When a recovering ex-hardcore punk goes electro pop, support groups should be immediately formed to nurture the impulse. Perhaps that’s why the sound of Philadelphia’s Cold Cave inches closer to purely catchy as the band gathers new members. Wes Eisold, a vet of the intensely loud scene who’d served tours of duty with beloved cult acts like Some Girls, formed Cold Cave as a solo project. The early singles he cobbled together on stockpiled synths were still too satisfied with dissonance and gloom. Counterintuitively, bringing a few more weirdos into the room seems to have morphed the band into a still faintly industrial, but mainly New Romantic purveyor of cold European synth pop. The most significant addition is WTF waif vocalist Caralee McElroy, formerly of Xiu Xiu, but chronic noise addict Dominick Fernow is another big name in a rotating list of unlikely contributors to an LP that flirts with uptempo fun as often as this debut, Love Comes Close, does.
Half of the short record pairs brazen club beats to its cracked tone, while the other half just sulks. “Cebe and Me” starts Side A with an aloof grind that recalls Suicide at their dreamiest (which really isn’t all that dreamy). The title track that follows is a little New Order by numbers, sure, but its swooning pop choruses are a huge improvement. The album could use a more prominent dose of McElroy, really. Xiu Xiu compositions tended to highlight the frailness of her voice, making her seem exaggeratedly vulnerable. Paired with the fuzzy echo and vaguely techno thump of “Life Magazines” she’s much less exposed. Another highlight, “The Trees Grew Emotions and Died,” finds her dueling odd enunciations with Eisbold, in bright, playful contrast to the record’s place-holding slips into dirge. When it works, it’s a much sharper, more engaging take on the gothic pop sound of a contemporary like Blank Dogs. It could likely stand to be slicker by several degrees. The more convicted the disco in tracks like “Youth and Lust,” the easier it is to ignore clunky dystopian lyrics about a “synthetic world” and how it sheds a “tear of plastic deception.” There’s room for growth, clearly, but Love Comes Close’s hip-shake to eye-roll ratio is encouraging.