Music is awesome. We can all agree on that, right? I mean, we all obviously won’t agree on exactly which kinds of music are the most awesome, but that’s fine, since, for the purposes of what I’m writing at this particular moment, we only need to buy into music’s general awesomeness in the way that Song Exploder host Hrishikesh Hirway does.
Song Exploder, which Hirway created a few years ago, has a deceptively simple premise: each episode focuses on a single song, which Hirway and his guests (almost always the song’s writer or performer, but sometimes producers and the like) deconstruct, putting each piece under the proverbial microscope before playing the song in its entirety at the end of every episode.
The best part about Song Exploder isn’t that Hirway books really compelling artists to talk about their music (though he does – Metallica, Iggy Pop, and Solange have all been recent guests), it’s that the podcast makes every song interesting, even when I don’t really like the song that much. In fact, I would argue that the show actually makes me like songs more, simply by exposing me to the ins-and-outs of its creation. For example, knowing that the shouted backing vocals on a Dropkick Murphys song (alright, every Dropkick Murphys song) come from a bunch of their non-musician buddies all packed into a warehouse makes listening to the song at the end of the episode enjoyable. even though I would’ve just skipped it if it just popped up on Pandora or whatever.
It’s a great concept that’s perfectly executed, is what I’m saying.
However, I recognize that stepping into a new podcast represents a sizable time commitment, so I’m gonna do you a favor and pick some of my favorite episodes in the show’s run, so you can decide for yourself if you want to subscribe. Consider it a podcasting PSA.
“Summer Elaine and Drunk Dori” – Weezer
The best part about this one is that Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo has this legendary bank of song parts that he’s culled from his decades as a Beatles/Beach Boys/Nirvana obsessive, and he cracks the whole thing open to trace this song went from single guitar riff to standout track Weezer’s most recent album. We like to think of musicians’ creative process as a mysterious combination of genius and inspiration, but this episode reveals how much of Cuomo’s approach is guided by a set of very clear principles. Maybe less romantic than the image in our heads, but way more interesting.
“Solemn Oath” – Band of Horses
This episode is notable because Band of Horses’ lead singer Ben Bridwell talks so openly about the personal story behind the song as he’s dissecting. To an extent, every episode of Song Exploder features artists pulling back the curtain on the intersection between their lives and their art, but Bridwell’s straightforwardness is especially endearing on this one. (Plus, the record this song is on is the band’s best in a long time, and after listening to Bridwell, I think I understand why.)
“Work Work” – Clipping
It’s pretty cool when a hip-hop group decides to make music by creating beats exclusively from objects that aren’t drums. But when that hip-hop group includes Hamilton’s Daveed Diggs (he plays Thomas Jefferson on the cast recording), it’s much, much cooler. Listening as the producers and Diggs break down the painstaking process they go through to create beats from little more than the environment around them is an engrossing exercise to say the least.
“Spring (Among the Living)” – My Morning Jacket
Jim James is a fascinating dude, and My Morning Jacket are the best band to ever come out of the state of Kentucky, so I was thrilled when I saw that MMJ had recorded an episode of Song Exploder. James’ reverb-heavy vocals have always been one of the band’s trademarks, and hearing them in isolation on this episode somehow makes them even more haunting.
Game of Thrones – Ramin Djawadi
One of the best things about Song Exploder is that Hirway, who has a band of his own and composes music as well, is only too happy to mix it up by bringing on guests who make wildly different kinds of music. This episode, where Game of Thrones composer Ramin Djawadi explores his work scoring HBO’s hit series, is a case in point. Hearing how a composer works to serve a visual medium like TV gives welcome insight into music we hear all the time and enjoy, even if we don’t always stop to appreciate it.
If you love music, Song Exploder really is a no-brainer. These five awesome episodes are just the tip of the iceberg. Do yourself a favor and subscribe here.