Graded on a Curve: Cold Cave, “Black Boots” b/w “Meaningful Life” 7″

Wesley Eisold has been working under the moniker Cold Cave for a few years now, meticulously documenting a sound that displays a deep commitment to the strains of synth-pop and its loosely-defined sub-genre Darkwave. It’s dangerous territory, but Eisold navigates it pretty well, and after two LPs for Matador he’s elected to self-release on his own label Heartworm Press. Cold Cave’s recent spate of 7-inches has been quite interesting, and the latest is “Black Boots” b/w “Meaningful Life.”

Prior to Cold Cave, Wesley Eisold was notable for his membership in the group Some Girls, one of the numerous noisy post-hardcore bands that proliferated during the Aughts. And before Some Girls, Eisold was part of Give Up the Ghost, an even more HC-informed band that originally went under the particularly mosh-friendly handle American Nightmare. Some of the folks that got turned on to Eisold through the use of Cold Cave’s “Life Magazine” in a commercial by Radio Shack might consider his hardcore background a little unusual. But they shouldn’t.

For all but the most militant of hardcore cats do indeed possess a softer side. Now, it’s true that upon self-discovery the development is often hidden, but just as frequently with age comes acceptance. And this situation has been expressed with regularity through a love of Morrissey in and after The Smiths, but an appreciation for Goth and synth-pop is also not a bit surprising.

The above might insinuate that Cold Cave was some sort of coming-out party for Eisold, but not really. The point is essentially that so many heavy dudes do eventually loosen up as their youthful anger subsides a bit. And Cold Cave’s discography shows the transition to be somewhat gradual. Cremations, a compilation of Eisold’s early work under the Cold Cave banner, is largely a chilly expression of Darkwave aesthetics that’s occasionally wedded with the attributes of modern noise.

So, it made sense that Cremations was released on Hospital Productions, the label of noise racketeer Dominick Fernow, he of Prurient and also a collaborator on Cold Cave’s Love Comes Close. That ’09 record pretty much served as the project’s “real” full-length debut, for the previous year’s Coma Potion LP, now a part of Cremations, was issued in a run of 100 copies on Eisold’s Heartworm Press imprint and is more of a “boutique” thing than an actual debut record (though those who hold a copy might disagree with this assessment.)

Love Comes Close made some substantial inroads into synth-pop (that’s where “Life Magazine” first appeared) but it continued to play around with Darkwave and more experimental electronic touches, and it’s largely a very agreeable LP. Some observers derided Eisold’s lack of songwriting chops, but from this writer’s perspective he managed to get the job done. Plus, his detours into less pop-inclined electronic avenues presented the record as being just as much about moody iciness as it was concerned with overt hummability or invitations to the dance floor.

Initially issued on Heartworm Press, Love Comes Close quickly caught the attention of Matador Records and was given a higher-profile reissue. Something comparable to a small splash resulted. And in 2011 Matador released Cold Cave’s follow up Cherish the Light Years, a record that found Eisold moving even deeper into the realms of synth-pop, with results that were sort of a mixed bag.

On the plus side was Eisold’s obvious commitment to his chosen genre. Synth-pop is a sound that will likely always be associated with the era of its origin, bit the dedication that Cold Cave exhibited on Cherish the Light Years kept it from registering like any sort of attention grabbing retro move. And if Eisold’s work was becoming more inclined toward the mainstream, he was broadening the palate in interesting ways, especially on the album’s opener “The Great Pan is Dead,” which integrated anthemic songwriting and rock guitars into the mix in a way that, kinda miraculously, actually worked.

The lessening of those Darkwave and experimental elements was surely felt, however. And in the transition, Eisold’s vocals also shifted, moving from his occasional Ian Curtis influence into a deeper engagement with the aura of Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan. And there wasn’t really anything wrong with this migration in tactics.

If more consistent in terms of its popish sound however, Cherish the Light Years’ problem was that it started to wear a little thin as it progressed, though the record did close on a strong note with “Villains of the Moon.” But frankly, the hitch of running short of inspirational gas was familiar to more than a couple of LPs from the original wave of synth-pop, so at least finding Eisold contending with those very same issues some thirty-odd years after the fact felt in harmony with the style.

Last October Cold Cave reappeared with “A Little Laugh to Death,” a three song single released not through Matador but Heartworm Press, and it signaled a return by Eisold into chillier, less radio-friendly realms, though it was more in accord with Love Comes Close than with the rougher material found on Cremations. The result was a very fine 7-inch.

Earlier this year “Oceans with No End” b/w “People Are Poison” surfaced on the Deathwish label, with both songs featuring the meld of heavy guitars that figured on Cherish the Light Years, specifically the two tracks from that album mentioned above. The A-side was stronger than the flip, but that’s par for the course with 45s. Most interesting was the lack of predictability emanating from Cold Cave as these short-playing releases starting hitting the racks.

Eisold recently made a statement that he’s cool with not being currently signed to a label and is happy to release his stuff incrementally and less conventionally, largely through Heartworm Press. But any worries over a decrease in productivity have been quickly dismissed. Along with the vinyl run of “Oceans with No End” that’s currently available for order through Deathwish, there is also a limited third pressing of “A Little Laugh to Death” and two more singles, all three released under the Heartworm banner.

One of those singles, “God Made the World” has been available digitally for a little while now, and that tune is a pretty good example of Eisold in unabashed synth-pop mode. The rhythms peculate with a drive that’s more dance floor inclined than usual, and while the song takes a little time in extending beyond the body-shaking directive it sets forth rather vigorously, once it does so a pleasant enough slice of emotionally gushy techno-pop construction is revealed.

Its digital B-side is the better of the two tracks however, and it’s disappointing that the limited edition picture-disc of “God Made the World” that’s now available for pre-order is a one-sided affair, lacking in the very appealing waves of keyboard residue offered by the ginchy instrumental “Dandelion.” While also rhythmic in nature, the track essentially lacks a dance-like orientation, with the drums instead providing strong counterpoint to a sweetly drifting melodiousness. “Dandelion” is an extremely pretty little number, and up to this point it’s one of the warmest songs Eisold’s had a hand in.

Happily, the half black/half clear vinyl edition of the freshly released single “Black Boots” b/w “Meaningful Life” presents no worries for vinyl consumers fretting over potentially missing tracks. And both cuts are worth the effort, especially the A-side, which rapidly locates the distinct rigidity and minimalist elements found in the instrumental approach of electronic pop’s early period, a sound that got ironed-out as synth-pop began its brief commercial ascendency.

“Black Boots” is drenched in the atmospherics of outdated keyboards, with one contributing a rhythmic pulse that could’ve been surgically removed from the credits-sequence of a cheapo ‘80s action-flick produced by Golan-Globus, and another delivering a very deliberate progression of notes that conjures the austere, even clinical vibe of the techno-pioneers that clearly inspired it.

While it lacks the spastic robotics that were frequent in the first few years of the highly interesting “Neue Deutsche Welle” (or New German Wave) scene, it does hold some similarities to that geographical era, particularly an emphasis on moodiness instead of catchy melodic licks, and this circumstance also temporarily places Cold Cave firmly back in that Darkwave state of mind, though it again lacks the more abrasive touches of the material found on Cremations.

What’s on display instead is Eisold’s growing ability at studio layering. With continued play, “Black Boots” reveals its maker’s rather sly touch; a third keyboard adds some crucial depth to the proceedings, the rhythms generate worthwhile motion without distracting from the song’s overall thrust (described well by Eisold as “cool nihilism”) and the vocals are treated to studio enhancement that thankfully never goes overboard.

The mileage of individual listeners will surely vary to the repeated lyric “people, there’s too many people,” but it helps to consider those words in the context of the tradition that Eisold’s working in. I really don’t get the impression that he’s particularly sincere in expressing this sentiment, but even if he is being earnest (and he very well might be, given that he’s pals with Boyd Rice of Non fame) it simply falls into line with the anti-social mindset that sometimes hovered around the electronic/synth-pop scene (and the industrial stuff, chiefly) way back when.

The late-night confessional of flip side “Meaningful Life” uses organ and flute to enhance its downcast ambiance, and those are both worthy additives, but the tinny insistence of the drum machine actually becomes its finest attribute over repeated plays. The employment of organic instruments in an essentially synth-pop environment has scored some big successes over the years, in particular via the prime work of The Magnetic Fields, and “Meaningful Life” is a solid addition to this impulse, mainly because Eisold ultimately treats the studio as just another instrument at his disposal.

Who knows when (or if) another full-length Cold Cave record will emerge. But after time spent with Eisold’s recent output, it’s beginning to seem like the LP format isn’t really the best vessel for the guy’s creativity anyway. His stuff gains real heft through concise presentation and the quality of “Black Boots” b/w “Meaningful Life” is the latest example.


This entry was posted in The TVD Storefront. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.

  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text