Friday, 12 April 2019

Latest Love // Welcome to Night Vale

Latest Love is a series of posts where I talk about a recent obsession. This could be a bookish obsession or otherwise - anything that has been making me happy recently that I feel like sharing. The important thing about this feature is that it isn't a review. This is just a way of me expressing a few reasons why I like something, and maybe find some more people to talk about it with. 😊

Welcome to Night Vale

Welcome to Night Vale was my gateway into podcasts. When I began listening five years ago I had no idea what to expect, and that feeling of bewilderment has stuck with me for every episode. Putting my headphones in is like stepping into another world - one that is both fascinating and surreal.

You may have heard of Night Vale from their creepy yet thought-provoking tweets, but even then I find that people don't know what the show is. I quite frankly don't know how to describe it myself without repeatedly using the adjective 'weird', but I am going to try.

Welcome to Night Vale is a bi-monthly science-fiction comedy podcast. It is presented as a local radio show in a small desert town and is voiced by the enigmatic Cecil. Every episode, Cecil reports on local news, from traffic to the weather to welcoming newcomers in town. However, while this desert community treats everything as commonplace, there is something decidedly abnormal about this town. There is an old woman who lives with beings who we are told are not angels. There are hooded figures who surround the mysterious dog park, which people are forbidden from entering. There is an all-mighty glow cloud that seems capable of telepathy. Mountains do not exist. If any of this seems strange to the listener though, it definitely does not seem strange to Cecil.

Cecil often feels like one of Night Vale's biggest mysteries. For a man in a radio studio, he seems to know everything that happens in town as it occurs. His appearance is never specified, and you sometimes doubt if he is even fully human. He seems to be without age, and his personality is a cross between a mysterious all-knowing entity and a squealing teenage girl. He is both overenthusiastic about everything and deadly serious, often in the same breath. He is also seriously crushing on the newcomer in town, Carlos, a scientist who is visiting to research some of Night Vale's abnormalities. It takes a few episodes, but it's difficult not to fall in love with Cecil's eccentricities.

If you're looking for plot from this show, you're not going to find it for some time. However, that is part of the beauty of the show. There are parts that are incredibly profound and others that are bizarre. While being so utterly outside of our understanding of our own world, Night Vale often feels like a horror/comedy satirisation of America and the world as a whole with it's subtle political undertones about corporations, consumerism, and controlling governments. Mostly though, it's just a lot of fun.

The show is structured episode by episode, so you can really jump in anywhere. The creators have collated a few of their favourite episodes here if you're looking for a taster. If you like what you hear I'd highly recommend listening to the whole thing from the start, but you can enjoy the show however you want to. "Time is weird, so your listening experience can be, too."

Every now and then you can find a building narrative. The show isn't split into seasons, but I personally like to split the narrative arcs as below. I've also given the seasons little titles for my own sake, but have kept them deliberately ambiguous so you can enjoy the wonder of not knowing what to expect.
  • Season 1: The Bowling Alley (2012-2013) - episodes 1-25
  • Season 2: StrexCorp & the Election (2013-2014) - episodes 26-49
  • Season 3: Separation (2014-2015) - episodes 50-70
  • Season 4: The Dog (2015-2016) - episodes 71-90
  • Season 5: Universes (2016-2017) - episodes 91-110
  • Seasons 4 and 5 are a bit foggy because I haven't re-listened in a while, and I haven't worked out beyond episode 110 for the same reason (there are currently 140 episodes). Once I do I will edit this with an update.

Welcome to Night Vale Live: A Spy in the Desert

You may be wondering why I've classified this as a Latest Love post. I've been listening to Night Vale for over five years, so the show isn't a new love that I have discovered, and I haven't had a re-listen in some time (although I am very much due for one).

The reason I am feeling so reflective on my love for this show is because I attended my first Night Vale Live Show on January 26th in London. My friend Sophie and I have been talking about attending for years, so when the tickets went online we got ourselves VIP tickets. We were so speedy about it that our tickets were literally numbered 1 and 2. We got front row seating and got there early so we were dead centre in front of the stage, plus we got gorgeous tour posters and t-shirts. We had waited all this time to see a show, so we were willing to be as extra as possible.

The show itself I have no words for. I've listened to their previous live shows and have always enjoyed them immensely. There's something about it being in front of a crowd that gives it a whole other energy, and they really go all out on the scripts and guests, but being there in person is something else entirely. 

I was smiling from the second Meg Bashwiner stepped on stage to introduce the show, and was laughing the whole way through the performance. Seeing Night Vale live is like experiencing so much joy in one go. It's hilarious and self-aware and alive in a totally different way to the podcast.

I don't want to spoil the show because it's really something you have to be there for. It's still touring so I'd really recommend checking if it's coming somewhere near you, even if you haven't listened to a single episode. Every live show is a stand-alone story and the environment is very welcoming to newcomers. It's honestly an experience like no other, and I already know I will be attending every show in London I can from now onward because it is truly such a joy.

Are you a fan of podcasts? What are some of your favourites? Are you a fan of Night Vale too? Who are your favourite characters? (Mine are Cecil and Tamika!)

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