In a lot of ways, it’s surprising it took shitgaze this long to embrace the synth. On the one hand, synths never sat too well with the punk or early ’90s lo-fi scenes — shitgaze’s two biggest influences — but on the other hand there is the constant sense that shitgaze acts care more about their textures than a lot of their clean-sounding peers, and few things help with texture better than synthesizers. Nonetheless, poor quality synths have been taking the indie scene by storm lately. From the early (and rather inconsistent) experimentation of Blank Dogs to the gothy tendencies of Zola Jesus to the sunnier stylings of the entire chillwave movement, the shitgaze subgenre is having its own little post-punk revival sub-movement. How cute.
Philadelphia’s Cold Cave (whose main member, Wesley Eisold, used to be in some post-hardcore bands, a fact deemed oddly relevant by a music press that generally ignores the genre) might be the biggest of these artists who don’t fall in the chillwave genre. They’re signed to Matador, have a song (“Life Magazine”) in that Radio Shack commercial you saw 30 times while watching football Thanksgiving weekend, and sound a little more professional than a lot of their peers (perhaps a bit ironic, but we don’t want straight noise from our shitgaze bands, right?).
After album scene-setter “Cebe and Me” — one of those tracks that’s essential to Love Comes Close as an album but you never remember the name of and would never recommend to anyone and really should be done away with in the iTunes era — Cold Cave places the bar quite high. The title track is not only their best song, but one of the finest you’ll hear this year. On the one hand, it’s a cheesy electro song that brings to mind Gary Numan, but without any of his captivating persona. On the other hand, it’s a cheesy goth song with lines like “sleeping off a century of hope”. These two opposing forces together, however, make for a wonderfully complex listen in such a simple pop song. Obviously, they’re not too serious about their goth lyrics as it’s got an electro background. This isn’t all a joke, though because there’s too much emotion in here despite the seeming tongue-in-cheek nature of it. It’s a brilliant contrast that they keep well in line for the entirety of the album.
Despite the continuity and the Caralee McElroy-fronted pop excellence of “Life Magazine”, the album has a hard time keeping up the brilliance. After the two exceptional “singles” that kick off the things off, they regress to an aimless style that we have to slog our way through to get to “Love Comes Close”. Not quite pop songs, and definitely not interesting soundscapes, songs like “Heaven Was Full” and “The Laurels of Erotomania” sound like Our Love to Admire B-sides on five-dollar synths.
The back half isn’t all bad. “Hello Rats” has a delicious hook but its short run time betrays the group’s lack of songwriting chops. It’s as if they stumbled upon a great melody but didn’t know what to do with it so, to avoid beating it into the ground, cut the song short without taking it anywhere. Better than killing a great idea, I suppose, but emblematic of the album’s greatest weakness.
Almost every one of these songs possesses the same flaw. “I.C.D.K.” has some jaunty, freewheeling synth work that’s potentially the album’s most fun moment, but the lack of any real song structure comes off less experimental than bland. “The Trees Grew Emotion and Died” has perhaps the strongest Gary Numan influence, and it’s rushed vocal delivery is endearing at first but quickly becomes tiresome. Then there’s three more minutes of it to sit through.
With strong ideas there, though — and songs as downright fantastic as “Love Comes Close” and “Life Magazine” — Love Comes Close shows some potential for artist growth with a little more seasoned songwriting. Cut them some slack, though; I’m told the main songwriter used to only do hardcore.