Image by James Parker
It’s no secret that Cold Cave, the moniker and ever evolving band of American darkwave and synth pop artist Wesley Eisold, owes a lot to the past. In many ways, the Cold Cave project is a tribute of sorts to the post-punk sound and electro-goth aesthetics of Joy Division and New Order, a love letter from Eisold to the influences that have shaped his artistry. This means that Cold Cave is often intensely dedicated to honouring the sound of late 80’s new wave gloom, preoccupied in a way with both preserving the conventions of the style and reinventing them for the present.
This preoccupation with preservation informs much of Cold Cave’s third album Fate in Seven Lessons, released via their new home Heartworm Press, in a way that sees Eisold usurp the sonic aesthetic of New Order and forlorn goth synthwave more vehemently than ever. Perhaps distancing themselves from the drama of 2011’s arguably stronger Cherish the Light Years, Fate in Seven Lessons leans further into Cold Cave’s retro references to the point that the collection often feels vaguely familiar and reminiscent of something that came before it. And while Fate in Seven Lessons does its best to appear gravely melancholic, it’s near impossible to mask the jubilance radiating from Eisold as he plays dress up in the styles of his icons. This lends a giddy sense of nostalgia to the record, and beneath the gloomy atmospherics lies in Fate in Seven Lessons an endearing sentimentality. The anthemic Night Light is full of new romantic poetics, and the Nosfertau longing of Love is All makes the most of this nostalgia to become the most winsome of the album’s tracks.
These nostalgic sentiments are perhaps most telling in Eisold’s vocal delivery across the album. There’s flavours of Ian Curtis on Love is All, Robert Smith on Happy Birthday Dark Star, and Dave Gahan’s signature smut slinks in on Psalm 23 and Promised Land and the music follows suit. There are retro-synths and vintage keyboard riffs throughout, and the entire collection is mastered in mid-fi to add to its haze of authenticity. This commitment towards sounding authentic to the past exposes the album’s greatest weakness; by insisting on being faithful to its references, the music on Fate In Seven Lessons risks sounding like a collection of deep cut covers of Cold Cave’s cherished forefathers.
The shift from the lofty ambitions of Cherish the Light Year’s neo new wave has been a gradual one for Cold Cave, who in the ten years between that album and this one have put out a steady stream of singles which have slowly withdrawn from Cherish the Light Year’s new wave maximalism towards a more accessible adoption of the style. Fate in Seven Lessons is the culmination of this course correction, but suggests that Cold Cave may have driven too far away from the sense of audacity that lent their take on these familiar aesthetics a deft sense of originality. What it succeeds in however, is perhaps its most significant purpose; to remind its creators of the attitude and energy that has shaped them and offer a needed reinvigoration towards whatever comes next.
Download Fate in Seven Lessons here, and watch the video for Night Light below.
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