Untypical Debuts an Adventurous, Risky Soundscape for Audio Drama

The year 2018 is going to be happily saturated with new audio dramas and among them this month will be the pilot for potential audio drama Untypical. A ‘Western-science-fantasy’ about a group of smugglers, the worldbuilding James Vermont has undertaken is fascinating and intricate. A world saturated with magic caused some thousands of people to be deposited onto a moon. Their bodies radically changed so that they could survive, both on the moon and for their eventual landing on the magical realm of ‘the Twisting World’. This pilot has a large cast with many familiar voices, intricate musical and sound design, and a very promising premise. I was given an early copy in order to write a review and give feedback.

As it is a pilot to gauge interest, it runs to almost an hour of adventure, character building, and relationship development. The introduction grabbed my interest and the instant Needle Stitch’s protagonist came on the scene, I was sold. The story is complex and the world much larger than even this episode can show us. As a side effect to the sprawling universe and plot, it is sometimes difficult to track character voices to their names and their relationships with other characters, especially when it is also completing the goal of putting specific images into listeners’ heads about what these physically-changed people look like. Take a look at the cover art if you don’t believe me:

Cover art by: Alex

Difficulty tracking character names and relationships was the only real problem I had in the whole pilot. The voice actors themselves are stellar, bringing a needed surreal and charismatic quality to their characters. Needle Stitch and The Bright Sessions’ Julia Morizawa are standouts in this pilot, along with the very distinctive voices of Cinder Script and SkyBolt. Some of the voices have undergone modulation in order to indicate an otherworldly or mechanical quality, or an environmental effect, which resulted in occasional comprehension issues, but for the most part only helped distinguishing character attitudes. The fact that all of the characters sound like they are all in the same room almost the entire time, especially considering this is an audio drama made of remote recordings, speaks to a lot of effort and experience in production.

This focus on production and editing brings me to the aspects of this pilot that truly and completely enchanted me: the music and the fight scenes. The musical variety throughout was a series of surprising, yet wonderful, decisions, from orchestral to classical to hip-hop, an original composition and curation that keeps listeners on their toes and provides good counterbalance. None of the music ever overtook dialogue, only ever worked to enhance scenes and atmosphere, and honestly made me want a soundtrack. The music is often a highlight of this show, especially considering when they are paired with the fight scenes.

I’ve heard from some that the audio medium means that extended fight scenes are not as successful or interesting, and to include more than one fight scene that is longer than just a couple of punches is something of a risk. Untypical takes that risk and proves them all wrong. There are multiple, perfectly spaced fight scenes, each with their own musical accompaniment that changes the direction, quality, and mentality of the fight. While you may not be able to follow the exact moves, the sharpness and clarity of weapon sounds and ease of timing, grouped with not-overbearing reactions to the fight so that you can understand how it went throughout, means that Untypical has really figured out how to bring action to the audio format.

Untypical does a marvelous job of balancing the serious and strange with fun and goofy, aided by acting quality, musical choices, and thoughtful scriptwriting. This audio drama is reminiscent of Firefly for me, with the weirdness meter turned up to eleven. The pilot drops February 16th and I hope you will give it a listen.

This review was originally published on Medium, February 12 2018.