Dissect Podcast: Good for Casual Music Fans?

Image Source: dissectpodcast.com

Contrary to what seems logical, normal people love to hear experts talk about complex topics they don’t understand. Look at the boom in popularity of space-related media and personalities like Niel Degrasse Tyson, films like Christopher Nolan’s, and even Youtube channels like Kurzgesagt and Vsauce. The market for intellectuals to discuss their areas of expertise in media is growing, as evidenced by Spotify’s promotion of the podcast Dissect. 

The host of Dissect is Cole Cuchna, who has a B.A. in Music Theory and Composition. He describes the show perfectly in the introduction to his episodes as “long-form musical analysis broken into short, digestible episodes.” The newest season of his podcast, which releases new episodes weekly as of the writing of this article, covers Kanye West’s 2013 album Yeezus, picking apart each track’s instrumental make-up, lyrical complexities, and greater connections to the album and the artist in approximately 40-minute long episodes. 

As Dissect climbs the top podcast charts, I continually wonder whether what the podcast offers is beneficial to a mass audience from a music critic’s perspective. Listening to experts in a field talk about said field is not necessarily the best way to gain a better understanding of a topic. In the case of Dissect, a program built around painstakingly analyzing each detail of an album, the average music listener, who may have clicked on the podcast because Spotify’s algorithm automatically recommended it to them, will gain an understanding of the minute before they gain an understanding of the whole. This is detrimental in the same way high school English classes teach students how to understand Shakespeare without ever teaching them why they should understand Shakespeare. 

The more I listen to this season of Dissect, the more I am struck by the feeling that the podcast’s length is more for commercial purposes, offering a product more akin to trivia than analysis. As Cuchna runs out of albums like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and To Pimp a Butterfly, which are both complex enough to warrant an hour per song and popular enough to hook audiences, it increasingly feels like he’s padding the runtime, as demonstrated by his exhaustive analysis stretched thin over less meaningful lyrics. resulting in instances such as one where he rambles on the etymology of the word “moccasins” in the “On Sight” episode. 

There are jewels of greatness within Dissect, but they’re counteracted by an overindulgence in details. In the age of Anthony Fantano, budding music fans need to understand that good critical album analysis can take the form of track-by-track detail digging, but it can also be a single paragraph. I fear that what music fans and potential reviewers are taking away from Cushna’s authority on music theory is that understanding a work entails toiling over every little detail, which, whether you’re trying to understand Kanye West or Shakespeare, is the wrong way to go about it.