The Cradle, the solo project of singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Paco Cathcart (Big Neck Police, Eyes of Love, Shimmer), has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. His Laughing in My Sleep, released by NNA Tapes, is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations. Throughout, Cathcart experiments with melody and sounds, with influences ranging from blues, folk, and Americana then verging into the avant-garde, only to shift again into electronica. He finds resolution in recorded conversations and ambient sounds, with one background element reminding of Chewbacca. In lesser hands, the album would sound overly chaotic. But for Cathcart, Laughing in My Sleep signifies an artist who sees music as a nebulous entity; designed to be molded and reshaped as desired. Laughing in My Sleep is an off-kilter reflection of musical curiosity.
Laughing in My Sleep was inspired by Cathcart’s 2016-2018 travels. “Society of Men”, for example, portrays two men’s brief interaction at a bus station in Columbus, Ohio. Here Cathcart watched two men, seemingly strangers, “approach each other… raise their chins” in acknowledgment. From this quotidian moment, Cathcart imagines an interconnection between all men, of which “he is a member”. The lyrical stream-of-consciousness is revisited in “Not Even Touch It” and “Joke’s on You”. For these tracks, Cathcart devises a fantastical world, where he contorts reality to his liking. In this way, Cathcart’s storytelling is reminiscent of Lou Reed‘s observational lyrics.
Comparable to Reed, Cathcart demonstrates a penchant for exhibiting the real. For Cathcart, this is the understanding of home. “Bottom Bell” is named for his home on Prospect Place in Crown Heights, New York, that doubled as a venue. “End of the Day” conveys the familiarity Cathcart feels in his neighborhood, especially as “I’m walking with that buzz / when I’m walking down my street.” On the album’s press release, Cathcart recalls he was “pushed out of his house…but ultimately I got lucky and found a room with friends”. It is no coincidence then that Laughing in My Sleep reflects the Promethean myth pattern, commonly identified in literary criticism. At the beginning of the story, the hero has no home but creates one as part of the maturation process. For Cathcart, the maturation was, in part, a deepening appreciation for the city in which he grew up.
Certainly, there is more to maturation than gratitude for home spaces. Cathcart does divulge the anguish of a broken heart on “Eyes So Clear” and “One Too Many Times“. The latter is a delightful hybrid of twangy folk but with emotions akin to the blues. Lily Konigsberg of Palberta lends her vocals to build a striking dialogue on miscommunication. Much as Cathcart doesn’t dwell in his fictionalized worlds, he is quick to shift emotions as well. “Parasite” and “I’ll Walk” celebrates his personal restoration, yet his intentionally fragile guitar work depicts happiness as a fleeting moment.
With its lack of cohesion, Laughing in My Sleep diverges from Cathcart’s other works. Cathcart said, “previously, I had been particular when recording about making each project its own coherent and distinct sound-world… but Laughing in My Sleep was the opposite”. Indeed, the folk themes are sporadic while “Eyes So Clear”‘s piano balladry is unique to that one track. At the album’s halfway point, “O, Your Name” and “Lost in the Glare’s” shifts to electronica is shocking, yet the unpredictability is as engaging as it is powerful. The drum-machine on “I’ll Walk” and “See If It Last Longer” creates a sound tapestry aligning with the varying lyrical landscapes. Unfettered by vocals and lyrics, “Animal Diseases” is a welcoming offer to indulge in Cathcart’s instrumental music.
Laughing in My Sleep does have its weaknesses. The juxtaposition between cacophonous post-punk vocals and a melodious piano in “What’s Your Name?” is arid. Moreover, the instrumental “O, Delight” lacks the complexity heard elsewhere. Even with these missteps, Laughing in My Sleep enshrines eclecticism. Similar to Cathcart’s journeys, the album is lyrically and musically non-linear. The continuous twists and curves engender a sense of excitement in not knowing where Cathcart is headed. The pliancy ensures listeners will be satisfied in the path undertaken.