Can I start by saying that 80s synthpop revival is not restricted to the UK and Western Europe? Cold Cave, however, do not have their roots in the poppy synthpop tradition, are much closer allied to the cold wave branch of synthpop / new wave, and have tinges of punk rock and electronic body music. The second thing I should say is that “Cherish the Light Years” (4 April 2011 in the UK and USA as a digital download, 5 April 2011 in the USA as a physical CD) is the sophomore album, and as of yet I have not listened to the debut album, “Love Comes Close” (2009). I point this out because as I listened to “Cherish The Light Years,” I was free of any expectations or preconceived notions of what the band should be producing. And with every subsequent listen, I found myself just slipping in deeper and deeper into Cold Cave’s world.
I know little about the band, other than it is the brainchild of Wesley Eisold, who has amassed much experience in the hardcore punk / noise rock scenes. With a slightly revolving membership, Cold Cave currently also includes Jennifer Clavin and Dominick Fernow. But true to the punk ideology of not conforming to past clichés and norms, Cold Cave’s music is not hardcore punk, nor is it yesterday’s brooding cold wave; this is the new voice of nihilism in this crazy post-broadband revolutionized world. “The empathy of breaking chains, the sympathy in crashing waves, careful boy, caution girl, I do not think we were meant for this world” (“The Great Pan Is Dead”) muses the opening track of the album, which is only a hint of what is to come. Like the early post-punk rockers who laid down the foundation of goth rock, Cold Cave’s lyrics are a minimalist, stream of consciousness, full of poetic nihilism: “Stars explode, you dream below, oh god, a prayer and a broken home. You stare at a wall and think about your life, your brittle, little life” (“Pacing Around the Church”).
Musically, “Cherish The Light Years” is an eclectic range of musical references strung together through a dark cold wave medium. However, each song on this album is truly its own little soundscape. “Underworld USA” has all the makings of a great EBM, but even more nihilistic on a personal level than Nitzer Ebb: “They said the meek shall inherit the earth, oh God that seems like so much work…” “Alchemy Around You” infuses ska-esque horn moments. The experimental “Burning Sage” plays with rhythm arrangements, playing with the dominance of the electronic bassline with percussion effects and later disjointed beats. Over-and-over again, Cold Cave injects into their music more than one might expect, giving each song its own definitive sound.
My favorite track, “Confetti,” reminded me of every reason why I love new wave. The post-punkish guitar sounds, the piercing disco-esque synth arrangements, the perfect beat somewhere between rock and dance, and that matter of fact vocal style (both male and female in the chorus) all conspire to create a song that could easily be mistaken for a classic from the early 80s. What Cold Cave has stumbled upon, as demonstrated here, is the pop sensibility of such bands as The Cure and New Order, of Depeche Mode discovering their darker side. It is the ability, as they prove again and again, to take the darkest brooding, shake off the doom and gloom, and present a song that is at once “a matter of fact” and engagingly alluring.
Time to put the cards on the table; for someone who is growing tired of revival mania, why am I gushing over this album? First, Cold Cave is American, and there is something to be said about any American artist following what is essentially British / Euro musical traditions. Not just following them, but mastering them. Second, “Cherish The Light Years” is exquisitely nihilistic in a good way; this is not doom and gloom, but the despondency we all feel but never dare to articulate. And lastly, third, Cold Cave is all New York, where old is new and the traditional always has a wicked twist.
1. The Great Pan Is Dead
2. Pacing Around the Church
5. Underworld USA
6. Icons of Summer
7. Alchemy and You
8. Burning Sage
9. Villains of the Moon
10. Our Tears Help the Flowers Grow, iTunes Exclusive Track
Keep up with Cold Cave at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. Check them “Cherish the Light Year” at iTunes (USA link) where you can preview and purchase the album (fall in love with “Confetti” as I have!).