by Theodore Rowe
Paco Cathcart’s work as The Cradle has always straddled a multitude of genres; here, special attention is paid to gorgeously crafted folk and weirder electronic excursions. Cathcart’s output sits between a strict adherence to form and messing around as he has tagged his albums on Bandcamp. His ear conjures auras as opposed to worlds, places and moments lost in a sunshine of afternoons past. Endless Room for Error, The Cradle’s newest release, grapples with an age of anxiety in a move more towards a void than a pleasant retelling.
The Cradle’s most recent albums, even at their utmost chaotic, placed Cathcart’s folksy story-telling and warm analog recordings at forefront. 2016’s The Layers of Honey glistened with the melodicism of Nick Drake and the electro-folk of Sufjan Steven’s pre-50 states albums. The switch to playfully cold electronics is telling. Challenging the listener, we jerk around, remembering and disremembering again and again. Each song eschews ornamentation and is stripped to pitter-patter percussion, repetitive bass lines, and lyrics that suggest delirium. “Electrochromic” begins in pulsation with reversed synths and a repeated line of self-conscious regret which forms a bleak stratosphere of retrospection that clouds the album. There’s a push to find a way out; Cathcart’s voice cracks and distorts in a struggle to overcome the looming future before resigning to a cry or whimper. Luckily, the album never immerses itself entirely into its own solipsism. Instead, we’re in on the struggle.
Has everything always been clogged with error? It’s easy to think so in the age of Trump. Not failure, but faltering, drawn-out mishaps that claustrophobically stitch the day-to-day. On “Don’t Touch It” the misfortune is as much derived from shaky faith in friends as it is the long, inherited injustices of history. It even goes back to “fatherly prejudice” learned in childhood. One can hear the trickled-down influence of Mark Mothersbaugh’s incidental music from Rugrats, invoking the whizzing, weird pastel world of televised afternoons. The sheen has been lost though, with the colors badly faded into the backdrops of the non-places that require us to drag ourselves to and fro; a paralyzing effect perpetuating the ceaseless errors of the future (see: the poor soul on the album cover). It’s not surprising that one can hear the electronic work of Leyland Kirby (aka, The Caretaker) in the album’s concern for bygone moments. Of course, it’s tempting to lurch towards the past, but instead we foster friendships and try to better ourselves in order to push forward through the muck. Therein lies the uncompromising relenting on the album: relentless engagement with the possibility that we’re stuck, too far gone for meaningful contact with others, much less ourselves. Friend or foe? Beguiled by luck. Don’t even look at it. Put it on.
“Let Me Get Over” ends in a yelping plea “to get over/ please let me get over.” Ending with a cry into the darkness might peg the album as a big bout of misery, but I would like to think that the final minute acts as catharsis rather than a closed curtain. Regardless, the album will stick out in The Cradle’s discography as a poetic inscription of a crumbling present: “Cellular body / Cliffside society.”