Month: December 2021

The lore of the land

Ghosts and folklore of Wales review

Rating –

Being Welsh is something of a privilege. We have the coolest looking flag, and the best national anthem. We also have a Christmas tradition of having a rap battle against a horse’s skull on a pole (yes, really). This is partly why this review is being released today. But I digress…

This is another queue jumper for my review schedule, but one I think is worthy. As soon as I’d heard the first episode I knew I’d be ploughing through the whole lot in no time. I’d actually be further along with it, but the pre-Christmas work rush has put the kibosh on my 8 hour listening sessions somewhat. So without further ado, here is my review of the Ghosts and folklore of Wales podcast.

So what’s it all about then?

Ghosts and folklore of Wales is a weekly podcast by the perpetually cheerful Mark Rees, a Welsh journalist, author and folklore fanatic. In fact, according to Mark, this is the ONLY podcast dedicated to Welsh folklore. Every episode revolves around a different subject, and usually includes a few stories related to the main theme. So far he’s covered stories about the Welsh versions of the “Black Shuck” dog, the infamous Mari Lwyd, various tales of devils, and even the story of a headless Jesus driving a coach and horses. See, Wales is nothing if not fascinating.

But is it any good?

You can really tell that Mark has a great love for what he does. His enthusiasm is contagious and his witty style of storytelling is a joy. After listening to the first episode I had decided that this was a “four brain” podcast (maybe a three). I had judged too quickly though, because I didn’t realise how subsequent episodes would go. The things that I would have critiqued actually have become endearing features of the style of the show. Hopefully he keeps his special effects budget exactly as it is!

It’s amazing how he manages to research some of the stories found here. For every well known ghost, or tale of fairies, there are some really obscure local news reports that must have taken all his journalistic skill to unearth. I suspect that he spends hours hunched over a microfiche machine, or maybe poring over old archives. Maybe he just types searches into his work computer, who am I to assume? Not all of these are truly paranormal however. Stories the local ne’er-do-wells tormenting unwitting victims are just as good as, if not more entertaining than a real ghost story.

Another thing I love about this podcast, and one that sets it apart from other podcasts like this is the fact that he will translate the Welsh names of the subject of the episode. I suspect that other podcasts don’t do this because. A) the sources they use don’t do it. B) they don’t speak Welsh themselves so can’t do it. or C) They don’t think it’s important. It’s just some hard to pronounce word that sounds weird and thats good enough for them.

The great thing about translating though is that it gives more depth to the subject. I mean who knew that the dog breed Corgi, actually means “dwarf dog”. Not dwarf because it’s small, but because it was owned by the mythical dwarves? This also provides someone with only a passing grasp of Welsh (me) with plenty of head slapping moments when I try to figure it out and get it completely wrong. At the risk of perpetual ridicule, and full disclosure, I translated it to “choir dog” or even “singing dog” because the Welsh for choir is also “Cor”.

Final verdict

A lot of paranormal and folklore podcasts (and I’ve listened to quite a few) have a tendency to get rather stuffy and academic. This is probably just the nature of the beast, as a lot of the resources available tend to be stuffy and academic. What sets this series apart is the light-hearted way each story is told. I’m reluctant to use the comparison, but it’s more along the lines of Horrible Histories than some late night BBC documentary.

I’m really not putting it down with this comparison, but I feel you are more likely to retain facts when they are related in an engaging manner. An engaging manner is (thankfully) what Mark has in spades. His self-deprecating humour is endearing rather than irritating and his real sense of disbelief relating the more far fetched tales and hoaxes result in some proper laugh out loud moments. You are also guaranteed to learn some obscure nugget of wisdom from the aforementioned translations. The Dwarf Dog is absolutely being retained for when I get to go on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.

I know that Mark has also written a number of books on the subjects of ghosts and folklore. I’ll be getting my hands on them soon, because if they are half as well researched and written as this podcast then they will be a great addition to any collection.

You can get the show here:

http://markreesonline.com/ghosts-folklore-wales-welsh-haunted-podcast-mark/

Or wherever you get your podcasts.

Turn on, Tune in, Freak out

The Wrong Station Review

Production company – The Wrong Station

Rating –

Wrong Station poster

This is going to be an awkward one really. I’ve wanted to review The Wrong Station for a while, and now I can. On the whole I like the stories, they are well written and mostly well narrated (more on that later). There are a few niggles though that I feel detract from the overall quality. Unfortunately those stop it getting a higher score. Here is my review and I’ll try and clarify my point.

So what’s it all about then?

The Wrong Station is a long running anthology podcast of weird tales and horror stories. Inspired by the classic horror radio shows of the 30s and 40s, it certainly has that “by the fireside” feel. The episodes are expertly read by Anthony Botelho. His voice is almost the Canadian equivalent of the soporific Jonathan Sims from the Magnus archives. There are occasional guest readers too, but not too many that it lacks a general continuity.

On pressing play, you’re met with a montage of snippets of radio stations. This is reminiscent of The “knuckle duster radio” skits from White Zombie’s album La Sexorcisto. In fact there’s a part of me that expects the intro riff of Thunderkiss ’65 to kick off every time I play an episode. The earlier stories are told in a very casual, off the cuff manner. The feeling here is not so much of chatting to old friends and family, but rather getting accosted by some half drunk weirdo in a quiet hotel bar. This is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, some of the stories seem to actually follow this scenario.

So is it any good?

The subject matter varies wildly, as you’d expect from a podcast that has been releasing regular episodes for over 4 years. There are tales of dark family secrets, strange dystopian sci-fi and folk horror. They are all slightly “askew”, in the manner of the best creepypasta stories. There are very few straight ahead horror stories, and they’re mostly well written. That last statement is something that I find remarkable seeing as most of the stories cover such a wide range of subjects I wonder how the ideas keep coming. That’s truly a testament to the creativity of the writers. Not everyone is able to write so well in such a broad range of styles. With so many episodes to listen to you’ll probably find certain styles becoming your favourite.

That’s enough of the pros, now unfortunately time for the cons. I must confess, I did get bored of this podcast a while ago. As I said in the past, I tend to binge on podcasts all day. Some podcasts are good for this. This one, not so much. I guess if you listen to one or two episodes a week then you’ll not notice. There are definitely episodes that retread previous ideas and plot threads, and some of the stories are just boring (sorry).

My only other main complaint is Mr. Botelho’s take on foreign accents. The one that immediately springs to mind was his “Scottish” accent. Something I can only compare to that medieval artists’ impression of an elephant when it was described to him, rather than having seen it for himself. This may sound harsh, in fact it is harsh, but he has such a good voice, I don’t feel that there is any need to do accents when even a flawless Scottish accent wouldn’t have added to the telling of the story. It’s not often this happens, but when it does, it spoils it.

Final thoughts and ramblings

3 brains for the rating seems harsh, and maybe I should break the ratings down for clarification, rather than a podcast rating low for one or two problems. We’ll see. Despite all this, it is a fairly good podcast, and I’ve started listening to it again. To be honest I forgot how good it was overall. Anyway, if you don’t binge on it for days on end and don’t know how a Scottish accent should sound then you’ll find this to be a 5 brain podcast all day long.

You can listen to The Wrong Station here:

https://www.wrongstation.com/

or on your podcatcher of choice

One tape to rule them all…

The Ghost Tape Review

Production company – Qcode

Rating –

THe Ghost Tape poster

As is said in my Magnus Archives review, there has been something of a glut of podcasts with “archives” or “tapes” in the title. Some are good, some not so much. That said, this series was something of a surprise for me. I really wasn’t expecting it to be as good as it was. I had a nagging suspicion that there would be something that would make this series suck. It is produced by Qcode who do make very good podcasts indeed, and despite the premise sounding interesting, I was expecting an experience rather like biting into an apple and finding half a worm. Thankfully, my gut instinct isn’t always right (rarely in fact).

So what’s it all about then?

The series tells the story of Pvt. Tessa Dixon, a young female soldier. Her grandfather was well known in the army, but she soon finds out that her well known surname is something of a double edged sword. Following on from her grandfather’s recent death, Tessa suspects foul play. The official record states he committed suicide. Tessa believes he was murdered though, so she enlists in the army to try and investigate (as you do).

Episode 1 kicks off with Tessa being interviewed by the Army psychiatrist. This really drops you in at the deep end, which I love. Therefore, most of her story is told through flashbacks in these interviews. She is also pretty ragged in the old sanity department at this time, so her acting ability really shines.

She tells the story of how she found an old cassette tape. Apparently this was recorded by her grandfather during his tour in the Vietnam war, and kept secret since then. The tape seems to document a massacre by the US troops on a Vietnamese village. It’s unclear whether this is an officially sanctioned event, but it is clear that the troops have a rather cavalier attitude to committing war crimes, and the audio is harrowing. It is in scenes like this that the Qcode production value really shines. It really is like listening to a documentary. Amongst the chaos of conflict though, other voices can be heard. Other voices only heard by the person listening to the tape.

It soon becomes apparent that this tape is something more powerful than it first seems. Exuding an attraction like “The One Ring”, and many people want it for themselves. It also seems to have the ability to warp time (and in some cases reality itself). As the story develops and the horrors on the tape make themselves known, this strange phenomena affects more people. In particular, there’s a scene in episode 4 where Tessa’s grandmother tells the story of how the tape was made that seems remarkably real. It’s not only the origin story of the tape, but her painful origin story too. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was taken from actual accounts of events in Vietnam, and it is horrific. Espicially as it is overlaid with the sounds of that terrible massacre.

Is it any good?

The acting is top notch, and the sound design works really well. The characters are all believable and interesting, especially the more nefarious elements with the exception of the psychiatrist. I don’t know what it is about him, but he seems to have phoned in his performance somewhat. Corporal Wilson however turns from serious army top brass to frothy and foul mouthed insanity that would make the late R. Lee Ermey proud. I suspect that such is the shadow cast by Full Metal Jacket, that it would be weird not to include a character like that.

I’ve now listened to all 8 episodes twice in a week (well y’know, I’ve been busy). Seeing as you can do the whole series in about 4 hours it is perfect for a quick dose of strange, insane true horror. It never really lets up and much like listening to the tape in the series, time will seem to warp and you’ll reach the end it what seems like no time at all.

Final Verdict

This excellent podcast is highly recommended by me. So much so that it’s jumped the queue on my release schedule, which is why you’re reading it today.

The only criticism I have is the amount of adverts. Yes this is a bit nit picky. Yes I know they have to get revenue from somewhere, but adverts in podcasts are a tricky thing to balance. I know that I’m a cheapskate and I should support podcasts on Patreon to get rid of the ads, but until these rambling paragraphs become my day job, it is what it is.

The only thing worse is including adverts in a manner that hides the fact it’s an advert. I forget which podcast it was, but in the middle of the episode, the actors would just start a conversation about some product that sponsored the show. It would catch me out every time. At least let me know that I need to skip forward 90 seconds, rather than wondering if its some weird fourth wall breaking bit of story or if it’s an actual advert. No doubt I’ll be reviewing it in the future though, so keep your eyes peeled for that

You know the drill by now, you can find The Ghost Tape here:

https://qcodemedia.com/ghost-tape

or wherever you get your podcasts.

Quick little update

Just a quick announcement to say that I’ve now included a subscription button to the blog. It’s that little red bell in the bottom right of the screen (it is on PC anyway, I’ll try and sort the android version out shortly too). Don’t worry, I wont be spamming you with hundreds of messages, I’m aiming to have a new post up once every 7-10 days which I think is reasonable, don’t you?

Anyway, I’d really appreciate you subscribing, so click that button. Unless you hate podcasts and were only here to satsify your curiosity!

You don’t have to be mad to work here…

The Magnus Archives Review

Production Company – Rusty Quill

Rating –

Magnus Archives logo

The Magnus Archives was the second podcast I ever listened to. It’s also one of my all time favourites. Indeed, it seems that it is the favourite of an awful lot of people too. I mean, since its release there’s been a glut of podcasts with archives/papers/records in the title that all share a somewhat similar premise. I guess imitation is the greatest form of flattery eh?

What’s it all about then?

The general plot is as follows. Cynical researcher Jonathan Sims gets “promoted” to the job of head archivist at the mysterious Magnus Institute. It’s a job he’s not really keen on from the outset. The previous archivist has passed away leaving the records in shocking disarray. Almost at once he realises it’s not going to be as easy as he first thought. His main job is to record the old handwritten and typed archives to tape. For some reason, digital audio doesn’t work in the institute, and organise them as best he can.

He discovers strange first hand accounts of occurrences that are frankly unbelievable, at first glance unrelated, and are initially met with skepticism. As the series’ progress though, the separate stories start to intertwine and even Mr Sims starts to believe the incredible and realise that things are not what they seem. 

Jonathan Sims’ voice is perfect for narrating these stories. To be honest, I’d listen to him reading the back of a cereal box. He has an almost emotionless tone that rarely portrays anything other than his seeming regret for taking the job. In the early episodes they are almost entirely his solo narrations, with few other characters appearing, although as the series progresses so other characters play more of a part. The soporific effect of this would make it a perfect bedtime podcast if the stories weren’t so weird and creepy.

His lack of emotion is a trait that causes no end of irritation to the other characters that appear in the story, and it tests even his closest friendships at times. He is a man who does not suffer fools gladly, or anyone else for that matter. He’s also reluctant to take advice and just seems to have real problems dealing with other people on an emotional level in general. This is a point that does get some explanation in the later series’.

So is it one story arc or more of a portmanteau?

Early in the series, each episode seems to be a standalone story. Soon though, overarching plot points become apparent and the whole thing coalesces into a grim alternate reality that on more than one occasion gives genuine chills as you listen. Some of the episodes also combine their fiction with actual historical events. This kind of meta writing really drew me in when I first started my podcast journey. You can fool me like that all day long and I’ll love it!

As the story progresses, characters come and go, and some who were on the periphery earlier on get treated to their own episode (in some cases more than one episode). The humanity of each one also gets brought to the front as Jonathan conducts his duty with a grim determination. It also exposes a realistic duality to some characters who, for most of their existence in this universe are portrayed as genuinely villainous, but later on are shown to have a good side. In real life, people aren’t completely evil or completely good. There is a rather large grey area in people’s motivations, and the writing is perfect at portraying this.

Is it any good?

This podcast holds a special place in my heart. One of the things I think sets it apart from other audio dramas out there, is the fact that it was always written to be five series’ long. This means that it doesn’t lose direction halfway though, as is often the case elsewhere. It also means that there is an inevitable feeling of a countdown or running out of time, particularly towards the end of series four. The characters are all likeable (even the ones who aren’t supposed to be), so you really invest in their lives no matter which course they inevitably take.

I realise that I haven’t gone into much plot and character detail, but that is entirely intentional. I really don’t want to give any spoilers away at all. This is surely one of the finest audio dramas out there and one that you should check out immediately. You’ll thank me, I know you will.

You can listen to The Magnus Archives and find out more here:

https://rustyquill.com/the-magnus-archives/

Or catch it on your podcatcher of choice.

P.S. I thought I’d better listen to the first few episodes again, just to make sure I had all the facts straight. I’m now on episode five, and I think I’ll probably do the whole first series again (for the third time).

Scratching my brain itch…

Welcome everyone to The Podcast Geek. Recently I’ve had a real need to do some writing. Almost a tangibile pressure in my skull, hence “scratching my brain itch”. Seeing as I spend literally 8 hours a day listening to podcasts I figured I’d start a blog to share the love and maybe recommend something new to discover.

I’ve amassed quite a collection over the years, so there’ll be lots of (mainly horror) fiction, folklore, history, actual play/boardgame related shows and true crime. What there won’t be is Joe Rogan. While I used to listen to the big bald shouty man, I have ditched his show in favour of more creative podcasts. I mean there’s only so many times I can hear him recommending hot yoga, Ju Jitsu and heroic doses of psychedelics.

Rather than just waxing lyrical about my favourite shows, I will also be reviewing shows that I perhaps haven’t enjoyed as much as others to keep in the spirit of a proper review blog. I mean, they can’t all be zingers eh? I’ll also be rating each one on “the brain scale”. Five brains is essential listening, and one brain is a show best left to people who don’t read this blog. That’ll serve them right (although to be fair, I can’t think of any one brain shows off the top of my head). I’ll also do my best to keep these reviews as spoiler free as possible. I am well aware that I’ll be covering a lot of well known, older shows that you’ll have heard of, but someone out there will no doubt be new to it, and I dont want to ruin any surprises for them.

Anyway, that’s enough of my ramblings for now, at least until I start proper posts, so please check back and if you’ve heard a podcast you think is great then drop me a comment and share the knowledge. If it’s a new one on me then I’ll definitely check it out and review it in due course. I’m always on the lookout for new content.

Me before writing helped scratch my brain itch
Lack of creativity can drive you mad.
MAD I TELL YOU!

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