Month: February 2022

A murder of Crowes

Wormwood review

Production company – Habit Forming Films

Rating –

Wormwood Logo

This venerable old series was one of the first that I discovered, and was instrumental in turning me into the podcast addict I am now. I call it “venerable”, because I’m not sure how else to describe a podcast that ended ten years ago, yet still holds up today. I haven’t heard another podcast quite like it, so it is high time I give Wormwood a review.

So what’s it about?

Wormwood is a mystery series that owes a massive debt to the old style radio theatre productions of the 30s and 40s. As soon as you hear the theme, you’ll know exactly what to expect. Surprisingly, despite this vintage patina, the series is set in the modern day.

Dr Xander Crowe is a rather unorthodox man. He’s a disgraced psychologist and cursed occult investigator. He’s also on the run from the mafia, after a botched attempt at an exorcism. If that wasn’t enough, he’s also sporting a hand that is only ever described as “Oh my god, what happened to your hand?” Imagine if you will, the classic British actor Terry Thomas with a dash of the Duke De Richleau from Dennis Wheatley’s books and you’re getting close.

The series starts with Crowe receiving a beating at the hands of a local mafia boss’ henchmen. He manages to escape with the help of his friend Sparrow, the tech-savvy and sarcastic foil to Crowe’s (usually) drunken ranting.

During the escape, Crowe tells Sparrow about a vision he had. He saw a woman being drowned, and a child’s hands holding her under. The woman looked at Crowe and said one word “Wormwood”. Crowe has no idea what any of this means, but he trusts his vision enough to know it’s important. After some diligent research by Sparrow, they discover that it’s the name of a small town just outside Los Angeles. Crowe heads off there without any real clue about what to do, and in the words of a great detective “the game is afoot”.

Is it any good?

OF COURSE IT IS. Forgive my hyperbole, but it is a truly ripping yarn, and one of THE GREATEST fiction podcasts ever made. It is funny, horrific, violent and weird in equal measure and just generally amazing. If you’re a fan of old style radio, classic mystery films, hammer horror, or H.P. Lovecraft, you’ll find plenty to enjoy here. The whole thing has a strange anachronistic quality. You can easily forget that this tale of the mafia, the occult, and small town America is set in modern times. If you happen to miss the references to the internet (and Jimmy Details’ music tastes) you could easily believe it was set in the 30s.

Having said that, there are a few things that people used to the newer podcasts will find annoying. The audio quality isn’t great. That really can’t be helped due to the age of the series, and the limitation of file size and streaming speeds from “all those years ago”. Listen kids, I remember the world without an internet, never mind fibre optic cables, lossless streaming and broadband. Because of this, there are some really noticeable edits in the audio. At some points it sounds like the actors all recorded their parts at different times (which they may well have done).

To be picky, some of the acting isn’t always up to snuff. Personally (and somewhat hypocritically) I don’t actually care in this case. I’m happy to overlook any scenery chewing or wooden performances because it’s exactly like the old time radio shows. Whilst the actor who plays the aforementioned Jimmy Details, does a sterling job as a stoner metalhead, his portrayal of hobo philosopher Jonesy isn’t quite as good. In fact the few other characters he voices are all very similar. Also, the actor who plays Sheriff Tom Bradley fluffs his lines occasionally (something I only noticed on this, my third complete run through).

There are lots of little puns hidden in the script too, like little Easter eggs for the “eagle eared” (if that’s a thing). I won’t tell you what they are, but they are there, I promise. If you’re like me you’ll have a little smirk when you catch them. I love things like this, I mean I once wrote a biography of a band in which all the members through history had names of British places.

Final thoughts

This is easily in my all time top 5 podcasts. Any production blemishes can be easily overlooked, and they really should be. This isn’t a mega budget audio drama from a huge production house with an A-List cast. Just press play and enjoy the retro goodness of this excellent mystery series. I’d love to know if Arthur Russell has done any other work. I did have a look years ago when I first finished the show, and I couldn’t find any trace of him. As it says on the wormwood website, he truly is a mystery.

You can find Wormwood here:

http://wormwoodshow.com/

Or wherever you get your podcasts 

Uneasy listening

Hunting Warhead review

Production company – CBC

Rating –

Hunting Warhead Logo

Hunting Warhead review

Production company – CBC

Rating –

A lot of the true crime podcasts out there are gripping tales of crime cartels and grizzly murders. Hunting Warhead is about neither of those things. It is, however, very gripping indeed. If I’d have seen this in the recommended list on my podcatcher, I would have passed on it. At the time I wasn’t listening to true crime shows. To be honest, I certainly wouldn’t have listened to a show about this subject. When I heard the trailer for it though I subscribed straight away.

What’s it about?

Hunting Warhead follows the story of Einar Stangvik. He’s a Norwegian white-hat hacker (an internet security expert) who accidentally discovers a network of people trading child abuse pictures. He joins forces with journalist Håkon Høydal to uncover the largest child abuse site on the dark web. Now obviously, this story will not be to everyone’s tastes and that’s fine. If you are upset by such things, and later on it does go into some very unpleasant details, this is really not the podcast for you.

From Einar’s initial discovery and meetings with Håkon, the journey takes them to Australia. There they meet with an international task force who are also trying to infiltrate the site and arrest those involved. This leads to some awkward moments early on. The two Norwegians have basically stumbled upon an ongoing investigation, and by wanting to go public are at risk of blowing the whole thing.

They soon realise they can work together to try and find the the ringleader of the whole network . A person known only as “warhead”. Obviously due to the nature of these people, they operate with the utmost secrecy. They also use very clever security measures so that should a breach occur, the members can escape without being caught. This means that the operation needs to work on multiple fronts all at once and the trap needs to snap shut with great timing and precision to maximise the damage to the network.

Is it any good?

I’m not sure if “good” is the right word to use. The story is truly gripping and is a real binge worthy series, despite what you may think at first. You find yourself really rooting for the people who spend their time trying to arrest those who distribute the most horrific material online, and who suffer psychological harm from willingly exposing themselves to this material in order to make arrests.

One of the main things you’ll take away from this series is the ethics of some of the methods that law enforcement use. Whilst the distribution of these images should obviously be stopped, the nature of the security these groups use mean that the only way in for the police is to share the exact material that they are trying to stop. That is one choice I’m glad I don’t have to make. Even though it’s for the greater good, I don’t think I could live with myself for doing it. Not that the task force were producing the images, but even so, just being part of that would be more than I could handle.

After the identity of “Warhead” is established and is subsequently arrested, there are interviews with him and his friends and family. It is at this point that the series takes a poignant and harrowing turn. Up until now it has been easy to imagine this faceless, evil figure looming over the dark web. This is the figure usually portrayed by the media for ratings and to provoke gut reactions. These interviews show the human side of him though. This isn’t done for any pity, or to gloss over the crimes. They do show though that you can never really know someone, and that is the really scary part. It also shows how little regard he had for anyone in his life and the depths he was prepared to sink to to satisfy his own needs.

Final thoughts

Obviously this series goes to some very dark places indeed. The subject matter is never glorified though, and the victims are treated with great sensitivity. This couldn’t be further from ambulance chasing or tabloid sensationalism, and is a testament to the professionalism of CBC and VG, who could easily have catered to that crowd. The sobering thought here is how easily people can seem to be one thing, even to family members, whilst being another entirely.

You can get Hunting Warhead here:

https://www.cbc.ca/listen/cbc-podcasts/387-hunting-warhead

Or wherever you get your podcasts.

Well y’know, thats just, like, your opinion man.

Your Favorite Band Sucks review

Rating –

your favorite band sucks logo

I first heard about Your Favourite Band Sucks from the “recommendos” on The Lovecraft Tapes (another favorite series of mine, and one I’ll be reviewing soon). Being quite the contrarian it appealed to me immensely. However, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. So without further ado, here is my review of the Your Favorite Band Sucks podcast. Prepare to have your mind changed, or have an aneurism, it’s up to you.

What’s it about?

Your Favourite Band Sucks does exactly what it says on the tin. Every episode the presenters Mark and Tyler dismantle a famous band with extreme prejudice and great humour. For example, the very first episode was about The Beatles, so they really came out swinging.

The guys pull no punches in describing why the bands you grew up with, or your parents grew up with, or are constantly praised as musical colossi are not only undeserving of your respect, but are completely unworthy of any praise whatsoever. Their comments about Slipknot (who I like) and BTS (who I don’t) are equally true, and really I think if you are a true music fan you need to stop being so precious about it. Incidentally, I’d be interested to know if they really did get death threats from the BTS army after “that” show.

I could relate to the BTS episode in particular. Being the father of a BTS fan (although she listens to goth and metal now. Teenagers eh?) I knew exactly what they were talking about. Although the whole “battery farm” method of producing talent was a revelation, and a rather upsetting one at that.

It’s a constant source of amusement to me that people say bands are good because of album sales, but as pointed out here, Nickelback, Coldplay and Taylor Swift have all outsold the venerable old guard of classic rock, so supposedly they should get as much respect. Not only that, but they write better songs too. Now I know that that statement is deliberately provocative, but that doesn’t make it untrue does it?

A show like this could easily drift into the realms of cliché if they just went for the low hanging fruit of modern pop or rap music, but nobody is safe from their scorn. They will just as happily tear down the likes of Aerosmith or Pink Floyd, as they will Johnny Cash, Madonna, Daft Punk or Blink 182.

Is it any good though?

The early shows had a weird problem with the way the audio was recorded and edited. You could frequently hear talking in the background. There were also times when they seemed to splice different takes of the conversation together, but bleed from the other mics was still audible. Also, i think they edited all the gaps out between sentences. Combinethat with their almost hyperactive delivery it was like some ADHD info dump by Beavis And Butthead. Thankfully they’ve calmed down a bit and improved the production of the show no end.

It’s all too easy to make a podcast that deliberately pours scorn on a popular topic, and from what I gather there are a surfeit of shows that do just that. Mark and Tyler have both worked in the music business for years. What they say may be provocative, but it comes from a knowledge of how the system works. This is something that will no doubt cause a bit of cognitive dissonance with the more devout music fans out there, which is of course why they do it. It also sets it apart from some guy in his basement bitching about things he doesn’t like, with nothing but vitriol to back his statements up.

Final thoughts

I’m a massive music fan. I’ve played in numerous bands, released many albums and even run a netlabel for a few years. My tastes are varied and I have lots of favourite bands. I’ve never really been such a fanboy to get annoyed if someone doesn’t like a band that I do. I do have friends that would foam at the mouth listening to their opinions of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin or even Black Flag (you know who you are!). Thankfully I am just as likely to laugh at their comments on Metallica as I am about Destiny’s Child. In fact I think the episodes I enjoy most are when they destroy a band that I do like. As I said, I’m a contrarian! As you scroll through the episode list, you’ll realise that nothing is sacred here, and some of the choices have been a real surprise (albeit a welcome one).

The only reason that this isn’t a 5 brain podcast is for the aforementioned audio weirdness early on. Its a highly recomended podcast, and one I think you’ll love if you like music. Even if you don’t like music, it’ll give you plenty of ammo to annoy the music fan in your life. Here’s to Mark and Tyler having many more years pissing people off.

You can hear Your Favourite Band Sucks here:

https://www.yfbspod.com/

Or wherever you get your podcasts.

This town (aaah ah)…

Limetown Review

Production company – Two Up Productions

Rating –

Limetown Logo

Ok, confession time. I had completely forgotten about this series. I started it when it was first released, but over time it somehow fell by the wayside. I’m not sure if I even got through season two originally, although I have re-finished the whole thing just for this review.

While channel surfing the other night, I saw a new TV series called “Limetown” and a lightbulb went off in my brain. After a quick search, it turns out that they have indeed made a TV show about the podcast, so I just had to revisit it before I start the TV show.

So what’s it all about?

Limetown was a research facility in Tennessee, and on the night of February 8th 2004 local emergency services received an urgent distress call. When they arrived, (with the inevitable hordes of press) they were denied entry by the facility’s on-site security. The following morning all was calm and the whole place seemed deserted. A few days later the security team left, leaving the gates open. As the police and press entered, it seems that every person who lived in Limetown had vanished. All 327 of them. Actually, 326. The charred body of the facility’s boss was found tied to a post in the town square.

At the time, the story of Limetown was a big deal, even making international news. All too soon though, it passed into obscurity and was forgotten by the general public. Lost amid the constant white noise of gossip and scandal.

This series follows the story of investigative reporter and podcaster Lia Haddock. She has a personal tie to the mystery; her uncle Emil was among those who disappeared, and so Lia sets off to uncover the truth of the mysterious place. Her podcast series is supposed to be 6 episodes long, I’m not sure why she thinks that she could uncover the truth in such a short time, when nobody else could but there you go. This is podcastland after all.

Starting at the now long deserted facility, she concludes the first episode of her series. That night though, she gets a mysterious phone call about a possible survivor. After that her whole world changes.

As the story unfolds, she discovers the true mystery of the events at Limetown. Not only that, but far from being consigned to history, the legacy of those events are still being felt now and are very real, and very dangerous.

She meets with some of the people who had disappeared (called the “citizens” of the place), people who are doing their best to stay hidden, and who help her piece the story together. She also attracts the attention of other more nefarious forces that are desperate to keep the story buried and will stop at nothing to succeed. 

But is it any good?

It is very good indeed. The acting is brilliant, and the story is truly gripping from start to finish. There is also a very high production value that only enhances the story. There is a real trend at the moment for binaurally recorded podcasts. For the most part, this seems to just be a gimmick so they can have a warning about not driving a car or whatnot. Personally I would rather have the subtle sound design and foley effects on display here, they really do put you into the heart of the unfolding drama.

Alongside the drama and paranoia, there are some genuinely emotional moments too. As the threads of the story unfold, the true cost of the events are uncovered. From the very beginning, there were unethical and awful events happening, seemingly without any thought whatsoever. The pathos of these small story threads are testament to the actors’ skill. They are genuinely moving, and I won’t say any more than that.

Final thoughts

This is one of the few audio dramas that could hold its own against a televised serial. Now, whether the actual TV adaptation holds up to the quality of the podcast remains to be seen. I am looking forward to watching it though, and tutting at the inevitable plot changes.

You can listen to Limetown here:

https://twoupproductions.com/limetown/podcast

Or wherever you get your podcasts.

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