Review: Lowlines

Review: Lowlines

One of my favorite books as a child was Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. I remember a great quote attributed to Francis Bacon “Some books should be tasted, some devoured, but only a few should be chewed and digested thoroughly.” To this day it rings true for all sorts of media, including, of course, podcasts. 

Some podcasts are meant to be devoured, in a bubble bath, with the world around you turned down a few notches. They’re meant to be taken in when you intentionally make the world a little softer, so you can bring focus to moments and pieces rather than big ideas. They are podcasts to take a breath with, to slow down, contemplate, and consider.

The podcast I’m talking about today is Lowlines. This is an incredible piece of audio work, a “sonic scrapbook” of a burnout tour across the United States. Hosted by Petra Barran this is a six-part series exploring the “pulse of place”. Taking this podcast halfway through, it is stunning. Not just because the work is careful and put together with reverence, but there’s something in this host’s voice creating this journal of exploration, as an outsider looking in that elevates this work.

Not only does this podcast curate its sound so effortlessly, but it also provides a unique perspective on American life. Petra lived in The States at one point, but that only gives a host a small leg up when narrowing in on moments and places. Starting with the Second Lines in New Orleans we move from Louisiana to Tuscon and beyond. With only three episodes out, we are provided snippets of people’s lives, of moments we normally don’t think too deeply about. Train rides, parades, and moments in between are gently pulled apart and examined to reflect the deeper beauty in these moments. 

Podcasts like this feel rare. It’s an audio-first exploration that focuses on the beauty of the medium without losing the beauty of the story. Moments feel raw, and real, which may be a turn-off to some listeners, but I find it to be the perfect texture to take in. Not everything beautiful is going to be polished like it comes from a studio chugging out the next podcast to slip into place. Sometimes the beauty is in the layers of live audio, the moments in between places, and it’s not always clean and pretty with the harshness of the “s” and “p” sounds filtered into acceptability. That’s not just speaking of the audio too. Sometimes the reality of the pulse of a place also means a little discomfort or a little harsh reality that is smoothed over by tourism and convenience. The way the production of this podcast reflects the central thesis of the work is a testament to the team and the heart of the project.

This is a podcast to slow down with, to contemplate what makes places what they are, or what they can be. It’s a treat to give yourself. I think it reminded me, as a person, to slow down a little bit. I’ve been sitting on this review for weeks because sitting with the podcast felt good. Now it’s time to share as the next three episodes get released, and we get a further glimpse into this scrapbook. 

This is a podcast to slow down with, to contemplate what makes places what they are, or what they can be. It’s a treat to give yourself, a reminder, and a work of art. 

Listen to Lowlines here

The Bigger Picture 

I’ll say a lot about “we need more podcasts like this” and I will always stand by that statement when I say that, we also need people to take these podcasts seriously. I think many listeners might be uncomfortable with the idea of audio art outside of music. Where people think sound is designated versus noise, versus music, is incredibly subjective. The easiest to discern is music, but it doesn’t have to be. 

Sound can be beautiful without being musical. This podcast exemplifies this in such a powerful way it takes my breath away. Sure, other podcasts that we “need” might be silly, or timely, or might be a vehicle for a vastly important story. Sometimes, we need a podcast that can do that, but also push the edges of sound design. This is a podcast that can make a new generation possibly say “oh this is so cool I think I can make that”. It doesn’t have the velvet ropes of access hung around it in the way that others might. 

Sure, not everyone can afford to burn out and trek across a foreign country or two to make a podcast. There might be a velvet rope there. I’m just thinking about the kid with a recorder in their hometown, looking at their stomping grounds a little differently, and seeing what they can make. 

It won’t always be polished and pretty, but it can be a start to a beautiful journey that leads to better things for the medium, and for all of us who enjoy it.