A bit of a change this week. As you read this, I will be on holiday, braving the elements with no wifi or phone signal. I had originally planned to get a review written and scheduled for Sunday as usual. The deadline arrived rather quicker than expected and despite my best efforts I couldn’t get it finished. When I started this blog I had planned to keep at least one finished review ready to go for a situation such as this, but I used those up too. C’est la vie.
Normal service will be resumed next Sunday with my review of The Battersea Poltergeist by Danny Robins and the BBC. Im sure that both of my regular subscribers will be ok with that!
Until then, wish me luck trying to keep two kids (who spend more time online than Neo and Morpheus combined) entertained with frisbees, fishing rods and UNO.
This is a rather awkward series to rate. Hopefully during the course of this review I’ll clarify my decision for the rather low score you see at the top of the post, particularly if you’ve just started listening to this series before reading this. As with most podcasts, I’ll hear a trailer on a different series and decide to check it out. This one caught my eye (ears?) with its exciting and harrowing plot. I subscribed immediately.
So what’s it about?
Lost hills is a true crime podcast. Each series follows a different case, but the locale is similar. In the case of this series, it’s sunny Malibu in California.
Series 1 follows the case of a shooting at a campsite in Malibu Creek State Park. Campers are awoken in the middle of the night to loud gunshots. A father has been shot in his tent as he slept next to his young daughters. The children were unharmed. The police arrest Anthony Rauda, a man already known to the police, and something of a loner and a recluse who lived in the woods. As the investigation gains publicity, it soon becomes known that there had been attempted shootings going on for months beforehand. Were they connected? Did they get the right man, or was he a scapegoat?
This is a long and complex case with severe failings on the side of law enforcement. There will be parts of the story that will have you literally shaking your head in disbelief at the failings to protect the public. I also can’t help but notice the spirit of Making A Murderer early on in the series. It seems to be weighted in favour of innocence, at least early on.
Series 2 follows the case of a tragedy at sea. Fred Roehler, his wife Verna, and their young son Doug were yachting off the Malibu coast when the boat capsized and Verna and Doug lost their lives. Fred was the only survivor and only witness. At first, he’s devastated. He’s lost most of his family in a tragic accident.
As the investigation develops though, skeletons from Fred’s past start to surface. Death seems to follow him around, particularly with regards to wives. Is he the charming, loving husband that everyone thinks? Or is there a darker side. One that’s hidden from the public?
Something that becomes apparent, particularly in season two, is that despite the multi million pound houses and exclusivity of Malibu now, in the 1970s it was a somewhat seedy area. Its popularity with celebrities came from its anonymity and peace. Somewhere away from paparazzi and prying eyes.
Is it any good?
Yes and no. This is the reason for my low score. The first series was brilliant. A gripping story and real emotion. It was a harrowing story that would be any parent’s nightmare. When you couple that with the history of the area and the fact that nobody seemed to do anything to get to the root of the problem before things escalated, makes for a brilliant show.
When series two started I was expecting more of the same, but I was disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an interesting case, and there is no doubt that Fred was a seriously nasty guy, but it didn’t resonate as much as the first series. Even interviews with the ever charming Rob Lowe couldnt save it.
Pushkin Industries is to factual podcasts what Rusty Quill is to fictional ones. Revisionist History is their flagship show and will be getting a review soon, there are others too that are all outstanding. This one started well enough, but I feel the second series was not quite up to the usual standard of excellence. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m writing the review, so it is what it is.
If they had left it as a one off, then it would have easily been a four or five brain show. I had to knock some off for series two though. No doubt there are plenty of incredible, dark stories from this area and era. Rob Lowe even discussed some things that could make for interesting story threads. Will there be a season three? Will it be a return to form? We shall just have to wait and see.
Malevolent is a podcast whose reputation preceded it. I had heard good things from lots of places. Indeed, this review being written now is due to a Twitter thread where it was being widely praised. I figured I must have missed something. I’d listened to four episodes and, in the words of Shania Twain, it didn’t impress me much. So had I written it off too soon, or was I right in my hasty assumption? Read on and I’ll tell you.
So what’s it about?
Malevolent is a horror podcast that flies its Lovecraft flag with pride. The story follows Arkham P.I Arthur Lester who wakes up in his office with no memory of recent events and is unable to see. He can hear a mysterious voice though that appears to be coming from inside his head. This voice guides him, and so begins the adventure to discover not only what happened to Arthur, but what happened to “the voice” as well. This unlikely duo navigate as best they can to solve the mystery, without running afoul of the numerous enemies they encounter.
Speaking of enemies, there are plenty on display here. From distrustful police officers, spooky cultists and the more eldritch horrors of Lovecraft and Chambers, there are plenty of antagonists to try and hinder Arthur on his mission. It’s always fun to try and identify the creatures from the descriptions, playing a kind of mythos “Guess Who”
Is it any good?
Put it this way. It isn’t as bad as I first thought. I had let a few things colour my judgement, and I suspect I was being a bit fussy.
The voice acting is good, although the phase effect on “the voice” will never not be irritating. Even more impressive is that the whole thing is written, directed and performed by Harlan Guthrie. I was surprised at this because while there is obviously a limited cast I wouldn’t have guessed it was a solo effort. For the most part his accents and characterisations are spot on.
Likewise, the production values are reassuringly high. The sound effects are very good and help build tension well. The monster effects are excellent too. They sound original and exactly how I’d imagine an eldritch horror to sound, and the gurgling gore sounds are deliciously disgusting.
One of the things that first threw me (and still does), is that this is a cross between a written story and some kind of improvised roleplaying game. There are definitely points in the story where you can hear dice being rolled before clues or items get discovered.
***NOTE*** On looking at the website, it turns out that the patreon supporters got to vote on the outcome of the original shorter episodes. These got compiled into the longer ones that are released as the podcast.
It is almost literally like an RPG. Because Arthur can’t see, the voice is his eyes and has to describe the surroundings in the manner of a Games Master. This makes it seem like a cross between Call Of Cthulhu and vintage kids TV show Knightmare.
Based on the first four episodes I had decided it was a one or two brain podcast. Against my better judgement, and some (imagined) peer pressure on Twitter, I have given it another go.
I’m still not too sure what the point is with having the disembodied voice other than to act as a vehicle for the “interactive” side of the concept. I wonder if it would have been as effective to just have a mysterious person be in the room when Arthur woke up. The main plot points would still have worked just fine with minimal work. I’m sorry but I think there would have been a better effect than that weird phasing to give the impression of being in Arthur’s head.
Apart from the dice rolling aspect of this series, what ultimately held this back from getting a five brain score was the fact I didnt really like the main character much at all. Over the course of the series, he’s undergone great hardship and stress, and ultimately it bothered me not one bit. When Jonathan Sims realised his situation towards the end of his story, in fact anyone in T.M.A. it was genuinely emotional. Im not sure why, but there certainly were moments when I wished that Arthur would learn some respect for the things he was dealing with. Maybe its “character development”, but the way he starts to act , despite what he knows and has experienced should have had serious repercussions.
Despite my misgivings, and my own little “voice” saying to score it really low, I have to say that I’ve grown to like this series a lot. I could have binged the whole lot in two days, and the big twists make up for the things that I dislike. I still don’t feel that it’s a proper five brain show, but it has just squeaked into a four.
I heard about this podcast somewhere very recently (I can’t remember where) and instantly subscribed. I’ve been a fan of Penn and Teller since they were first shown on British TV at the end of the 80’s, so it was a no brainer for me. Teller (obviously) isn’t a character that lends himself to the audio format, but Penn certainly is. So without further ado, let’s head off to Penn’s Sunday School and preach some peace and love.
So what’s it about?
Penn’s Sunday school seems to be an excuse for Mr. Jillette and his friends to just sit around and “shoot the shit”. There are reminiscences of past lovers, starting out in the industry, and some “current” topics (current at the time anyway). Don’t let this fool you though. While I use the rather flippant term, there is much to enjoy here, and it is far from some droning ramblings to fill the silence, or gaps in Penn’s ego.
Each week he’s joined by regular guest hosts Michael Goudeau and Matt Donnelly. Occasionally special guests sit in (Piff The Magic Dragon was a particular highlight). There are also a few interviews thrown in too, just in case you should get bored of the regular format (you shouldn’t). These are usually people from or adjacent to Penn’s line of work, but there is very little “shop talk” here. That wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, but as it goes they just talk about “stuff”. Shows they’ve seen, places they’ve been. As I said, “shooting the shit”.
Is it any good?
Of course it is. If there’s one thing that Penn can do (apart from magic, juggling, and playing bass), it’s talking. He’s a phenomenal raconteur and all his stories are brilliant. This isn’t to say that the other guys just put a penny in the slot and watch him go, they are all very witty and entertaining, and are more than capable of holding court with Mr. Jillette.
One of my favourite episodes came very early on. It was the “McDracula” episode, when one of them had been to Romania and the whole hour was spent making various vampire jokes and arguing about why Americans would “do Transylvania better”.
I really don’t think there is anything better than genuinely witty people firing off each other and making each other laugh (and not in that irritating, smug way that “comedians” on Mock The Week or other panel shows do either). I guess that comes from being magicians or clowns. You need to engage the audience more than other professions.
This series has drawn more than one weird glance my way as I snort out loud at something when I’m on the train, or as I walk through town and a massive smile stretches across my face for no apparent reason. A particular example of this was when they Google translated a Japanese review of Penn’s album. That is something I don’t think will ever not be funny.
You don’t have to be a magic fan to like this podcast, there’s plenty to enjoy here. Actually, if you are a magic fan then you probably won’t like it, if that’s all you’re after. They are less likely to discuss the “reverse faro shuffle” as they are to talk about books, or offering car rental companies money to trash a car.
I appreciate that I’m very late to the table here. I’ve got hundreds of episodes to catch up on, and this review is entirely based on the first 20 or so. There may be some format changes I don’t yet know about, or some groundbreaking new development. I really try to avoid skipping too far forward, so forgive me for maybe missing out on something important.
In the entire history of music, there have been few artists that have genuinely pushed boundaries of their genre. The KLF are one of the even shorter list that pushed the boundaries of reality itself. So unbuckle your brain, jump in your ice cream van, and prepare for a story that proves truth can indeed be stranger than fiction.
What’s it all about?
The KLF (aka The Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu, aka The JAMS, aka The Timelords, and many other projects and pseudonyms) was the brainchild of Jimmy Cauty and Bill Drummond. Long story short, they started making electronic music that proved very popular, something that was at odds with their love of Robert Anton Wilson and the Illuminatus! Trilogy. Despite trying to prove that pop music was dead and going out of their way to be as unpopular as possible, they still became one of the biggest acts of the late 80s/early 90s. As fans of the trilogy will know, the universe has a dark sense of humour and is not averse to throwing a curveball your way just to be annoying.
From burning their albums outside ABBA’s studio, to firing machine guns at the BRIT awards. From wanting to build a giant pyramid from the ashes of their fans, to the stunt that gives this series its name, there isn’t much they didn’t try (or haven’t tried) in their mission to satisfy their artistic manifesto and discordian destiny. In 1994, they performed their final gesture ( the one that gives this series its name) and pretty much disappeared. 23 years later however, they reappeared with a few new, and no less remarkable projects.
I’m skimming over an awful lot of detail here because I really don’t want to spoil any of the insanity and hijinx. If you are my age or older, you’ll no doubt not only remember the music, but some of the stunts they pulled too. Thankfully, most of them get covered in this series, so you won’t miss out at all.
So is it any good?
100% yes. Despite really trying to make music that people would hate, The KLF were very good. The Illuminatus! Trilogy is very good too (but that’s something for a different blog), and the total commitment of two guys to put their careers in the hands of chance is bordering on unbelievable.
As anyone who’s ever read R.A.W. will testify to, there is no such thing as coincidence, and signs and clues are everywhere. Jimmy Cauty and Bill Drummond are two exemplars of that. Also, as anyone who’s read R.A.W. will testify to is that doing this is the sure way to “chapel perilous”. Something that Cauty and Drummond are also two exemplars of.
The production values are high, this is a BBC podcast after all, so you know it’ll be quality. The acting is great too, with the voice talents of Paul Higgins as Bill Drummond, Nicholas Burns as Jimmy Cauty and Jeremy Stockwell as the narrator Ken Campbell. I won’t go in to where you’ve seen (or heard) these guys before, because they are all very prolific, but you’ll recognise their voices straight away. Google is your friend in this case.
I suppose that if you aren’t familiar with the band, or these stories, then you could just scoff and call bullshit. I mean, they are funny and ridiculous, and (almost) unbelievable. What they definitely are though is amazing, in the literal sense. This is a very funny series indeed and I will definitely recommend it to anyone whether you like the music or not.
I think what makes Drummond and Cauty so endearing here is that they are two ordinary guys bouncing from one stunt to the next without really being in control. They know they must do something “heroic”, and that it will probably all work out fine. There are times when that trust is tested though, as is usually the case in these spiritual journeys. There is no malice here, they arent nasty arseholes trying to get one over on people, it’s just that their idea of how reality should work is at odds with most of the other people they encounter.
I’ve actually listened to the whole thing three times and it never gets boring. There’s only one or two other series that I can say that about, so make of that what you will. It’s a testament, not only to the top notch writing, but the acting talent here that makes it hold up to multiple plays.
It’s also nice that on the BBC sounds app, most things are available for a month or two and then (just like in the days before Sky+ or even *gasp* video recorders) you have to wait patiently for a rebroadcast. This one is apparently available indefinitely. So now you’ve got no excuse not to check it out have you?