I try to inject this newsletter with a concentrated dose of late night vibes whenever possible, and this week I thought: why not combine that syringe of vibes with a podcast recommendations listicle, a type of content that was once my bread and butter at NYU Local and my first content marketing job?¹ What you’re about to read is that unholy cocktail.
How do you know when a podcast has good late night vibes? Is it the content, or the tone, or, like vibes themselves, a difficult to describe feeling that you just have to get to understand?
These 7 podcasts can be listened to at any point during the day, but I contend that each of them has late night vibes for their own unique reasons.
A lot of people from outside the podcast industry have asked me, how do you know when something is meant to be told as a podcast? What makes a great podcast versus a book or a movie? Unread—one of my absolute favorite podcasts from last year—is a great example of a story that just works best as a podcast.
Created by writer Chris Stedman, Unread follows Chris as he unravels two mysteries, both sparked by an email sent by his friend Alex.
“listen,” the note read. “i am writing to let you know that when you receive this scheduled email, i will no longer be alive.” At the bottom of his message, Alex included a link to a private SoundCloud account. “here’s Alice recordings,” he wrote.
The first mystery: is the mysterious “Alice” who hung out in online Britney Spears forums actually Britney herself? The second: why was Alex gone?
Unread is a deeply moving audio essay, full of interviews with Alex’s friends, clips from personal videos and voicemails, and the Alice recordings that Alex sent his friend. It captures a certain late night internet vibe that can be difficult to explain: staying up late with your internet friends, alone but not alone with a bright screen in a dark room.
2. Normal Gossip
Alright, pretty much the only reason I came up with this whole listicle is to easily and effectively tell everyone I know that they have to listen to Normal Gossip. It’s my new favorite podcast. While I don’t think I’m quite up to the level of “messy bitch who lives for drama,” I do absolutely love a good piece of juicy gossip, and Normal Gossip essentially injects other people’s drama straight into my brain like a gossip IV.
Every episode, host Kelsey McKinney, along with a special guest, brings you an incredible piece of gossip. These stories are sent in by listeners and anonymized, and are all relatively low-stakes. In the first season, there are stories about a post-grad trip to Asia gone wrong, a scandal in a knitting group, and a race to get married between a group of sorority sisters, each one more deliciously juicy than the last.
While gossip can be enjoyed at any time of the day, there is something to be said about grabbing a drink at the end of a long day and listening to a friend tell a ridiculous story about people you don’t know and will never meet. Start a parasocial relationship with Normal Gossip and you’ll never drink alone again!
3. This is Dating
Along similar lines, This is Dating provides an incredibly intimate window into other people’s lives; specifically, their first dates. It’s kind of like a more helpful version of The Bachelor—each dater actually talks to a behavioral scientist and relationship expert about what’s worked (and what hasn’t) in their past relationships and what kind of person they’re looking for. Then, the producers look for someone they think would be a good match for the dater, sometimes picking someone they think will challenge the dater’s preconceived notions or past dating habits.
Since all of the dates are virtual, they’re a little awkward. But if you don’t mind some level of cringe—or if that’s the main attraction—you do get some really interesting insights into how people find connection. Personally, there’s nothing I love more than eavesdropping on a conversation at a restaurant or bar on a night out, and This is Dating is an easy way to get a similar experience right at home.
4. The Shadows
If a first date goes well, two people might enter a relationship. And most of the time, that relationship will probably end. The Shadows is a short fiction series that traces a relationship from the very beginning all the way to the bitter end. Created by Kaitlin Prest, The Shadows feels like a direct successor to her work on her previous podcast, The Heart, which explored similar themes through non-fiction storytelling.
The Shadows is told in a surreal, untethered style—the point of view switches between the two main characters, and, at one point, one of their sweaters, and the sound design moves you from scene to scene in a very fluid way. It’s the kind of intimate and dreamlike storytelling that shines at night. Though if this is your first time dabbling in fiction podcasts, you might want to start with something like…
It seems like every year or so there’s a new article about how some fiction podcast company is resurrecting the radio drama for the modern age (even though people have been making fiction podcasts for over a decade now). You don’t see that narrative as much in the UK, as they never stopped making radio dramas.
But while Murmurs is a BBC show, it is decidedly a podcast. It breaks out of the stuffy box of the old-fashioned radio play and delivers sci-fi stories that land somewhere between Black Mirror and The Twilight Zone. The stories are mostly standalone, and different episodes feature different storytelling techniques, making it good spooky fun for nighttime listening and an excellent crash course in fiction podcasting mechanics.
6. It Makes a Sound
While we’re on the topic of fiction podcasts, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that It Makes A Sound is back for season two. This show features the creative energies of two friends of mine—Jacquelyn Landgraf, creator and otherwise multi-hyphenate, and Vincent Cacchione, sound engineer and musical mastermind.
The first season told the story of Deirdre Gardner as she sought to remind Rosemary Hills Golf Course Community—and the world!—of the magical music of local legend Wim Faros. I worked on the first season five years ago back when it was on Night Vale Presents, and now the show is freshly independent and ready to continue the story of Deirdre, her mother, and the unlikely cult sensation that they have unleashed onto the world.
An idiosyncratic musical that isn’t afraid to take you in multiple surprising directions, listening to It Makes A Sound feels like going to a late night off-off-Broadway show, minus the train ride home.
7. Sleep With Me
Of course, I have to wrap it all up with the podcast that has the ultimate late night vibes: Sleep With Me, the podcast that puts you to sleep. Late night vibes come in different shapes and sizes, and one of those shapes is please for the love of God let me sleep. For that, we have Sleep With Me, a sleepy bedtime story told by the creaky dulcet tones of Scooter.
If you’re having trouble falling asleep and want to try a bit of Scoots, check out the crossover episode he did with Night Water earlier this year. Chock full of references to some of your favorite Night Water content, this episode will lull you into a refreshing late night snooze.
Now it's your turn. Do you have a recommendation for a podcast with impeccable late night vibes? Let me know in the comments.
For a good year or two, my round-up of the best news podcasts on the Policygenius blog ranked very high on Google, enough that random people I hadn't talked to since middle school came out of the woodwork to Facebook message me thanking me for the recs and asking if I had more. That's the power of content, baby. ↩