Cold Cave was founded by Wesley Eisold, former mainstay of various hardcore groups (Some Girls, American Nightmare, Give Up The Ghost), and featuring Caralee McElroy, previously of Xiu Xiu and Prurient’s Dominick Fernow. Don’t let the biographical information mislead, though. Eisold’s previous musical outings bear little relation to his Cold Cave incarnation as this, their debut full-length album testifies.
This album could almost serve as a primer for a range of different sub-genres of what could collectively, loosely, be categorised as “electronic music”. In fact, there is quite a game to be had identifying and matching up the influences as one listens through, influences which are mainly drawn from earlier, rather than contemporary, electro artists. Love Comes Close is a markedly Mancunian JoyOrderDivision soundalike, with even the vocals sounding weirdly as if someone has spliced together Ian Curtis (the croon) and Bernard Sumner (the drawl).
The Laurels of Erotomania, meanwhile, is the first of several tracks reminiscent of The Human League in both the singing style, where the deep pitch and delivery evoke Phil Oakey, and in the deep, bassy, primitive yet satisfyingly assertive sound of the synthesisers (along with Heaven Was Full – The League at their most apocalyptic, and the vocals on I.C.D.K.).
Youth And Lust’s main riff is a close approximation of that found on Depeche Mode‘s Just Can’t Get Enough, and elsewhere the band also explore a more dancey, disco take on electronica with The Trees Grew Emotions And Died. There’s even electro-shoegaze, in the layering of sounds and effects of Life Magazine.
This is a deal more, though, than just a string of spot-the-influence impersonations. What somehow emerges, despite the different threads, is a fluent and identifiable sense of this band. And this is a band with a dark, dystopian sensibility. Despite some musically lighter moments (Love Comes Close, The Trees Grew Emotions And Died, Youth And Lust), the negative prevails.
Right from the beginning, and opening track Cebe’s siren-like synths, 8-bit bleeps and the disembodied, smacked-out voice emoting like an alienated she-robot; through Life Magazine’s “suicide” references and the “opium dens” in The Laurels Of Erotomania; and even in Hello Rats, which is the track that features the most in the way of discernable emotion… but the emotions in question turn out to be sadness and regret, with the talk of a “future ex-girlfriend”, “looking for a good friend” and how the singer “can’t afford the medicine”.
Each song is very much “what it is”, and no more, meaning tracks are not elongated, and do not take unexpected twists and turns in the final verse, say, rather arriving, running their course, then departing again. Somehow, this fits perfectly and pleasingly with the lack of emotion generally on display: a much more fitting counterpart than extended improvisational solos would be, for example.
The aesthetic and appeal of this intriguing and mysterious band, though, is best encapsulated in this one couplet of their lyrics – as coolly spoken by their female vocalist on possibly the best track here Youth And Lust. “A synthetic world without end / Sheds a tear of plastic detachment”, she dryly tell us. We would perhaps do well to listen.