The path from hardcore to synth-pop isn’t the most obvious of trajectories, but Wes Eisold doesn’t seem to dwell on why or how he ended up taking that direct route. Before launching Cold Cave and gaining attention for his noise-crusted ’80s-esque electro-pop (and recently signing to Matador), Eisold was the vocalist for several hardcore bands, including Some Girls and American Nightmare. In an e-mail interview (his preferred method of communication—even Pitchfork didn’t rate a phoner), Eisold doesn’t elaborate much on the links between the two genres, or why he felt drawn to the more programmed, synthetic pleasures of electronic music after years spent screaming his lungs out.
“I think you just have to surrender yourself to whatever it is that you want to do,” he says. “You have to be your only authority, compassionate and merciless. The link is just in the intention.”
Having never played an instrument, Eisold started fooling around with a synthesizer, teaching himself to play as he wrote songs. Cold Cave began as a solo act, with a series of singles and EPs released on various small labels, including Eisold’s own Heartworm Press. These early recordings display a rough-hewn quality which suggest a guy making it up as he goes along. Distortion, piercing tones, and incomprehensible vocals often overpower the tunes themselves. But the latest release, Love Comes Close, finds a kinder, gentler Cold Cave in action. The hummable tunes, catchy synth hooks, and danceable beats that were previously obscured or buried are now in the forefront.
The band’s press sheet lists industrial-strength electronic/noise bands such as Non, Throbbing Gristle, Muslimgauze, and Permutative Distortion as influences, but that would probably be news to those bands if they listened to Love Comes Close. Though Eisold insists “language used in the song titles [hints] at depravity and desolation,” and the band tend toward the goth in their lyrics and dress, Cold Cave are essentially a party band. You can totally dance to this shit.
The distorted vocals and abrasive video-game tones of Love Comes Close’s opening track, “Cebe and Me,” give way to the title track, which could easily be mistaken for a cover of a New Order song around the time of Brotherhood, which is in turn followed by “Life Magazine,” a spritely number suitable for aerobics. Play “The Trees Grew Emotions and Died” (there’s your hint of desolation) for a little kid and see if she doesn’t bop along.
This shift in gears could be attributed to Eisold becoming more familiar with his instrument and songcraft, or it might have to do with the tempering effects of collaboration. After working with several other members, the band has solidified to include Caralee McElroy, formerly of Oakland experimentalists Xiu Xiu, and Dominick Fernow of noise/power electronics act Prurient.
“Initially I only added people to play live,” Eisold says. “It’s still really important to me to write most of the songs and the lyrical content because I feel the urge to stay true to the reason why I started Cold Cave, which was to not rely on others, for a few reasons—I don’t want to be at the mercy of someone else’s creation, in music or in the way I live, and I don’t want the bosom of the song to get lost in translation, no matter how congested or unclear the idea is.”
Though the music may still be primarily Eisold’s, the difference between the scattershot experimentations of his early releases (collected on the CD Cremations) and the cohesive statement of Love Comes Close is noticeable. You’d think hooking up with one of America’s harshest noise practitioners would result in a more severe sound, but the opposite has occurred. The three-piece has softened Cold Cave’s rough edges somewhat, and Eisold seems more comfortable letting the music stay relatively approachable, with the messier bits now serving the songs, rather than being the reason for their existence.
Cold Cave has come along at a time when a rash of younger musicians find themselves inspired by various strains of ’80s synth-pop—it’s the decade when most of them were born. Some tweak and reimagine the past to create something entirely new; some create an enjoyable but not terribly original pastiche; and some just rip off old bands wholesale. (Cold Cave has been lauded for—and accused of—doing a bit of all the above, depending on the ear and, usually, the age of the listener.)
“I feel inspired by my peers but none of my peers play music that sounds like Cold Cave,” Eisold says. “I tend not to pay too much attention to bands that we may have more in common with sound-wise, because the music we make is second to the feeling behind it. I’m not that interested in sound. I’m interested in context and I feel a lot of modern synth-based music exists as a devotion to genre and I am not intrigued by any genre, but rather by individuals.”