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Podcast Reviews

A Listener Reviews: True Tales of the Illuminati

True Tales of the Illuminati

Episodes: 3 Episodes in the first season.

Length: 35-55 minutes

I’ve listened to… All episodes.

The Premise: True Tales of the Illuminati is exactly what it claims. The mostly true story (I assume) of the inner workings of the Illuminati. Season one focuses on the conspiracy behind the building of the pyramids.

My Review: This podcast had a great introductory season, with more on the way. This is one of the few podcasts that has actually had me chuckling out loud while driving to work, and I think it is perfect for anyone needing some levity in their daily life. It definitely takes an absurdist approach to humor, but the episodes are well-constructed and written.

It centers around one team within the Illuminati, made up of a balanced cast with competing motivations that, nonetheless, manage to bungle everything in equal measure throughout. It is definitely the story of a team that should be competent, but struggles because of themselves. Nevertheless, they continue toward the goal.

I think the writing is sharp and witty, with moments that genuinely caught me by surprise. As far as the humor is concerned, it does have that “random” quality, but orchestrated in a way to keep the story progressing. Each character is distinct in tone, manner, and approach to the problems they face. While presenting some rather classic archetypes, they play off each other very well.

True Tales of the Illuminati is a funny, enjoyable, brief podcast.  It’s fun and goofy, with some moments that really have you rooting for the team. Even as things go terribly awry. They way they weave the story with myth and legend also make it a joy to listen to. If you have just over two hours and enjoy some silliness, it definitely deserves a listen. Illuminati Ollominoto!

You can find them here: True Tales of the Illuminati 


A Listener Reviews: Seren

Seren

Episodes: 8 episodes, potential for a second season

Length: 10-15 minutes

I’ve listened to… All episodes.

The Premise: Seren is on an 8-month journey into the vastness of space. As the story unfolds, the listener learns about her world and why she is alone among the stars, save for her strict AI.

My Review: I posted about Seren in January when it was just coming out. It is a thoughtful sci-fi story that brings up themes of culture and belonging, specifically what it is like to not fit in with what the majority feels should be the “right” way to do things. The voice acting is wonderfully executed, truly bringing Seren to life over the course of the eight episodes. One of the things which most impressed me is how well developed the world and culture are in such a short span. There is no long, drawn out explanation of the universe. However, I left the season with a clear picture of the relevant details.

Everything is explained fluidly throughout the story. Part of this is that the story follows recordings Seren makes to, according to the first episode, “reflect on [her] past and the mistakes that led to [her] becoming a colonist.” This produces a consistent atmosphere of reflection that serves to highlight the central conflicts of the story.

I don’t want to give things away, so forgive the vagueness, but I was struck by how artfully the story balances aspects of assigned guilt and blame with concepts of independence and autonomy. While as a listener I had a clear opinion on the situation at the crux of Seren’s role as colonist, it was written in a way to show how embedded cultural norms can become. I think that is a message we all should reflect on from time to time.

It is an emotional story with a focus heavily on the internal struggle of living out of line with the world around you. The themes introduced can be heavy, as can be the theme of isolation throughout.   However, the overall story arc is absolutely beautiful. Challenging, to be sure, but moving in directions I did not expect. Ultimately, I left this portion of the story feeling reassured and hopeful, despite some of the heavier moments throughout.

Seren is a brief, but tightly constructed story that packs a punch. It introduces some important ideas and themes, and shows a very human reaction to impossible situations. The universe it presents is well developed in a natural way that helps keep the story moving at an engaging pace, while still outlining key aspects. It is a beautiful story–albeit emotional and heartwrenching at times–to follow along with. I greatly enjoyed the story so far and will eagerly await any further opportunities to join in Seren’s world as the story (hopefully) continues.

You can find them here: Seren (Patreon)


A Listener Reviews: Songs of the Faithless

Hello people of the internet! It probably comes as no surprise that life has been rather hectic. No idea why that could be, of course. But, whatever the cause, it has offered me a lot of time with ear buds in to listen to all kinds of wonderful things. I have a quite a few people I want to shout out over the next few weeks, so  I’m hoping to get back into the swing of things. But first, something a little different

Songs of the Faithless

This is not a podcast, but a musical fantasy album. The creator reached out to me through the contact form and said that, while it was a little different, he thought it was something I might enjoy. And, honestly, it piqued my curiosity. My normal format doesn’t quite fit, but I’ll do what I can.

Length: Just under an hour and a half for the full deluxe version with 30 songs (15 in the main, 5 bonus tracks)

Premise: Osumare is the daughter of one of the last Speakers to the God of Balance, also known as the Missing God. She lives in a seaside town, enjoying life on the sea. However, a cult arises with plans to bring about a great evil into the world and she must react to stop it.

My Review: So, I enjoy musicals, but I’m not a musical fanatic. That said, I found this a really enjoyable story. I have to be honest, I am completely in awe of anyone who can tell a story through music. I can hardly wrap my brain around the idea of keeping rhythm, rhyme, and music all in sync. The music has a theatrical quality to it, and it made me wish I could see and hear it as a full production.

The world that is introduced in this is really fascinating. There is myth and magic, but all removed from the time of the telling. Or at least forgotten. I found it very interesting how song and magic were woven together throughout, and I think that is an approach that serves this format exceedingly well. The main tenets of the world are clearly introduced, providing a good framework for the main action. I honestly found myself wanting to learn more about this world and hear more stories from it, because it seems like there is plenty of interesting ideas presented that could be developed further.

The music covers a variety of styles and tones, and frankly I’m not musically inclined enough to provide much more feedback. I will say it had me humming some tunes even after I finished, which I consider a positive. The vocal talents are very impressive, and the writing progresses the story while staying in tune with the overall production. Again, I am in awe of anyone with enough talent to balance all these pieces.

I think my main critique would be the length. This honestly feels too short. Now, to be completely fair, this may be partially due to my habit of listening to podcast arcs that span 97 episodes and 15 seasons. However, I think the final act ultimately felt a bit rushed. Given this is an epic hero’s journey story, I wish there had been more struggle and build up. That would have increased the tension for me, keeping me on the edge of my seat. That said, I was surprised by the direction the story ultimately took and found it to be a very satisfying end. I think I just wanted a little more time on the journey aspect.

To be fair, though, my main critique is that I wanted more of the story, so I definitely think it kept me intrigued. It is set in an ambitious fantasy world, and it seems this story scratches the surface of what there is to discover.  While I think a few additional songs and scenes may have ultimately filled the story out more, it tells its tale from start to finish effectively. It introduces a main character that I can care about, root for, and journey with. If you enjoy fantasy and you enjoy musicals, give it a listen.

You can download the album here and name your own price. If you are in a position to do so, I highly encourage you to support artists and entertainers out there helping us all get through this one song, one episode, and one day at a time. And check out the creator, Jonah Knight.


A Listener Reviews: Cryptic

Cryptic

Episodes: 10 episodes in the first season, with a minisode between each

Length: 15-25 minutes in the main episodes

I’ve listened to… All of  the first season.

The Premise: Cole and Julie host a radio show that they inherited from their father covering Cryptids and the supernatural. Only some of the things they investigate are more real than others.

My Review:  Season one of this series just ended and it led me on a fantastic journey with Cole and Julie. The way the story was introduced and the plot was constructed is a perfect example of how to draw an audience in to a complex, creepy world. The story starts relatively light, family bickering, strange and creepy urban myths and legends discussed on a radio show. But as the episodes progress, but the myths become real. There are many layers to the world in which Cryptic takes place, and different episodes land at different points, from mundane with a hint of the mysterious to completely unexplainable. Cole and Julie explore these reports of strange happenings, at times trying to maintain a balance, at other times trying to prevent danger.

This is not so much a monster hunter style story, but more about two siblings trying to hold things together and learn how to navigate a world they have insufficient knowledge of. Their father’s absence is a clear challenge, only made more so as they wrestle with the moral challenges that come along with their roles. While the podcast never completely abandons moments of levity and calm, there are many more serious elements that get brought in, and the episodes suggest Julie and Cole may have made some significant sacrifices to ensure they can do what must be done.

There is still so much mystery left in this world. The podcast overall has done a great job of introducing enough of each story and idea to make it interesting, but never seems to fully answer the questions. It keeps me coming back eager to know more about the world and what it means to live within it. It balances the knowing and the known unknowns very well, so that there are pieces to start to string together, but not the whole picture. As a listener, I know Julie and Cole are hiding things from one another, but my glimpse of the world only starts to uncover what those secrets might be.

Julie and Cole are written as siblings, and frankly it is a very realistic picture of siblings. They bicker, they say hurtful things to one another, and they provide support. There is real, genuine concern, but also that ability to push buttons in the way on siblings can. Obviously, there is history which is revealed slowly through the episodes, and it makes clear how serious the stakes are. One theme throughout is that the supporting characters are often caught up in the chaos of Cole and Julie, intentionally or otherwise. That adds another layer to the show that asks some very tough questions neither of them seem ready or willing to answer.

Overall, Cryptic is a well executed story that takes the trope of siblings dealing with monsters and spins it into something refreshing. While there are lighthearted moments (I love the “ads” the introduce episodes), it also does not shy away from proposing uncomfortable situations and questions,. It’s also willing to leave those unanswered and messy at this point of the story. Cryptic’s biggest drawback is having a more common name that makes them hard to find at times. With season one recently finishing up, I can heartily recommend you listen if you like spooky, supernatural, and thought-provoking  stories.

You can find them here: Cryptic


A Listener Reviews: The Call of the Void

Call of the Void

Episodes: 7 of the 9 episode story arc.

Length: 20-25 minutes

I’ve listened to… Everything so far. Cannot wait for the finale!

The Premise:  I mentioned them in my January 2020 roundup for new podcasts, so you may have heard of them already. Hopefully after hearing about them you started listening to them! If not, now is a great time to catch-up before their finale episode in a  couple weeks. The Call of the Void follows Topher and Etsy as they try to uncover what is making people go blind, lose all reason, and rave about the coming of the Void. It is a Lovecraftian horror story that starts and circles back to the Louisiana swamps.

My Review: Reading the description of this podcast, I was pretty sure I was already going to be a fan. Horror? Mystery and occult? Southern setting? It’s all very much in line with my interests. And once I listened to the first episode, I was pretty eager to learn more. As the season has developed, I think they have introduced some really solid ideas. The approach is familiar if you have read or listened to much in the Lovecraftian genre, but they keep some unique twists that help this standout from many similar stories. The mystery illness that strikes is especially intriguing to me and develops into an eerie monster in its own right as it creeps throughout the season. At this point, I have all kinds of theories about what might be going on, and I can’t wait to see how right or wrong I am.

The characters are also very solidly written and feel rather realistic. Topher and Etsy are the primary focus, with other supporting cast serving to flesh the characters out, keep things moving, and provide some extra impetus for the action. The relationships between characters feel very authentic and serve to provide some reasonable justification for their actions and behaviors. The relationship between Topher and Etsy is developed well, because they go from relative strangers to more or less cooperative partners on this mystery. There is a bit of a nod towards romance, but it is not a particularly strong theme at this point in the series, which I appreciate.

As a contained storyline, the podcast really hits the pacing well. Each episodes presents problems, solves some, and creates leads for others. They move pretty briskly through the action, but with the illness taking its unstoppable course through Topher’s father, there is always a timer counting down to tragedy. It does not feel rushed, however, and the content is strong enough to keep the excitement high throughout each episode. I’m always impressed by how much material they have packed into each episode, but also how well exposition and action are balanced.

In the end, the story has been intriguing and kept me excited to hear how all the pieces fit together and the myth unravels. It is Lovecraftian in style, executed well, and plays on familiar themes in ways that fit the settings and characters well. There are also some unique revelations that serve to set this story apart from similar media. The acting, design, and writing have seemed to hit a solid stride as the episodes progress. They are set to have nine episodes in the series, and if all remains the same with the schedule, episode eight releases tomorrow. So you have a week to get caught up before the finale, and I highly recommend you do so. It’s been a fun ride, and I cannot wait to see how they wrap it all up.

You can find them here: The Call of the Void 


A Listener Reviews: Old Gods of Appalachia

Old Gods of Appalachia

Episodes: 10 Episodes in Season 1

Length: 20-35 minutes, with some shorter half-episodes

I’ve listened to… All of season 1.

The Premise: A Lovecraftian horror anthology that tells the story of Appalachia and the gods who live there, blessing and cursing the people around them. It is set in an Alternate or Shadow Appalachia from the one of our world, but uses some familiar themes. Season One tells the story of Barlo, KY in 1917 as the mining town makes it offering to the gods all around them.

My Review: This was the podcast I didn’t know I needed until I started listening to it. Raised in the South of the US with family history running through the Appalachia region, there is a lot of the setting that is unassumingly normal for me, especially in the way family, religion, and work are all intertwined. They bill themselves as Lovecraftian horror, and this is truly what I wish other Lovecraftian horror aspired to. Even Lovecraft himself could take some notes. It is not Cthulhu and cultists in every corner, but plays on themes of ancient evils in a ways that are perfectly matched to the setting. Rather than being an imitation of the genre, it makes it all its own.

The voice acting is perfectly set to the tone, genre, and setting. It is paced beautifully, which can be a real struggle with this kind of story. Talking in a steady drawl can make things feel like they’re dragging (trust me, I’ve heard it often enough to know). But instead, it serves to draw out the tension of each moment as needed, then provide the satisfying conclusion before delving into yet another scene. It is a very polished and professional podcast. 

Beyond the execution, the concept and plot are truly thoughtful and terrifying. This is a horror podcast that does not shy away from discussing the unsettling, the heart wrenching, and the downright horrifying. It tells a story of destruction, blood, and fire in a very moving way. The writing is absolutely spot-on throughout. It carries a consistent theme and tone through the storytelling aspect, but also in the intros and outros. There is never a reason to break immersion and, to be honest, you won’t want to. I’d hate to live in the Appalachia where these old gods reside, but I also find myself drawn deeper and deeper in. And maybe that’s all a part of it.

The story is chilling and unsettling, speaking of old and ancient evil. And while it’s not in our Appalachia, so much of the danger and the darkness is uncomfortably familiar. It seems as if it touches on those primitive fears that have always plagued humanity, daring to turn the light onto those things we have collectively tried to bar from our minds. And if all of that is out there, you definitely want to hold tight to family and try your best to survive what’s to come.

You can find them here: Old Gods of Appalachia


A Listener Reviews: Exoplanetary

Exoplanetary

Episodes: 24 in the ongoing storyline

Length: 20-40 minutes, generally, but with some longer outliers

I’ve listened to… All released episodes

The Premise: A sci-fi audiodrama following the adventures of the four Wolverton siblings through time and space and everything in between. It deals with evil megacorpoprations, colonization, AI and robots, time travel, history, and siblings. Plus all their friends, companions, and co-stars throughout.

My Review:  I had to search my blog, because I would have sworn I’ve talked about Exoplanetary before. But apparently I’ve just written the review multiple times in my mind and never put it on paper. Or I’m doing it twice, but hey, this deserves to be shouted out as many times as you can. Exoplanetary is a delightful blend of sci-fi, humor, and drama. It has some great, lighthearted moments, but it does have a well-developed plot that introduces some challenging themes and ideas.

The story starts with the four Wolverton siblings, all doing their own thing in various corners of the galaxy. As season one develops, their stories begin to intertwine. Personally, I found the opening stories very interesting. They rather quickly established the world and core characters. As the stories developed further and the paths began to cross, I think it got a little confusing for me (because when you’re dealing with space and time, it can be hard to keep up). It is a complex story with a lot of different perspectives and moving parts, but it all came together beautifully to end the first season with a lot of excitement and emotion. And even as season one drew to a close, it planted seeds for more and more mysteries waiting to be explored.

The supporting cast of characters is also very intriguing and serve to round out the world of the Wolvertons. They have very different reasons for being there, from duty to a desire for exploration to love. And they serve to complement the characters–or at their best, highlight the very human flaws of the Wolverton family. Expolanetary uses character flaws to develop real challenges and problems, but also shows the wonderful side of humanity alongside. Each episode shines a little more light onto the broad cast of characters and the expansive universe in which they reside, making it truly enjoyable to listen in each time to see something new.  Overall, the only drawback is the time between episodes. There is 1-2 months between releases, on average. But honestly, each episode is so packed with information, so well acted, so thoughtfully designed, and so expertly edited, that I cannot begrudge them taking the time to put out a really impressive creation.

Exoplanetary manages to tell a rather serious sci-fi story with hints of absurdity, but never takes itself too seriously to have fun. It has managed to built an expansive world, with each episode filling in more and more of the corners. As things are revealed, more questions appear.  Whenever a new episode shows up, I’m excited that I get to take a trip into their world to explore some new reach of space or time. And I cannot wait to see where all the journey may lead.

Find them Here: Exoplanetary