Philadelphia freedom can become Philadelphia gothdom. Cinematically, I'm thinking of David Lynch's Eraserhead (1977), the very definition of black-and-white bleakness, and a Philly-filmed movie set within a nightmare. More recently (and obscurely), I'm thinking of Andrew Repasky McElhinney's far-from-literal 2004 film adaptation of George Bataille's Story of the Eye, seemingly based in blasted-out sections of the City of Brotherly Love.
Bataille's obsessive focus on eros' fusion of love and death is in keeping with Cold Cave, the latest musical project of Wesley Eisold. But gothdom and an appreciation of the occult or morbidity took root in Eisold's life long before he set base in his current home of Philadelphia, let alone visited Madame Blavatsky's house there. "We've really kept to ourselves, which was the impetus for settling in Philly for a bit," he says, referring to bandmates Dominick Fernow of Prurient and former Xiu Xiu member Caralee McElroy. "Less distraction, more work. Cheap rent, no need for money."
For Eisold, the influences behind his current sound can be traced back to adolescent VHS tapes of 120 Minutes, a rare constant during a nomadic youth. "I met my cousin Jacy — who lives in San Francisco, actually — for the first time when I was 11 and he was maybe 13," he remembers. "You never know what your family is going to be like. He came into my house wearing a Sisters of Mercy shirt and I had a Cure shirt on."
If the bass on "Hello Rats" from Cold Cave's Love Comes Close (Matador) recalls the Cure's Seventeen Seconds (Fiction, 1980) and "I've Seen the Future and It's No Place for Me" on the group's compilation Cremations (Hospital Productions) sounds like the Cure's Pornography (Fiction, 1980) blaring from a room down the hall, then cousin Jacy's tee-shirt cast a spell as well. The bottomless baritone of Sisters of Mercy leader Andrew Ridgely informs Eisold's vocal approach to tracks such as Cremations' "An Understanding" and "I've Seen the Future," and Love Comes Close's "The Laurels of Erotomania" and title track.
But Cold Cave has more going on than mere ’80s pastiche and nostalgia. A fan of small publishers such as Hanuman and Black Sparrow ("I think Ed Dorn's Gunslinger is massively underappreciated," he says) who runs his own small press called Heartworm, Eisold doesn't merely strike dark poses in his lyrics. An example would be Cremations' opening track "Sex Ads," a direct, truthful song about a pretty common phenom in contemporary life: sexual self-commodification.
"It's probably the most literal song I've ever written," Eisold says of the track, which ends with a sense of ghostliness akin to Kiyoshi Kurosawa's 2001 film Kairo. "Of course, us humans will find a way to make intimacy even more detached. I don't find it strange at all. We've built all these machines to do everything else for us, so of course we'll have a computer be the enabler our friends could never be. It didn't catch on, but remember 10 years ago or so the Internet was trying to sell thse pieces you could attach to the computer for a simulated fuck? This makes much more sense. Really, I can't believe how unexcited we are about the world we live in and how realities overlap from a screen to the day-to-day. This meshing of worlds happens so fast that no one has the time to appreciate how strange it is."
Not exactly "Boys Don't Cry" — or Fall Out Boy, for that matter. One gets the sense that Cold Cave is still developing, an exciting and perhaps hauntological prospect considering their music to date. Cremations contains some powerful sounds and instrumental passages, from the Nico-caliber fugue "E Dreams" to the outer space loneliness of "Roman Skirts" and the apocalyptic, nuclear radiance of "Always Someone." If Love Comes Close sacrifices such experimentation on the altar of pop, during a track like McElroy's vocal star turn "Life Magazine," the blood tastes like fine wine.