isn't the case here. Wolfe isn't straining to hit high notes; she's crushing them with aplomb on "Twin Fawn" before the next in-your-face guitar riff comes in out of nowhere.
I don't have a ton to say about Kelela's debut album, Take Me Apart, apart from it's very good. Her Hallucinogen EP was the best thing to happen to R&B in years, and Take Me Apart is equally special. Give it a listen. (There's a great interview up on The Quietus if you want to read intelligent thoughts on her music and motivations.)