Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: Sound Opinions

Posted by Maximum Fun on 27th December 2009

Sound Opinions [iTunes] [RSS] is like a particularly enjoyable Girl Talk album: you’re happy indeed that it exists so prominently, yet unsure sure why the copyright squirrels haven’t nibbled it down to nothing. It’s so cool that it feels somehow wrong, like a secret that just happens to be carried by a major public radio distributor. And speaking of, it also doesn’t come off as particularly public radio-y, or at least not given to public radio’s common biases. What gives?

It’s also like a show that doesn’t exist anymore, some artifact out of a past where passionate, deeply knowledgeable DJs argued about the merits of albums past and current between spins. The hosts certainly bear critical cred: Jim DeRogatis holds the position at the Chicago Sun-Times, Greg Kot at the Chicago Tribune. But they’re not the sort of pedants one normally associates with the title “rock critic.” Their in-show personas evince only abiding enthusiasm for music, with a touch of desperation at the impossible task of hearing and evaluating the title wave of tracks released on a daily basis.

The pair, who by now have surely tired of reading themselves likened to a pop-rock-R&B Siskel and Ebert, get a lot of information across in each episode in the form of reviews, interviews or news discussion. But their most important message remains implicit: music today is really interesting. Amid rampant whining about the effects of vapid celebrity, failing business models, the decline of western culture and “kids today,” it’s all too easy for anyone not currently fourteen to settle into a jaded haze of smugness and boredom. Kot and DeRogatis, two guys in their forties, don’t just yammer about how inferior every release is to their high school favorites. Whatever comes down the pike, they take seriously.

This includes, say, the new Rihanna disc, with which the boys were pleasantly surprised — and the new Chris Brown, which they, uh, weren’t. Even Susan Boyle’s schlockfest gets something of the sharp, reasonable Kot-‘n-DeRogatis treatment. But the program isn’t solely to do with the mainstream-of-the-mainstream; things take an occasional turn for the semi-esoteric or half-forgotten and thus balance out neatly. That said, hardcore music nerds shoundn’t expect many deep, intensive dives into the sort of minutia and/or esoterica to which they’ve grown accustomed. For the rest of us, this works just fine.

But the serious weenies — and your Podthinker intends that term’s kindest usage — might well enjoy the themed episodes better, as they explore individual (usually hald-buried) subgenres, interview and host live performances from pretty damn credible rock types like Grizzly Bear [MP3] and The Dodos [MP3], round up the most disappointing releases in recent memory or take annual tours through the strangest, most unreleased Christmas tracks ever.

And the best part? They illustrate this music chat with clips. Actual clips. Long ones, too. Sometimes whole songs. Your Podthinker has come to expect this sort of thing only from the shadier side of podcasting, a realm of surreptitious, fly-by-night productions where iTunes pages are absolutely out of the question and even functional RSS feeds are an iffy proposition. So Sound Opinions is expertly produced, satisfyingly varied, driven with genuine interest, hosted by non-repellent rock experts and prepared to include the music discussed? Hurry up and download while you can — The Man will surely spring forth and shut this thing down in no time. It makes too much sense to live.

Vital stats:
Format: new music discussion
Duration: ~1h
Frequency: weekly
Archive available on iTunes: last ten

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