Cold Cave | Love Comes Close
Most Likely To: synthesize 1980 with 2009 .
The music of 1979-82 has cast a long shadow over the music of 2000-09. Neo-post-punkers have crawled out of the woodwork in numbers almost equal to the originals, with bands that nod to Joy Division, Gang of Four, Echo and the Bunnymen, and Wire grabbing the lion’s share of critical and commercial attention. The combos with a (Howard) jones for the likes of the Human League, OMD, and Tubeway Army haven’t received anywhere near as much love.
Partly this is because the synth-based bands had greater commercial success (at least stateside) the first time around than the guitar groups, so the techno-pop sound is more immediately dated to U.S. ears and is harder to sell as something cutting edge. Unfortunately, that success usually came after those bands had moved out of their more artistically ambitious earlier days into more commercial periods.
Most people associate groups like The Human League and OMD with songs like “(Keep Feeling) Fascination” and “If You Leave” instead of “Empire State Human” or “Electricity,” so bands that began on the cutting edge ended up being considered the embodiment of ‘80s cheese and any attempts to revisit their sounds were regarded by the broader public as exercises in kitsch. It also didn’t help that the some of the earliest Phase II adapters of the sound were the obnoxiously “outrageous,” attention-starved fops of the electroclash movement, who managed to make everyone sick of the synth-pop revival before it ever managed to get off the ground.
Still, bands like The Faint, The Knife, Joy Electric, and Freezepop have managed to garner loyal followings with idiosyncratic takes on the classic synth-pop sound. Now Cold Cave, a Philadelphia and New York City combo with an impeccable indie-rock pedigree (members formerly did time in Some Girls, Xiu Xiu, and Parts & Labor) have chimed in with a debut album that filters the synth-pop aesthetic through an indie-rock filter, resulting in a sound that is nostalgic without sounding dated and nods to albums like Travelogue or Organisation more than Dare or Crush.
For instance, on “The Trees Grew Emotions and Died,” Cold Cave take a synth figure that the Silicon Teens might have deployed but blunt its inherent brightness with a corrosive layer of guitars and a lo-fi boy/girl vocal line, taking what would have been shiny and perky in the hands of Daniel Miller and making it somewhat scuzzy and vaguely disquieting. Much the same way a word like “advertisement” sounds completely different when spoken by an American or a Brit, Cold Cave take the vocabulary of an earlier time and speak it with a different accent. It’s a neat trick and one that makes Love Comes Close much more than an exercise in genre revivalism.
Cold Cave mine the mother lode of the ‘80s wave of techno-poppers but don’t slavishly ape any of them. On the title track, they mate a vocal melody that recalls New Order’s “Your Silent Face” with the synthesized vox humana and thrift store guitars of mid-period OMD, while on “Heaven Was Full” they layer a Gary Numan-style synthesizer drone atop a chugging rhythm track more typical of Soft Cell. Vocalist Wesley Eisold possesses a baritone somewhere between the Human League’s Phil Oakey and Stephin Merritt, and employs it to its best effect on the brief “Hello Rats.”
The penultimate track on Love Comes Close, “Youth and Lust,” is the album’s standout. An insistent, almost jaunty, synth pulse and propulsive rhythm track sweep Eisold’s crooning verses along until they’re punctuated by deadpan spoken word counterpoints by keyboardist Caralee McElroy. Whistling and wheezing synthesizers swirl around the melody, creating the kind of song that disappoints the listener only by the fact that it ends.
The downside of Love Comes Close is that it’s awfully short and several tracks – most notably the ones holding down the opening and closing spots – don’t really add up to much more than noisy filler. At their best, though, Cold Cave demonstrate the ability to craft work that compares well to their influences without stooping to imitating them.
Listen to “The Laurels of Erotomania” from Cold Cave: