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Podcast Reviews

A Listener Reviews: The Phenomenon

The Phenomenon

Episodes:  16 episodes in two seasons. Season 3 is set to start in October!

Length: Generally around 15-25 minutes

I’ve listened to… All the episodes released so far. I cannot wait for season 3!

The Premise: Creatures show up in the sky. If you look at them, you die. And the world circles the drain pretty quickly thereafter,, but things manage to keep going from bad to worse as new dangers appear. The survivors must try to understand what happened, what is happening, and what is going to happen if humanity hopes to survive at all.

My Review:  If you have been looking for some very well done post-apocalyptic horror, this is a great podcast. It is dark and pulls no punches showcasing just how terrible the end of the world can be. There are monsters and there are people turned monsters, and humanity is safe from neither. Not to say there are not bright spots and good people, too, but there is also not an attempt to paint silver linings to the grey clouds.

There has been a recent surge in apocalyptic media using this theme of the danger of sense (be they sight, sound, or otherwise). The Phenomenon has some concepts that show up in other such properties, but manages to rise well above others. The tag line of the show is simple: “Do not look outside. Do not look at the sky. Do not make noise.” And from this simple directive, they derive so many surprising developments and challenges. What I think makes The Phenomenon so great is that the threat is not static. Whether from within or without, there is a dynamism to the show that suggests the truth– and possibly salvation–is always just a step beyond what is known. It does what good stories do, however, in that as new information is revealed, new challenges and wrinkles show up to keep the tension high.

The sound design is great; I find this particularly audiodrama very immersive because of that. It complements an great script and the excellent work of their voice actors. Overall production of the show seems to be top notch, and so it makes for a really engaging listening experience. The story is expansive in scope, but is well crafted from start to finish.

Speaking of expansive, there are a lot of characters to get to know. I think that was my biggest challenge overall as I started listening to the podcast. I had some trouble keeping everyone organized as to who they were, how they related to other characters, and even where they were at times. As the show has gone on, I have gotten better about this…and some characters no longer need to be accounted for. Like I said, it definitely does not pull punches when it comes to being a rather dark exploration of humanity after an apocalypse.

I have routinely been surprised by the twists and turns this story takes. If you have seen and heard of similar stories and thought this fits the same mold, you’re probably like me and probably just as mistaken as I was. The Phenomenon really excels not only in the quality of the product, but in the creative development of its story. The plot borrows some themes from apocalyptic stories (and of course it does, that’s the genre) but finds ways to make those new. There is a careful balance throughout of hope and hopelessness that is so delicately crafted, it elevates other themes from the genre, such as the search for safety or a “cure.”

Overall, The Phenomenon really showcases how great apocalyptic fiction can be. It shows all facets of humanity when faced with such peril. Characters are good, bad, and everything in between, making impossible decisions in impossible scenarios that, frankly, get worse by the day. It is realistic, shocking, and beautiful. I can highly recommend it and suggest you catch up on the first two season before the release of Season 3.

You can find them here: The Phenomenon

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A Listener Reviews: SCP Archives

SCP Archives

Episodes: 27, if I counted correctly

Length: Episode length varies, from around 15 minutes to an hour. Usually they fall somewhere around the 30 minute mark.

I’ve listened to… All the episodes released so far. Also some of the Patron Bonus Episodes.

The Premise: If you aren’t familiar with SCP, let’s have a little bit of an internet history lesson. So the SCP Foundation is a collaborative writing project detailing steps taken to handle dangerous or unusual non-human entities that show up. The Foundation exists to Secure, Contain, Protect. There is a wiki with tons of stories, ranging from great to not so great, I am sure. Anyone can try their hand at introducing an entity, discussing how it is contained, and weaving an interesting myth together in the form of a secure government documents. The podcast takes and narrates some of these case files, including the narrative write-up as well as recordings and documents related to encounters with the entity. Each episode stands alone, detailing information about a single entity. At times there may be some overlap or reference to other SCPs in the episodes, but those are not necessary to understand what’s going on.

My Review: I first heard about the SCP Foundation when I was really active in the creepypasta community. They were kind of another branch of creepy internet stuff, but everything was contained in this world of the Foundation. I never got involved because it felt kind of overwhelming. When I heard about the podcast, I decided it was time to dip my toe in the water. I’m kind of glad I don’t have more free time on my hands, because otherwise I think I would end up way too deep.

The podcast handles the stories very well. The narrator has the perfect ominous voice to read over the standard case information. When the episodes move into more first person experiences, the voice acting has typically been spot on. The sound effects are used well, and it manages to set a great atmosphere.

The writing quality varies to some degree given the various authors, but it has always been solid. Some of the stories are incredibly creepy and unsettling. Others are rather lighthearted. Then some are creepy and absurd all at once. There are a couple I still don’t completely get, but I kind of think that’s the point. There are some entities out there that we simply can’t understand, but we still must be protected from them. The variability in tone is a positive from my perspective, because I never quite know what to expect when I queue up an episode. I have enjoyed almost all of them, and even those that were not my precisely brewed cup of tea were still a good story.

It’s October, month of all things unsettling, scary, and downright terrifying. I think if you are looking for something to get you in that creepy mood, SCP Archives will be perfect. They have done a great job selecting cases from the vast SCP Foundation, and each one they have put out has been enjoyable in its own way. They run from funny to terrifying, so its a little bit of a gamble when you start one up. Still, what better way to celebrate than some fun and some terror all rolled into one? And, let’s be honest, it’s good enough that I’m sure they’ll have you hooked even after October ends.

You can find them here: SCP Archives


A Listener Reviews: A Scottish Podcast

A Scottish Podcast

Episodes: 30 episodes, plus some specials and mid-break bonus epsiodes.

Length: Generally around 10-20 minutes

I’ve listened to… All the episodes released so far. Season two just ended #whereslee

The Premise: Two friends acquaintances people who live in the same general area, Lee and Dougie, decide to create a spooky podcast about paranormal events in the hopes of becoming famous. Well, to be fair, Lee wants to create it, and Dougie just kind of gets roped in. So if you want to listen to them bicker while spooky stuff happens, you’re in for a good time.

My Review: I’ll be completely honest, I did not get this podcast at first. I went in thinking it was a fictional podcast about a podcast. What I learned after a few episodes of head scratching is that this is a podcast about a handful of characters who sometimes are focused on creating a paranormal podcast and often end up falling into impossibly terrifying, supernatural experiences. And then they just go on about with their lives.

It is irreverent, ridiculous, bizarre, and fascinating. The paranormal aspect, which is what I originally came for, is more of a backdrop to the relationships and realities of life encountered by the characters. Uncovering amazing, terrifying realities is most notably lauded by how it affects downloads of the in-world Terror Files podcast, rather than the unsettling nature of the discovery. In fact, once uncovered, stories are mostly left. And that is wonderful. The story weaves and drunkenly swerves from situation to situation because that is the unpredictable path of its unstable narrator whose main focus is fame.

This podcast hinges entirely upon the cast of characters. They are all unlikable at times with major flaws. And that is so refreshing, because it feels so real. There are not nicely polished, inquisitive, altruistic characters delving the depths of the world. They are just who they are with all their imperfections and (at times) downright infuriating character quirks. And yet I cannot help but look forward to stepping back into the story and seeing where it is headed next.

The main cast is definitely well developed and complex. The secondary characters are also each very unique, with their own voice, motivations, and styles. They add a really nice bit of variety to what is going on. Also, a lot of funny moments. The podcast overall is pretty humorous, in my opinion, with some more serious moments sprinkled throughout. But it never seems to take itself too seriously, always maintaining a tongue-in-cheek approach to whatever is happening.

Overall, I find A Scottish Podcast to be a unique ride. The thread running throughout the plot is the creation of the Terror Files, but the real focus seems to be on living life alongside the characters as they go on this strange journey. And the broad view it takes provides so many opportunities to learn about the characters, which enhances the tension during moments of stress or danger. I think this is one of those stories you have to listen to in order to fully get it, but give it a few episodes and I think it will win you over with its charm. Just don’t tell Lee that.

You can find them here: A Scottish Podcast


A Listener Reviews: Project Nova

Project Nova

Episodes: 15 current episodes, with the final episode of season 2 coming soon!

Length: Generally around 15-20 minutes

I’ve listened to… All the episodes released so far. Eagerly awaiting the season 2 finale.

The Premise: Four strangers wake up in a strange place and begin to try and figure out how to live and survive in the world they’ve woken into. Their companion in this is the AI, designed to administer trials to help them learn to survive. But things begin to take a dangerous turn and more questions about who they are and why they are here surface.

My Review: If you are looking for something to scratch a good sci-fi/thriller itch, this will do it. The episodes generally focus on how the four characters manage to respond to tests designed to help them learn to survive. Along the way, of course, things begin to go off the rails and some uncomfortable realities begin to surface.

I think season one of this was good, but season two is where they really have hit their stride. There is so much depth in each episode, so many clues and trails to follow as the listener tries to puzzle through all that’s happening. I think what is impressive is that season one answered a lot of the original questions, but presented so many more that have been churning throughout season two. And given the direction for season two so far, I anticipate much the same experience: we’ll get our answers, but only to the degree that it makes us question so much more.

One strength is in that very fact. Yes, there are moments and solutions that are telegraphed a bit in advance. But in general, I have found myself repeatedly surprised by the scenarios and their solutions. The titles tend to give a bit of a hint, and so I enjoy trying to figure out what might be coming. Nevertheless, it has always been an exciting story to follow along with.

The main cast is the four subjects (and the AI). The four have a really great dynamic together. There are moments of levity and moments of intense stress. It will keep you on the edge of your seat, but does provide some moments of respite and aptly timed humor. The subjects shine in moments of crisis, but the “downtimes” provide so much opportunity for character development. Personally, I think the danger gets my heart pumping, but the more personal, heartfelt moments of real human connection and uncertainty are what have helped me feel connected to the characters. Those moments are the ones that keep me rooting for them to overcome all the messes thrown their way.  In the midst of chaos, there is a lot of about finding who you are, following your strengths, doubting yourself, and pushing forward. And the importance of teamwork. 

Overall, Project Nova is a podcast that makes me smile and lean forward in anticipation every time I hear the intro. The writing is sharp and creative, introducing new and unexpected elements throughout. The characters are human, endearing, and resourceful. It makes for an exciting and enjoyable listen where I can’t help but keep rooting for success, even when things seem grim. Fingers crossed for the season two finale. I’m sure it will deliver.

You can find their Patreon here: Evil Kittens Patreon


A Listener Reviews: The Amelia Project

The Amelia Project

Episodes: 13 episodes, plus preludes, available in season 1. Season 2 to release on July 19 2019!

Length: Generally around 20-25 minutes

I’ve listened to… Most of season 1. I’ll explain below.

The Premise: Have you ever just needed to get away and start over? Fake your own death and begin a new life somewhere wonderful? Amelia can help with that. Just give them a call and they will be happy to have their team start working on a way that you can disappear for good.

My Review: Talk about a podcast that caught me by surprise. I had this in my queue for a little while and was kind of uncertain. I heard a lot of good things, but I was not sure the style of humor was a fit for me.

While I was skeptical about the humor versus randomness feel to the story, that quickly evened into a really nice balance that kept me surprised, but also felt natural. The Interviewer is a quirky character, no doubt, but also makes sure things get done. And little twists and turns in the episodes themselves left me smiling. Some of them even now have me scratching my head. From cult leaders to roller coaster designers to government agents to unsatisfied characters, Amelia has helped many people escape their circumstances and find a better life.

This is definitely a story of the week kind of podcast, and I like that. While having overarching stories is good, too, I like a mix of both. There are references to past episodes or characters, but most of the episodes stand alone. There are also Preludes. When I first started listening, I did not know if the Preludes were unique content, or just a teaser of content that was released in the episode. Don’t be like me and skip the Preludes, they are completely unique content. I still think I missed one or two. The Preludes provide resolution to past episodes or introductions to new characters, sometimes a little of both, and are just fun little snippets of the inner workings of Amelia. These will not be in season 2, but will be available to Patrons, per the podcast’s website.

I just love the funny creativity in each episode. The situations are bizarre at times, and so they call for outrageous solutions. The show is written well enough ,though, that these outrageous solutions end up feeling perfectly reasonable. Of course, that sounds like a great plan, I find myself thinking at the end. The Interviewer feels like a complete character, with internal consistency and important flaws. He feels right at place in the world they’ve created.

The Amelia Project is what I would call a charming podcast. It will win you over, because it is just that good. The second season will be out soon, so it is a great time to listen to the current episodes so you can be up to date. Definitely a story to enjoy.

You can find them here: The Amelia Project


A Listener Reviews: Calling Darkness

Calling Darkness

Episodes: 8 episodes so far

Length: Generally around 30-45 minutes

I’ve listened to… everything put out so far.

The Premise: A group of hopeful actresses show up at Annabelle Crowe’s residence for an acting workshop. Only they accidentally summon a demon overlord, like you do. Now it is up to these women and some helpful (or not) companions to just mostly try to survive the whole demon thing.

My Review: As someone who grew up on the corny movies on the Sci-Fi (now Syfy, what?) channel and a healthy dose of MST3K, this show is perfect. It is an audiodrama that lovingly plays with so many of the horror tropes, but takes them in unexpected directions. Or sometimes plays them up for the humor. I mean, they do have a priest there, after all. Maybe. He has a priest ID, so who can question that? If you like horror that knows how to laugh, then this is definitely something worth listening to.

The concept is good, bouncing between some really unsettling horror ideas and some honestly funny moments. The narrator in the series, who I think knows more than she’s letting on, has a great tone about her that helps balance the mood of the story as a whole. It provides some nice transitions, some good foreshadowing, and adds an additional level of mystery to what is really going on in Crowe House.  The podcast overall is really well written and well-acted. So often, people try for these self-mocking style stories, but end up falling flat by either taking themselves too seriously or not taking the story seriously enough. Calling Darkness manages to balance those very well so far. The story is good and well-executed, not leaving glaring holes or inconsistencies. The characters are interesting and well-acted by their voice actors. And at the same time, they lovingly mock themselves and other tropes within the genre.

Speaking of characters, I think this is a true strength of the podcast. The characters are all stereotypical to a degree, but play up those qualities for plot and character development. So many stories miss the mark when playing around with stereotypical characters because they leave them in that role. Calling Darkness has already done a great job demonstrating character growth, development, and depth. So what starts out as your stereotypical horror movie scream queen develops into someone much more complicated through the story. I’m really looking forward to seeing where this goes as the plot continues to unfold.

Overall, Calling Darkness feels like horror-humor audiodrama gold. It brings in demons, guilt, alcohol, running from the past, acting, songs by Journey, pizza, horror, and humor all together into one messy, wonderful pot. If you like this kind of media, then Calling Darkness is an excellent take on the story with some complicated and strong leads just trying to survive. The latest episode released as of this posting, (episode 8: “It’s All Going to Hell”) was one of the strongest of the season and really demonstrates how good this story can be. You want to start at episode 1 so you can appreciate how wonderful that episode is. And by that point, you should probably just keep listening to see where it goes.

You can find them here: Calling Darkness


A Listener Reviews: Still Lives

Still Lives

Episodes: 8 episodes in this contained story

Length: Generally around 20-30 minutes

I’ve listened to… the whole story

The Premise: Five people live alone in a post-apocalyptic world…until one day someone knocks on the door. With this change comes many others that threaten the delicate equilibrium they have established.

My Review: This is another story that is all told in one season release. And, much like The Deca Tapes last week, it tells the story in a packed eight episodes. And again, it is a story I was so sad to see end. It starts quiet and slow, and builds tension in a more restrained way. The stakes are high at times, but the tension built is of a quiet sort that seeps into you and twists into knots.  The creators have described it as a “pastoral post-apocalyptic audio drama.” When you break down what that means, it does an excellent job of describing the tone and feel of the story. It’s quiet, subdued in that pastoral sense. But it’s also post-apocalyptic. So the main reason it’s got such a quiet tone? Most of the humans on earth are dead, with all our noise and chaos.

The story focuses on five main characters: The Archivist, the Cook, the Scientist, the Soldier, and the Kid. The Archivist is the main character and the narrator for most events, and she develops as a rather complex character. In fact, all the characters are pretty complex. They are flawed, selfish, and impulsive at times throughout the story. But their wants, desires, and ways of handling situations are so painfully human. They make mistakes–some of them big–and there are real consequences. There are also situations with no good solution that left me feeling bad for the characters put in those predicaments.  In eight short episodes, I was able to connect with the characters and see their perspectives, even when I disagreed or knew it was going to lead to trouble. It is that realism that captured me and separated this story from the millions of other post-apocalypse tales that have flooded…well…everything.

This is certainly the kind of story that could go on for many seasons and episodes, meandering through crisis after crisis. However, I think its strength is that it does not try to do that, but instead focuses on telling one story, and telling it very well. It has a clear beginning, middle, and end. There is a central conflict that the characters are working to resolve, each in their own way, and their success or failure is what drives everything forward. I found some episodes a little slower than others, but I think that is a good thing. There is tension in the story surrounding timing, and so it’s fitting that I’m getting nervous and wanting to rush ahead, because rushing feels like it would solve the in-world problems. Even if it might not.

My critique does come at the end, in the way things were wrapped up. Without giving too much away, I felt it was too convenient in how it tied up loose ends. There was ambiguity, moral quandaries, and uncertainty all throughout. To have an ending that put a bow on so many things was not as satisfying. I think I wanted more ambiguity in the ending, to leave it a little messy. While I like the clarity about how things end, it felt inconsistent with the other story beats. That said, it did end everything and bring the main conflicts to a satisfying resolution.

While the story was not always positive and uplifting, I found myself enjoying listening simply for the quiet, contemplative tone that it set. The characters were human in all the best and worst ways, the story followed a steady and even pace, and the themes presented were really interesting to hear. I spent a good bit of time wondering about some of the dilemmas presented, trying to figure out right, wrong, and a way out for the characters. It is a different take on the apocalypse, but one that is refreshing in its perspective and treatment of human themes.

You can find them here: Still Lives