Book and Record Review: Cadabra Records Presents The Bungalow House

When it comes to building a community, books are hard to rally around. Reading is solitary, time demanding, and comes with enough variety that even ‘readers’ aren’t really a cohesive group. You can read fiction or nonfiction; fantasy or literary; newspapers or blog articles; fanfiction or travelogues; or—horror. Being a music fan, and more specifically a punk rock fan, I am in constant frustration at the lack of community when it comes to books. I keep looking for a crack in the facade, something to spill into and bust open wide, and make horror fiction the sort of thing people can come together and enjoy. But books, unlike movies, are not as immediately shareable.  Cadabra Records may be changing things.  

Punk rock is built on the understanding that the dividing line between audience and artist is not worth upholding. Artists are not unknowable gods armed with instruments and microphones, and more often than not, they’re in the crowd, and on another night the crowd may have separated into bands of their own and so the cycle continues. There’s also a physicality to the experience. You experience the music on your own, and then you experience it out in the world with other fans. There’s also the concept of merch—shirts, koozies, hats, CDs, and vinyl records—that make the experience that much more tangible. And when trying to translate something as intangible as music (or the experience of reading), physicality functions symbolically. It’s a means of dragging the magic into reality.  

I want more things to be like punk rock. I want new ways to share my passions, and I think Cadabra Records has made a great first step toward bringing physical, non-book merchandise to our weird little corner of fiction. It may not seem like much when it comes to the grand scheme of rallying all of us weirdos together in a common way, but I think it’s a helluva start.

Cadabra Records presents to us a beautiful gatefold vinyl, “The Bungalow House” read by Jon Padgett (who, as curator of Thomas Ligotti Online, and writer of the excellent The Secret of Ventriloquism, might be Ligotti’s greatest champion), with an essay by Matt Cardin and a great, short interview with the man himself, Thomas Ligotti. From cult favorite to icon—thanks to True Detective and the collective weight of modern authors airing their influences, culminating in the magnificent Penguin edition of Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe, pouring the proverbial concrete into Ligotti’s place in the canon. I can’t think of a better candidate for this sort of treatment.

There’s something charming about the vinyl format. Surely, there are easier ways to release. But, vinyl is cool in a way that CDs, tapes, and mp3 files never will be. There is also a lovely bit of antiquation to the format that lends itself so well to horror, where arcane objects so often pose a threat. When I first dropped the needle, I wasn’t sure what I expected, but I knew that I was excited. There was magic, as my girlfriend and I sat under a blanket fort, sipping mixed drinks in the dark as Padgett began his sinister narration, and for the first time, I felt like I was sharing my enthusiasm for something personal and esoteric in a shared environment.

And the performance, it must be said, is fantastic. Padgett describes himself as a lapsed ventriloquist, a trade that is as much acting as digital manipulation, and his skills come to the forefront here, managing to handle Ligotti’s modes of voice with the utmost ability—whether he’s the fearsome voice on the mysterious tape, embodying the isolated, and perhaps slightly comical intellectual narrator, or the grounded voice of Dahla, Padgett brings “The Bungalow House” to life.

The story itself lends itself well to the audio format, as it features an audio conceit central to the story—the mysterious art installation of recorded tapes that chronicle “the icy bleakness of things”—which makes for an all the more eerie atmosphere. There is also a hint of the transformative here. I can’t help but feel like what Cadabra Records have done here is taken one of modern horror’s greatest stories (or, at least, one of Ligotti’s most accessible and most obviously philosophically pessimistic) and gotten their hands dirty with it. They’re playing in the sandbox, commissioning fantastic art (Jason Barnett, supplying some terrifying, frameable work), composing a soundtrack, building a world, and creating a quality product.

The music itself deserves special mention too. Composer Chris Bozzone knocks it out of the park with a sinister soundtrack that highlights the dark, unsettling atmosphere of the story without overtaking it. Insistent synth riffs prove hypnotic and thunderous, adding an urgency to certain parts of the story, in others, the score creeps back into the background as a quiet underscore to the central narrative. It’s great work that helps define the value of recording and performing stories like this in the first place.

When the needle pulled up from its groove, I was stunned at how I experienced this story. I’d read it before, most of us have, but I’d never experienced it like this. I can’t stress enough the magic this release brought to my life, the tangible means in which it lets me share and explain my passion for what horror literature can do to all my friends. This isn’t just a piece of ephemera for collectors, this is the early start to building a community of horror-lit lovers. It’s an example of what we can do with the little worlds we create after the last page has been turned and the book has been returned to the shelf. Cadabra Records is breathing new life into horror; with The Bungalow House and others, we have the means to draw the curtain back, and recruit new devotees.  Get your copy today.  

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