Photos courtesy of Diana Wong | DianaWongPhoto.com
It’s hard to even imagine what it would have been like to see the Cure perform in a club the size of Mercury Lounge in the early ’80s. You can’t just chalk it up to pure nostalgia—there’s definitely a reason their sound still resonates through any number of music subsets today. Cold Cave, a band whose name actually describes it perfectly, is one of the direct descendants of that sound. Legend has it the band formed when Wesley Eisold left a successful Boston punk band and started messing around with thrift-store Casio keyboards alongside friends Caralee McElroy, of Xiu Xiu, and Dominick Fernow, of experimental noise band Prurient. Their first 7″ single, “Painted Nails,” was released on Fernow’s Hospital Productions label and has brought about something of a resurgence of Cold Wave minimalist synth that traces its roots directly back to Kraftwerk, Throbbing Gristle and, of course, the original post-punks, Joy Division.
An emaciated Eisold barely moved behind a massive Moog voyager, but he worked up a sweat singing in his slight crooning baritone, with an ingrained punk burst of nihilistic vocals, hands clasped behind his back, looking scarily close to Mr. “Love Will Tear Us Apart” himself. Eisold barely mumbled “thanks” before going into the next pounding inhuman beat from Cold Cave’s debut, Love Comes Close. McElroy played off Eisold’s darkness with her own heavily echoed melodic delivery on songs like “Life Magazine” and providing a back-and-forth harmony on “The Tree’s Grew Emotions and Died,” sort of like an industrial Goth version of the Human League.
The three members of Cold Cave, all dressed in black, use their impressive display of technology, minus the nostalgia, thanks to Fernow, whose sheer massive solo catalog of sound manipulation takes each arrangement to a place other New Wave throwback acts just can’t follow. (Simply playing with every piece of an analog synth keyboard is no substitution for knowing which sounds you want to hear and actually willing them out of the circuits.) The music stays perpetually focused on the icy, emotionless sound, straddling a line between undanceable and undeniably catchy. And all of it comes from three keyboards, just like on Trans-Europe Express. The entire New Wave ’80s wished they sounded this good. —Jason Dean