Bite-sized podcast reviews

It’s really hard not to compare things to Welcome to Night Vale, so I deeply apologize for the repetition.

TANIS: I want to write something longer up about this show. Figure out all the ways it works for me where the Black Tapes didn’t. Then again, maybe as it goes on it’ll disappoint me too! The first few episodes of the Black Tapes drew me in pretty effective, after all. But Tanis! In episode two there’s a bit of a House of Leaves homage, and a numbers station, so brownie points are earned handily. However! I will say there’s still some small bits of failure when it comes to verisimilitude or believability or the stupidity of the characters or something.

I mean: “You can search text in a PDF?” “I can,” Meerkatnip says smugly. GIRL, ANYONE CAN.

I am hella suspicious of Meerkatnip, by the way. This is unreasonable but a fun way to live.

WORMWOOD: Old Fashioned Radio Drama. The acting is so far over the top that I think it might be in low-Earth orbit. The writing too. But! I am fairly into it. I like Xander, and sometimes Sparrow too. Everyone else? Eh. There’s a lot of overacting and unnecessary accents, as mentioned before, but it’s still fun. There’s a good balance between Creepy Things, Terrible Violence Off-Screen, and People Being People, so I don’t feel hit over the head with the horror, despite some nonsense about “evil staining the souls” of whoever. I also deeply appreciate that this is archived. There are several seasons to get through, and then it’s over. Three storylines, from what I can tell. I like endings. I like serials, but I also want to know that the creator is working toward something.

KING FALLS AM: This one stands out to me primarily because the acting of the two main characters is pretty good. I’m not entirely sure what’s going on. It’s kind of vignette-y, and there’s no clear throughline. The most recurring plot is the producer’s crush on the new librarian, which I do like, though. I saw it described as Night Vale but darker, and I don’t know if that’s accurate. Night Vale gets plenty dark. It’s Night Vale but less philosophical, less inured to the weirdness that’s happening. It’s early days on this one. We’ll see if I keep listening. I don’t have the greaaaatest track record.

SAYER: Moments of trying to be like Night Vale and failing; attempting to imitate the surreal horror delivered in a calm, detached voice, the AI enumerating terror and threats as though they are neither of those things. Except the delivery is terrible. It leans on the punchline too hard. The voice is processed, the threats are too obvious, and the thing that is horrifying is emphasized with an echo, or a slight reverb, or a pitch change. It is too overt. And it lacks something that Night Vale has, which might be heart, or empathy.

ESCAPE ARTISTS/APEX/SELECTED SHORTS: I have tried more standard fiction podcasts, like the Escape Pod/Podcastle/Pseudopod group, and Apex, and Selected Shorts, but the format doesn’t work well for me. For fiction, since I’m not coming back for the week to week discussion between personalities I like, it needs to have something else to make me remember it the next week. Otherwise I’ll just ignore that little blue dot in Stitcher. So a serialized form, or at least somewhat recurring characters, is necessary. And the lack of a consistent authorial voice hurts it too; not being familiar with every author on these sorts of podcasts means I’m gambling every single time.

NOSLEEP: The NoSleep podcast has yet to draw me in, though I haven’t tried terribly hard. The narrator turns me off completely and I can’t take it seriously. Come on, guy, you don’t need to be so ridiculous. Stop putting on a “creepy” voice and telling me how scared I’m going to be, and actually scare me. He’s like an old midnight movie host. I bet he wears a dracula cape. And the episodes are terribly long.

Basically, I’m just saying: TANIS and LIMETOWN need to update faster.

A post that is ultimately about Limetown

Inevitably, in the fall, I turn once again to horror. Desperate to find horror that scares me, that appeals to me, that gets me. In the back of my mind I suspect that I’m either incapable of being scared by fiction or I’m fundamentally misunderstanding what people man when they talk about the effect horror has on them.

I’ll keep you posted.

I keep trying books, sometimes movies. Movies are tougher. Jump scares are cheating, and not scary. That’s surprise. That’s not fear. That’s sticking out your foot to trip me and saying you beat me in a fight because I’m on the ground now. Movies are also tougher because ugh, who has time to sit down for two hours in a row? Unless it’s marathoning Sense8 or catching up on The Toast or Twitter okay I see the problem lies with me. Strike that second objection to movies.

The point is podcasts. This year I got really interested in podcasts as a medium for horror, because

  • shorter than movies!
  • I can listen at work!
  • indie!
  • there really is something about the additional emotional pull of a story when it engages even one sense, which, let’s be honest, I love books, but they don’t typically engage your senses in the story. Yes, tactile feel of paper, smell, whatever. But that’s universal to books, and has nothing to do with the specific story it’s trying to tell you.

I have a list. I always have a list. Because so many things won’t work for me, for arcane and mysterious reasons that a therapist could best explicate, but: I’ll do my best.

Here are some podcasts in an arcane and mysterious order:

Lore. Not fiction. But I really like it! Some of the episodes benefit from the short length, and some feel really abridged. Sometimes after an episode I’ll go look up more on the topic, and sometimes at the beginning I’ll realize I already know the story, and I’ll squee a little at my desk.

Wolf 358. Caveat that I’m still not sure if anyone would categorize this as horror, rather than scifi, but I’m curious about fictional podcasts in general. The reason I can’t promise the genre is that I was only able to get through one episode before bailing. Life is short, my friends. Too short to spend on a story with yet another snarky male protagonist.

Shadowvane. I just listened to the first few episodes of this today, and while I think I’ll probably keep going, it is the most hokey of all of them. It feels very acted, and I swear if they throw one more terrible and hammy accent at me, I’m out. But maybe if I think of it as an old fashioned throwback, I can get past that, because the premise of a powerful medical company appearing altruistic and possibly controlled secretly by a beast that requires something is kind of intriguing.

The Black Tapes. Aaagh. I want to like this one. Maybe I do! One day I was feeling a nonspecific anxiety, for no reason I could fathom, until it dawned on me that I’d been listening to The Black Tapes all morning. But as I continued, I never experienced that again. I finished the first season, but the weaknesses in the writing and acting really got to me. They don’t quite nail the necessary verisimilitude to keep me in the story enough to creep me out. There’s some unnatural, stiff or unnecessary, dialogue, not helped by the occasional flat (or overly affected) delivery. And the ending to the season was disappointing as horror usually is, abrupt and unfinished as serials often are. So.

What bothers me most, because its such a small stupud thing to repeat, is that no one in the Black Tapes world knows what a podcast is. The reporter has to explain every time, noting that “it’s not radio” like it’s the year 2000. Is that supposed to be a running joke? If so, it’s terrible and they should learn what a joke is.

Limetown. Limetown is the one that started me on all the podcasts. There were three episodes available when I discovered it, and I was pretty into them. A little unsettled, even. One might say I was creeped out. It’s more focused, each episode centering on one interview, which helps it avoid a lot of the small issues of The Black Tapes. The reporter seems less stupid than the reporter for The Black Tapes. It’s not about demons and ghosts and the paranormal, which I suspect also helps me like it more. It’s science gone wrong and shadowy figures out to get you and sharing thoughts (with pigs) and so on. It’s extremely well done, so I am waiting eagerly for the next episode and wishing/hoping/praying that it’s not actually going to be only 7.

NEXT TIME: I just listened to the first episode of Tanis, new from the same people as The Black Tapes, and I am way, way more into it. Time will tell if the same problems crop up, but the reporter is different, and the subject matter too. There are no demons or evil monks yet. Only a mysterious mythology.