Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Audio Review: Welcome to Night Vale

It's fair to say that I've been neglecting my growing backlist of podcast listening in the last few weeks. Hours of content lie dusty and unheard, voices crying out into the digital wilderness, their stories left unheard. I have been distracted, absorbed, and entertained by something new and strange, something that has drawn me in obsessively, in a way that feels pretty rare, these days. In a lot of ways I should have been onto this months, if not years ago, only picking it up as it's popularity seemed to explode across the wider geek-scape through the summer. But I'm here now, and, after about 6 weeks of commutes, totally up to date. I am speaking, of course, of Welcome to Night Vale

Night Vale is your regular slice of Small Town America, situated in the seemingly endless Sand Wastes and run by the Town Council and the managed by the Sherriffs Secret Police, with occasional help from a Vague, Yet Menacing Government Agency. The show is the regular broadcast of Night Vale Community Radio, hosted by Cecil Palmer, as he comments on the news, traffic, Community Events and other items of note. Cecil is at first a slightly menacing presence himself; unsettling and sombre, but quickly he becomes a voice of reassurance, a voice telling you it's all OK, really, as whatever not-OK-really event unfolds (or en-folds) around him. 

A typical episode of Welcome to Night Vale opens with a breif introduction from someone is probably Joseph Fink, one of the writers, doing the usual plugs but with enough running gags that you don't end up hating it after 77 episodes. Then Cecil comes on, and narrates the whole episode, focusing on a central "event", which can be small or earth-shatteringly large, breaking for the Weather - a musical interlude - and coming back for a resolution and wrap up. It's always very strange, rooted in the Wierd Fiction/Conspiricy Milieu, making Night Vale, from the outside, a terrifyingly lethal place to live. 

What makes the show work is two things. First, after a handful of episodes it starts to make a worrying about of sense. So this is a world with Black Helicopters, (and Blue, and Yellow, and with Birds of Prey painted on the sides), Sentient Glow Clouds - ALL HAIL - subterrainian invaders and alternate dimensions, but it does, strangely, all fit together. There is a logic to Night Vale, mostly, or at least a consistant continuity. Secondly, there is an emotional heart to the show that makes you care. Cheifly this is driven by Cecil and his scientist boyfreind, Carlos, at least at first, but as the show goes on the cast expands, and the community expands, and Night Vale starts to feel like a living place with real inhabitants. 

Welcome to Night Vale is really just great - I understand how it's attracted such a following, with the plethora of recurring themes, jokes and characters. It's by turns funny, unsettling and just plain wierd, and it's been a companion on a lot of drives in the last several weeks. Comming out fortnightly, there is always more, but just not yet; what am I going to listen to now?