by Tom Alexander (@___alexd)
They say you can’t go home again. Sure, that’s a tired cliché of a phrase, but it’s a phrase that carries some weight. The magic of the past is just that: of the past. You can try to go back – to recreate something meaningful – but even whenever the stars align and the circumstances are perfect, that special something is different. Changed. The Cradle, Brooklyn-based engineer and composer Paco Cathcart, decided to go home again on his new album, The Glare of Success, but he’s not interested in rediscovering some missing creative magic. No – he’s not here to move back in – he’s here to deconstruct the house, strip it of its parts, and create an entirely new home from its component pieces.
The Cradle’s debut on NNA Tapes, Bag of Holding, is a beautiful, creative wonder. Rife with acoustics and analog instruments (woodwinds and strings), the album feels about as natural as music can get. In his follow-up to Bag of Holding, Cathcart has taken those songs and reworked them into something completely unrecognizable. The resulting album, The Glare of Success, is a chopped-and-screwed pastiche of loops, samples, and editing tricks, rendering entirely new songs from his 2018 release. Make no mistake, Cathcart knows exactly what he’s doing here, as the opening lyric of the album repeats: “I don’t want to make the right choice.” And indeed, what he’s doing could be see as a “reimagining,” but it could also be seen as a defacement of Bag of Holding.
Complete with new lyrics and arrangements, The Glare of Success is not a remix album, nor is it a spiritual sequel. If Bag of Holding was marked by its naturalistic approach, The Glare of Success is decidedly unnatural. Cathcart’s voice is warped, and his lyrics recount surreal and bizarre imagery from the city. Every now and again, your ear will catch a fragment of a sound from Bag of Holding, usually in the form of a stringed loop, but more often, songs are built from exaggerated bass tones and tightly-sampled percussion. You may note that most tracks carry the word “dub” somewhere in their title, and that’s no accident – it’s a major influence on Cathcart here. If Bag of Holding felt like Mutual Benefit or Sufjan Stevens, The Glare of Success sounds more along the lines of mid-era Liars. If his 2018 record was finessed with a delicate touch, this new record was created with fire and sledgehammers. Though the closest comparison that can be related to The Glare of Success is possibly Mount Eerie / Phil Elverum’s 2013 release, Pre-Human Ideas, where the songwriter deconstructed several older tracks into computerized and auto-tuned skeletons.
If all this sounds like an intellectual exercise, The Glare of Success carries some of the most hypnotic music you’ll hear this year. The cyclical nature of these songs, and Cathcart’s vocal delivery, make these songs slip into a dark space between your hears, initiating a trance-like state if you’re not careful. As different as these two albums are, a common theme emerges: the beauty in the present. The Cradle solved that old riddle; the only way to go home again is to make a new one.