It takes only a couple seconds of "The Great Pan Is Dead" to realize that Cold Cave has taken some sort of impressive leap. The first single from the band's sophomore album for Matador races forward on overblown guitars, seemingly speeding on rails made of pure, intense disappointment. Recall, when last we left Wes Eisold and company they were dispensing darkly minimal, occasionally silly synth pop with bright moments enough to soundtrack a national ad or three. Those neon textures are still here, just subsumed underneath aggressive squawk. Bare-bones synth patterns that used to be a whole song now just shine out amid a huge, full fuzz that I feel compelled to call "turbo-goth." That maelstrom ebbs after that first blast, yet the breadth of sounds continues to impress. The overt pop has a rounded quality, resembling Cut Copy with a shitty attitude, but there's also great-sounding late-80s industrial churn here, some tastefully sullen rave thump there. "Alchemy Around You" explodes with manic horn blasts befitting a late-era Cure single. Risks are laid thick, most pay off.
Beyond doffing a cap towardsCherish the Light Years' construction, the success of the record will likely rest on a gut reaction to Eisbold himself. As an ex-army brat and hardcore punk scene veteran born with one hand and draped forever in black, he cuts quite the compelling figure of a Romantic outsider. On Cold Cave's debut, Love Comes Close, it sounded like he was vocally aping the aloof Euro distance he thought a move from punk to synths demanded. With more confidence, his delivery is further out there and almost defiantly emo. You might think of My Chemical Romance on temporary hiatus from Adderall (and it wouldn't even be that unfair). Eisbold sings some amazingly goony lines, rhyming "acid rain" with "floats your brain," or theatrical Marilyn Manson nonsense boasts like, "I'll take pleasure in bringing your enemies to their knees." But then there's "Icons of Summer," where he pens a sour pop kiss-off like "love will come easy with a face like that" and buttresses it with rhythmic line readings with excellent timing and word choice. The last album's crossover tracks were buoyed by a sweet-sounding Caralee McElroy, now replaced by the much more peripheral ex-Mika Miko frontwoman Jennifer Clavin. Eisold hogs the spotlight now. There'll be a wave of scrunched noses, but I dunno, he seems so committed that I'm kind of buying in.