by Patrick Pilch (@pratprilch)
Paco Cathcart’s uninterrupted contributions to New York’s DIY community are quickly becoming second to none. The Brooklyn-born and based guitarist is not only a member of Big Neck Police, Climax Landers, and Shimmer, but has also collaborated with Palm, Old Maybe, and Lily Konigsberg according to a fortunately well documented Discogs page. Cathcart also pursues solo work as The Cradle, a moniker he’s used since 2013 as an outlet for his bafflingly prolific collection of experimental recordings. On his latest, Cathcart composes a baroque pop reflection upon some 30 releases he’s made available as The Cradle. Bag of Holding is truly comprehensive, combining some of the artist’s most notable stylistic proclivities into a cumulative moment, resulting in one of his finest collection of songs.
With humble backing from NNA Tapes, the Vermont-based former home of NYC experi-punks Sediment Club and Guerilla Toss, Bag of Holding exhibits a newfound clarity within The Cradle’s approach. Sonically, this is Cathcart’s most transparent release to date, with clear, more decipherable lyrics and sharper production, no longer clouded by ambient hiss or lo-fi recording conditions. He escorts listeners through observational accounts, narrating run-ins with law enforcement (“St. Pete Station”), hypnagogic depersonalization (“Rememberer’s Heaven”) and a day’s worth of introverted mundanity (“A Thought That Deletes”). The lyrical content is particularly modern, paralleling the atmospheric folk meanderings of yesteryear. But this style, by no means, makes Bag of Holding sound dated.
Early highlight “Cell Games and Beyond” lyrically runs a comprehensive gamut of cyberpunk, referencing the “holodecks” of the Star Trek universe and the “black ICE” found in William Gibson novels. These references could refer to the anxieties of romance and constant connection in the Internet age, leaving Cathcart wondering if “you were still with your man” after receiving a text message invitation to what sounds like a love interest’s home. As for comparisons, Bag of Holding recalls only the finest in highly accessible pariah folk. “Holding and Holding” hits like the instrumental Elliott Smith number that never was, while “Rememberer’s Heaven” is like Nick Drake reborn, strings skipping through ominous and stirring chord progressions, accented by delicate orchestral sighs.
The orchestral arrangements on Bag of Holding are haunting and beautiful, placing emphasis on burly woodwinds and careful string quivers that are both tasteful and unostentatious that escalate the drama unfolding in the lyrics. Composed by Cathcart’s longtime friend and collaborator Sammy Weissberg, these movements are used as sonic backdrops, breathing an enhanced sense of personality and tension into each tune.
Lyrically, Bag of Holding exhibits some of Cathcart’s finest intuitive observations and accounts, bearing modest resemblance to his experimental, stream of consciousness-leaning literary compositions. Cathcart’s sense of pacing on Bag of Holding is superb, as the track sequence effortlessly steers listeners through the album’s moments of clarity and unknown; its peaks and pits. The Cradle’s latest is excellent, through and through, and comes at a time where it seems Cathcart’s work is finally starting to get the recognition it deserves. Bag of Holding marks a distinct milestone in a restless songwriter’s ceaseless output that unofficially stretches back to 2009. Hopefully it serves as a widespread introduction to the time capsule that is The Cradle’s already remarkable discography.