Month: September 2022

Judging a book by its cover

Dark Woods review

Production company – Wolf Entertainment

Rating –

Dark Woods logo

This was another one of those series that cropped up thanks to the all knowing algorithms that run our lives now. To be honest, I subscribed based on the artwork alone. I’ve bought albums like that, I’ve bought books like that. Why not subscribe to podcasts like that too?

So what’s it about?

Dark Woods is a thrilling eight part drama set in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park in California. According to the intro, this is a fictionalised story based on real problems faced by the national parks in America. A chilling prospect indeed.

Fish And Game Warden Mark Ellis’ life is thrown into disarray after the disappearance and death of his young aide Chelsea Brewer. After going missing, her body is subsequently found by hikers  at the bottom of a ravine. Despite appearing to be an accident, and therefore an open and shut case, Mark launches an investigation.  After the autopsy it seems that she had been poisoned before she fell to her death.

Mark teams up with teacher’s assistant Miguel, a guy who has been charting the population of Fishers (a ferret-like animal) who has uncovered that these animals have also been poisoned. These two unlikely allies’ investigation contradicts police procedure and the two find themselves in a very serious situation indeed.

With all this going on, there is also the looming threat of a company wanting to buy large swathes of the park for mining. The town councillor is reluctant to go ahead with talks, but the townspeople are tempted by the prospect of money and jobs.

Is it any good?

It is outstanding. I listen to a lot of audio dramas, as my regular followers will know. Many such shows like to claim a “cinematic experience”. This one truly is though. The acting is OUTSTANDING. There really isn’t one weak link in the cast here. There is some genuine emotion in the story that is given real gravity by the cast.

While the characters themselves are nothing new, there’s the good guy on the brink of a breakdown, the plucky sidekick, the sneaky businessman and the sceptical police chief, they are all expertly played and nothing feels cheesy or clich├ęd.

Final thoughts

This series has quickly flown into my top 10 list for the year. Heck, it’s quite possibly in my all time top 10. I can’t really fault anything here. There’s no dodgy sound effects or wooden acting. The story is very well written and perfectly paced.

Eight 45 minute (or thereabouts) episodes seem to be the golden ratio for a drama podcast. Each episode is long enough that you don’t feel rushed, and the fact there’s only eight means that if you’re like me you can happily binge the whole thing in a day and not burn your ears (and concentration) out.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to start the whole series again.

You can get Dark woods here:

https://wolfentertainment.com/podcast/darkwoods/

Or wherever you get your podcasts

I am become Seth…

Big Picture Science review

Rating –

big picture science logo

A month or so ago, if you’d have asked me who Seth Shostak is, I would have spent about an hour wracking my brain whilst cursing you. I’ve known the name for years, and I would have guessed that it was something to do with UFOs. I wouldn’t be too far from the mark I guess, because he is the senior astronomer for SETI. Despite hearing this podcast advertised on nearly every episode of Penn’s Sunday School, I never put the two things together (my ears tend to switch themselves off when adverts start so I skip forward a minute or two). After hearing him interviewed on Monster Talk, I subscribed and with some trepidation, pressed play.

So what’s it about?

I say trepidation, because whilst I love highbrow “brainy” (or “geek bullshit” if you ask my partner) podcasts, I don’t really listen to many pure science shows.

Big Picture Science is a weekly podcast that examines different subjects and interviews scientists in the relevant fields. Seth Shostak and his co-host Molly Bentley are excellent presenters. My indecision was unfounded and I’ve quickly fallen in love with this brilliant series.

The show cover a diverse range of topics including global warming, conspiracy theories, robots and exactly what it’s like inside a black hole. Of course, being based at SETI, there are plenty of discussions on the search for earthlike planets and astronomy.

Is it any good?

This is one of those highbrow podcasts that covers intellectual subjects in a very easy to understand manner. The sometimes complex subject matter is always put forward in a relatively jargon free and entertaining manner. Seth and Molly’s sense of humour shines through, yet is never inane, and they are both as eager to find out about new things as the guests are to tell them (and us) about it.

Being that the early episodes are 12 years old (on my podcasther anyway), some of the news stories they cover have actually finished. The fact that I know how the stoires play out doesnt detract from them at all. There is always some little detail that I had missed, or that they explain in a better way. This is why its so good.

Final thoughts

If you’re looking for something different to your main diet of fiction or true crime, then you really should check this out. It’s very similar in style to podcasts like Monster Talk or The Tetrapod Zoology Podcast, and is one that with its hundreds of episodes, will keep me amused for a very long time.

I appreciate that this is on the shorter end of reviews I’ve written, especially when I devoted about 800 words to a three brain show a few weeks back. I could have really just said “This is a brilliant podcast, subscribe immediately”. That isn’t really a review though is it? You should though. Subscribe immediately I mean.

You can get Big Picture Science here:

https://radio.seti.org/

Or wherever you get your podcasts.

Creepypasta al Formaggio

We’re Not Meant To Know review

Rating –

We're Not Meant To Know logo

This is one that I discovered via various people I follow on twitter. This is something I really like about Twitter, the recommendations are usually more relevant than podcatcher algorithms. The premise sounded good, so on nothing more than that, I subscribed and crossed my fingers.

“But Mr. Podcastgeek” I hear you ask.

“Was it love at first play?”

Well, I’ll smile in that way that a parent does when a child asks something silly, ruffle your hair and ask if you’re sitting comfortably. Are you? Then I’ll begin.

So what’s it about?

Purely going off the title (as I did), you’d almost expect this to be a podcast about conspiracy theories and shady government shenanigans. If that is indeed what you’re expecting, then I’m afraid you might be rather disappointed.

We’re Not Meant To Know is a horror anthology series very much in the vein of Creepypasta stories and podcasts like The Wrong Station. The production is minimalist, with each story being narrated in the first person by the same husky voiced (and as yet unnamed) person. I guess that’s one of the things “we’re not meant to know”. Each episode is a standalone horror story, although there are certainly options to expand on some of these at a later date.

I must admit that as the first episode got underway, I was almost thinking they could be true stories. I’ve binged on podcasts like Radio Rental, so I tend not to be too dismissive about people’s actual experiences. As the series progresses and the stories become more outlandish though, there is no doubt that these are works of fiction.

Is it any good?

I really want to like this show, but I’m afraid I can’t. As you’ll be aware by now, I’m rather a sucker for minimalist horror told by sonorous narrators. This podcast though is almost a pastiche. The narrator has a slight gravelly tone to his voice that keeps making me want to clear my throat. I actually went from a binge of this show to a few episodes of A Voice From Darkness, and it seems that there’s a definite “inspiration” to the vocal style. Ultimately though, this series lacks the charm and the style of a show like AVFD, and the narrator is no Dr Malcolm Ryder which is a shame.

The stories themselves are well written, even if there’s nothing groundbreaking here. I’ve heard worse, a lot worse. Time will tell if I’ll carry on with this, or if it will just languish in my podcast list, the episode count growing ever higher.

Final thoughts

Over the course of this post, I’ve made comparisons to various podcasts, which some may feel is unfair. It is both like the podcasts I mentioned, and yet not really like them. These comparisons are made only to give you some idea of what to expect.

I don’t feel I can recommend this podcast when there are so many better options out there. It’s not terrible, but it’s really not great. Give it a go if you want though, I’m only human and far from infallible. You may like it and think me an idiot, you wouldn’t be the first.

You can get We’re not Meant to Know here:

https://wnmtkpod.libsyn.com/

Or wherever you get your podcasts.

No more heroes anymore

Disgraceland review

Rating –

Disgraceland logo

I am becoming aware that recently I’ve been giving every podcast the maximum 5 brain rating. I’m worried that if I just keep saying “yes, this is great ” then there’s no benchmark. Not everything can be perfect all the time can it? So in the interest of balance and not giving everything top marks, here is one that is something of a problem child. I hope you’ll understand my reasons here and give it a go anyway. Well as much as you can. Read on and I’ll explain this rather cryptic introduction.

So what’s it about?

Disgraceland is a podcast covering the various scandals and misdemeanors of music’s great and good (and bad). Each episode covers a different story and they run the whole gamut of decades and genres. There are some wild tales to be found here, and also some heartbreaking ones too, but each is told with the amount of respect deserved. Just because someone is famous, doesn’t make them an exhibit to be held up for public amusement does it? Or maybe you think it does. Maybe you like to read the paparazzi infested gossip magazines. Whatever, I’m not your dad. I can’t tell you what to do.

The show is narrated by Jake Brennan. He also writes, produces and composes the music, so the credits list is rather short. I first heard Jake on his other podcast Dead And Gone, about people who disappeared following The Grateful Dead around the country. This true crime podcast is on my “to review” list, and will be getting 600 or so words dedicated to it very soon.

Jake has the kind of achingly cool American voice that you would expect someone who narrates rock music podcasts to have. His voice sounds like sunshine, surf wax, petrol and pot (at least to a Welsh nerd anyway). I don’t mean any disrespect here. He’s not just someone who sounds the part. He has a deep knowledge of musical history and he has a real talent for bringing any story to life, regardless of the era. This is purely down to his skill as a writer, and he avoids the usual cut and paste from Wikipedia problems that other shows on music history (by much more well known presenters) have fallen into.

Is it any good?

Yes and no. 

Now, I’m a massive music fan and I’m not really fussy about what I listen to. The playlist on my phone runs from Dixieland Jazz, to Death Metal, Psy-trance to 1970s Japanese Funk with some traditional West African music and Musique Concrete thrown in for good measure. There aren’t many stories told that I’m not familiar with, although there are a few. Because of this, I could rate it low and say “well, there aren’t any new stories here, I’ve heard them all before”. That’s not how I do things though. Just because I know something doesn’t mean that you will, so I keep powder dry and save my penalties for other things.

Want to hear about the time Jerry Lee Lewis wanted to murder Elvis? Or maybe you want to learn about Syd Barrett’s psychological fall from grace. Maybe you’re interested in the sorry story of Britney Spears’ lost childhood and subsequent mistreatment. If so, this is the show for you. Unfortunately, this is about all you’ll learn because this podcast seems to be subscription only. Or rather, you can listen for “free” on subscription based platforms. You can get the full thing on Amazon, or Apple podcasts, but I dont use them. There are very few episodes that are truly freely available, and the ones that are are brilliant. This makes the situation all the more annoying because I really want to rate this show higher.

Jake’s style of writing is like a (much) better version of the journalist Mick Wall. He puts himself in the situations that occur, and that really makes for an exciting story. For my money, Jake is a way better writer than Mr. Wall anyway. I’d love to read a full length biography written by him, or even better an audiobook narrated by him.

Final thoughts

As you know, and are probably bored of me telling you now, I only like to review podcasts that are freely available to everyone. This is certainly a good show, and very interesting, but I feel I can’t rate it higher purely because of the lack of available episodes. Even some that show up in my podcatcher won’t actually play.

The more cynical of you may well think that I’m picking on this podcast just to give it a poor rating, but I’m really not. I love this series and it’s a real shame when a new episode shows up in my list and it won’t play. Jake has his reasons and I’m not going to be all millennial (apart from the fact I’m too old) and expect everything for free all the time. It’s just disappointing that I get teased with such good content, and not get the whole shebang.

This is unfortunately a fatal flaw in an otherwise brilliant series. 

You can get disgraceland here:

https://www.disgracelandpod.com/

Or a few episodes from your usual podcatcher.

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