Caustic Soda

10 08 2011

The “Caustic Soda” podcast has been officially described as both “The podcast that takes on disturbing topics and breaks them down into a bubbling pool of funny!” and “Hard science by soft people.” It is without doubt among my favorite podcasts to listen to, and one of maybe two that has a broad enough subject matter that I would recommend it to just about anyone.

One of the things that I love most about Caustic Soda is that you never really know what you’re going to get. Each episode is about one particular topic, but that can range from Tobacco, Christmas, Funerals, or Rats to Swords, Submarines, Pirates or Ted Bundy. I’m entertained every time, and I learn something new with each episode.

I came across the podcast because of being somewhat aware of Toren Atkinson (artist, lead vocalist for The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets, and co-host of Caustic Soda), and he tends to take the lead in most episodes, keeping everyone on track. I can’t forget to mention the other two co-hosts, Joe Fulgham and Kevin Leeson, both of whom are just as entertaining and interesting as Toren, and I’ve become more and more interested in them as a result.

Each episode begins with a discussion about the topic, including word origins, related phobias, and the like. The hosts then present a surge of information about what the topic is, including any notable cases of it in history. A bit of variety is introduced here, about half-way through the show, with a musical interlude. This is usually a song in the public domain that relates in some way to the topic. Songs from The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets are sometimes featured instead, when they tie in to the subject. They return with their “In the News” segment, featuring stories about how the subject has popped up lately (sometimes too old to really be considered news, but more “recently news” as they sometimes clarify), which is sometimes surprising (in episodes such as Slavery). The show wraps up with a discussion of the topic’s representation in pop culture.

Other segments slip into the show’s otherwise free-form structure. These include public service announcements, where the hosts will tell you what to do should you be caught in a blizzard, for example, as well as Lesser of Two Evils, where the hosts discuss which they’d prefer to have happen to them: the horrible thing they’re discussing this week, or the horrible thing they discussed on some previous episode. This segment can get quite ridiculous at times.

I really don’t know which episode I’d recommend most to a new listener. Probably the Christmas episode. One of my favorites is the very funny one on Alcohol, but I don’t think it’s a good introduction. This is one of the few podcasts that I would truly recommend going back and starting at the beginning. Every episode is worth a listen.

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