Padgett's story increases its unease slowly, beginning with the fact that years of Twlight Zone episodes and Goosebumps books will have any listener already on edge before the needle has even dropped on the record. Read by the author himself, the piece begins rather normally - as one would expect, it's teaching them how to speak without moving their lips - but at certain stages the listener is advised to stop unless they wish to know more.
The listener should stop. Knowing more will unleash unnameable horrors from which there is no escape. Once the words "the dummy is a trifle" have been uttered, things have gone past the point of no return and you'll be practicing on things other than than wooden dummy sitting in your lap.
20 Simple Steps to Ventriloquism has been adapted from Padgett's original short story for the Lovecraft eZine, originally published in the summer of 2015. The record is less story and more instructional, and although Shawn M. Garrett's sound design is excellent, the transformation into a record is just shy of a complete success.
Trimming the story down to its bare bones and removing the more narrative elements renders 20 Simple Steps a far more terrifying listen than its original text, which is no small matter, and Garrett's sound design makes the LP sound as if it's an old, scratchy piece of vinyl one might've found in the lower back bins of some creepy charity shop.
Where it doesn't quite work is that there needs to be a bit of a pause between the steps. There are no "practise" segments with 10-15 seconds of empty space in the audio, and while that might be for time constraints of the LP format, it does serve to remind the listener than this is more of a story than a lost and maliciously evil artifact. It's a minor quibble, but one can't help but wonder what shivers would go up one's spine were there to be a deeply-intoned "now you try" regarding some of the latter steps.
The packaging is brilliant, and the dummy's eyes on the woodcut cover seem to follow the listener everywhere about the room. Flipping the jacket over does nothing, as there's another dummy on the back, and it does exactly the same thing. The record sounds amazing, and one wonders just how creepy it will get as the age of the vinyl increases the hisses and crackles already added to the recording itself, turning it into a nightmarish fog of half-heard words and phrases.
20 SIMPLE STEPS TO VENTRILOQUISM / ARTIST: JON PADGETT / LABEL: CADABRA RECORDS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW