I’ve been a fan of the various multimedia ventures of Keith McNally for awhile now. His taste and ear for popular music is only less enviable than his encyclopedic knowledge of it. If you go over to keithcourage.com, you’ll see and hear some good fun stuff, ranging from shitty comics to well composed and edited videos.
So when McNalley announced his latest venture, “XO, an Internet Show by Keith McNally in the Style of This American Life,” I was interested to hear what he had to offer. I was a fan of “This American Life” for years, and I remember wishing there was something else like it in the world. But that was before I started to get more and more annoyed with the continued fake-ness of celestial radio, the perfect cuts and the slightly pompous, over-important sound that most radio has, including “This American Life.”
By the time “XO” came on the scene, I had been bored with “This American Life” for awhile. I was over their traditional 3 act composition, I was over their smart indie music, I was over their articulate, sensitive and quirky staffers, I was even over the well produced and eerily ironic TV show.
But “XO” has ignited my love for things ‘in the style of This American Life,’ despite my dispassionate objection to the actual show for so long now. So far, 7 episodes in, McNally delivers everything I liked about “This American Life,” and everything I like about podacsting in general, while leaving a lot of the apathetic, over-edited bullshit I left radio for in the first place.
Since music for me can sometimes make or break a show, let me say up front that the music selection is the kind of considerately chosen, perfectly variegated pastiche of sound and meaning that I’ve come to expect from McNally’s work thus far. But unlike his earlier show “I Have a Ham Radio,” where the music was clearly the main event “XO, an Internet Show by Keith McNally in the Style of This American Life,” places the emphasis on the story, using the music as a compliment to the narrative.
The meat of the show is the real life audio, mostly recorded by Keith in different everyday situations. The magic of McNally is that he has the genius or the arrogance that it takes not only to put the mirror of unfiltered observation against his own life, but that he has the testicular fortitude to reproduce it for all of us, and leave the dirt in, with full knowledge of his actions. There’s a part in one of the shows where Keith contemplates editing out some earlier section where he felt he was being petty, and unreasonable. But in the final edit, the petty audio remains, and so does this on air rumination on the future editing process.
So many things in life advertise themselves as genuine, and yet they rarely are. XO makes no such claim, in fact, with a subtitle like ‘in the Style of This American Life,’ a potential listener almost expects an imitation, absolving the subject from any obligation to reality. But what I love about XO is that it is so honest, and so brazen, without sacrificing quality. This is not to say that there isn’t windy audio, or fuzzy audio. The show is recorded during the course of a man’s actual day-to-day living. What I mean by quality is simply that: the impeccable transitions between music and talking, the fact that the music so often matches the tempo, the tone of the language as if they were made for each other.
If you like “This American Life,” you might like “XO.” That would depend largely on what it is about the show you like, and what you’re looking for when you’re looking for a show. In “XO 006 Alcohol Rant,” Keith says “I’d rather continue to alienate the people who aren’t on my wave-length in order to feed the people that are.” I think that’s as good a philosophy as any. I look forward to more of this fledgling show, and I recommend anyone who likes to be early to the pop-culture party to watch Keith McNally and his future endeavors. I think there’s a lot more people out there who are on that wave-length than he might yet know.