In the grand ballroom at the top of the Eiffel Tower, the red velvet curtains part and, suddenly, the giant On Air sign above the stage lights up And so begins The Orbiting Human Circus (of the Air). If you like your podcasts strange, this new offering from the stable that brought you the darkly funny Welcome To Night Vale is just the vintage-sounding oddball you need.
At first, it seems to be an old-fashioned variety show set in Paris, but it quickly switches to something more. Neutral Milk Hotels Julian Koster is the hapless Julian the janitor, whose voice crackles with heartbreak and determination to get up on stage. Even in his fantasies, he ruins everything, laments the narrator. Who is this personality who cannot resist the bright lights of the stage, the beautiful, shining microphones, the hypnotic pull of laughter and applause who has gone so far as to imagine a narrator to keep him company, announcing the events of his life as if he was the star of screen, stage and story?
Julian is unfazed. You make me sound like such a freak, he says. Everybody should have a narrator.
This isnt so much a podcast as a carousel of weirdness and one that takes only a few minutes to hypnotise you. Theres a glamorous stage director arranging German shepherds, an extraordinary singing saw and ventriloquism lessons. Theres a vintage feel, with grand narration and the crackling of old-time sounds. Its hard to know exactly whats going on, but it feels as if many mysteries will unfold later. At less than half an hour long, theres enough intrigue to feed your appetite for the next instalment (new episodes are promised fortnightly).
Welcome to Night Vale was surreal enough, but The Orbiting Human Circus (of the Air) takes strangeness to another level, especially when the tone suddenly changes as a real story cuts in. No spoilers, but it involves someone getting eaten. Who knows what to expect from the next episode?
If you like this, try: Welcome to Night Vale, you weirdo.