This summer, San Francisco’s venerable club New Wave City turned 21. By this reporter’s reckoning, it means that New Wave has lingered three times longer than the actual musical phenomenon. And that’s A-OK: Like the psychedelic era, which also refuses to die, the music underground circa 1977 to 1984 is vital enough to bear repeated resurrection.
Since its founding in 2007, Cold Cave has received critical attention for its archeological take on the dark side of New Wave. Cold Cave is the nom de guerre of Wesley Eisold, who, with help from a rotating roster of veteran artists, including Xiu Xiu’s Caralee McElroy and Dominick Fernow from Prurient, has released two full-length albums and a dozen singles. On Aug. 27, the band begins the West Coast leg of its world tour at San Jose’s the Blank Club.
Habitually in black, sporting a severe side part, Eisold could pass for a ’90s cyber punk, but his music is—dare one say?—warmer, poppier. New Order is a major influence—“Confetti” could be an outtake from the Lowlife sessions—but to the sensitive ear, the Cold Cave oeuvre is an abecedarian stroll through the annals of goth-industrial and synthy post-punk, from A Certain Ratio to the March Violets, OMD to Visage.
There are traces of sterner stuff too—particularly Suicide, NYC’s pioneering electronic band that is still easier to respect than to love, and the nearly unlistenable Throbbing Gristle—but no matter how hard he might try to obscure it, Eisold’s pop sensibility triumphs. Or at least, holds the pieces in dynamic tension.
Like many disaffected adolescents, Eisold was raised an army brat, continually uprooted. He loved the Cure and the Smiths. At age 11, he got busted for stealing a Peter Murphy badge. Eisold started his music career singing for hardcore acts Give Up the Ghost and Some Girls. Forming Cold Cave was his bid to take control of his songwriting and make more personal music.
Indeed, Eisold is still trying to delve inward. For Cold Cave’s second album, 2011’s Cherish the Light, Eisold sought collaborators who pushed back. Perhaps that’s why Cherish contains Cold Cave’s loudest and most shimmering work. Since then, however, Eisold has gone entirely solo in the recording studio. The three Cold Cave EPs released this year are still noisy, but quieter efforts, unmistakably the work of one individual.
With music as obsessed with its own history as Eisold’s is, the quest for authentic self-expression might seem…quixotic? That’s the dissonance of enjoying Cold Cave. Picking out the allusions and borrowed riffs is a giddy guessing game markedly at odds with Eisold’s portentous lyrics and delivery. One hopes he’s not half as serious as he sounds—but anything less than total sincerity would not be goth.
Blank Club, San Jose
Tue, 9pm; $12 in advance, $15 at the door