Song Exploder is a very cool show from Radiotopia where musicians deconstruct their songs and explain how they came together. It is hosted by Hrishikesh Hirway and recorded in Los Angeles, and the production value is terrific. It is so evident that this is a labor of love for Hirway, who is the producer, editor, and host of the show. The show has one of the greatest podcast logos of all time and a really well-done, simple website. I have probably only heard of about a third of the artists featured on Song Exploder, which was a perfect way to whet my appetite when I started listening. The artists aren’t necessarily mainstream, but every song profiled has a good story behind it and it’s fantastic hearing it through the voice of the person who wrote it.
At the beginning of each show, Hirway introduces the artist and plays a short clip of the song to be profiled – a teaser I guess. Then the songwriter simply starts talking about how the song came together, layer by layer, and the song is played with those layers as the show progresses. Hirway is purposely scarce as a host, he gives the mic to the singer, as it should be. From listening to the show, I’m slowly learning a few things about electronic music terminology – I was in band but that’s not how music is made anymore – it’s pretty fascinating how computers are used in the process. By the end of the show the song has been built back up and you get to hear it in full. And I guarantee that you’ll hear that song differently after having heard all of its parts separated out.
There are a few noteworthy episodes I have raved about: Weezer deconstructing “Summer Elaine and Drunk Dory” in which Rivers Cuomo talks about how he uses a spreadsheet to keep all of his songwriting ideas – and this is no simple spreadsheet – it’s an agglomeration of data including how many syllables are in words, people’s names that would be good for a song, and simple phrases that sound good to Cuomo; The Lumineers discussing “Ophelia” in which there is a voice crack/break that happened during a recording and they decided to keep it in; and Merrill Garbus of The Tune-Yards explaining the political significance of “Water Fountain.” The show’s been around since the beginning of 2014, and Hirway has curated an impressively genre-diverse collection of song deconstructions over the last two years.
Episodes usually clock in around 15-20 minutes, and sometimes this feels almost too short to me, but I guess if the songwriter doesn’t have anything more to say about their process, there’s no need for filler. The show is affiliated with Radiotopia, so there are some oft-heard ads that I’m very tired of hearing (sorry Blue Apron and Mail Chimp) because I listen to a lot of Radiotopia shows. But the ads are concentrated at the top of the show and there is no continuity issue during the show, so it’s not too distracting.
I really appreciate being exposed to a new artist or even a new type of music by getting in the head of the person so passionate about their art. This is a great idea and format for a podcast and I look forward to hearing what’s coming next from Song Exploder.
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Audible Feast Ratings
Educational Value (4 / 5)
One of the episodes that has stuck with me is Episode 38 from The Tune-Yards about their song Water Fountain, which is very political yet bubble-gum-poppy. It’s such a catchy song, perfect for a movie (if anyone’s looking!) and with a great political story behind it.
Pop Culture Value (4 / 5)
Some of the names of artists heard on Song Exploder: U2, Carly Rae Jepsen, Weezer, KT Tunstall, Ghostface Killah, Bjork, My Morning Jacket … pretty amazing.
Host Listen-ability (4 / 5)
Flow & Production Value (5 / 5)
Humor (3 / 5)
Investigation (4 / 5)
Storytelling (5 / 5)
Makes Me a Better Person (4 / 5)
I’m a better person for listening to this show because I listen to music I’d otherwise probably not hear, and I learn something about the creative process of writing a song.
Overall Audible Feast Rating: (4 / 5)
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