Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: Music That Matters

Posted by Maximum Fun on 3rd January 2010

Though now a bona fide Southern Californian, your Podthinker did most of his growing up around Seattle, Washington. Despite having avoided the twin local scourges of flannel and Gore-TexTM, he nonetheless experienced a few direct collisions with such Seattle icons as Rachel the Pig, the Space Needle’s slowly-revolving restaurant and, of course, KEXP.

Though memories have grown dim, your Podthinker recalls his relationship to the Emerald City’s heppest radio station as something less than that which exists between a culture-starved youngster and his sole beacon of hope for tapped-in coolness. It was actually more one of near-active hostility, pushed to the boiling point by one too many chopped-up, rapped-over Steely Dan tracks spewing forth from his clock radio at 6:00 a.m. But having mellowed much since those heady high school days, your Podthinker is ready to give KEXP a shot again.

Naturally, he’s made the return trip via podcasting. KEXP’s Music That Matters [iTunes] [RSS] delivers full-song mixes hosted and assembled by the station’s very own DJs, including John Richards, Kevin Cole, Cheryl Waters and others. Those names probably mean a lot more to you Seattleite readers.

A commenter on last week’s Podthought on Sound Opinions requested as follows:

I love Sound Opinions and its NPR cousin podcast All Songs Considered, but I’m tired on having my new music curated by middle aged NPR dudes. Any recommendations of podcasts showcasing good new indie rock and hip-hop that include both music and discussion?

Anonymous dude, this may well be the podcast you want. While any given KEXP DJ may or may not currently reside in middle age — and, be prepared, some do — they certainly don’t put out the “NPR guy” vibe. Track selections do come mainly from the sprawling realms of rock and hip-hop — and all over the place within them — but they often get deep, specific and rare in the ways that the Sound Opinions of the world don’t. You tune into those shows to hear a levelheaded evaluation of a song you’ve heard or at least about; you tune into Music That Matters to hear something you might not have ever heard otherwise, especially since the playlists lean toward Pacific Northwest artists.

To estabish a little context, here are some of the nationally recognizable artist names peppered among the lesser-knowns:

  • Animal Collective
  • Vivian Girls
  • Moby
  • Raekwon
  • The Hold Steady
  • Michael Franti (and Spearhead!)

Where the program doesn’t quite live up to these specifications is the “discussion” element. This is a pretty freeform operation, leaving what sounds like near-total control up to the individual DJ. Some DJs do the discussion thing after every song or two, and some let like eleven go by before they deign to say a few words. Though lengthy analysis rarely finds its way into the show, you’ll sometimes get a nice, if unpredictable, chunk of history, explication, or pure enthusiasm. Just don’t count on it.

Like the KEXP your Podthinker remembers, Music That Matters doesn’t have a huge amount of rhyme or reason to it, beyond any given episode’s theme. But also like the KEXP your Podthinker remembers, it’ll almost certainly throw a few interesting pieces of music you’re way if you’re chilled out and willing to listen. Maybe just avoid it first thing in the morning in high school. Then you’re good.

Vital stats:
Format: full-song mixes with occasional commentary
Duration: 50m-1h
Frequency: allegedly “bi-weekly,” but seems to come out weekly
Archive available on iTunes: from #25 on

[Got a podcast to suggest for Podthoughts coverage or any other sort of question and/or comment for Podthinker Colin Marshall? colinjmarshall at gmail.]