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Cold Cave
Full Cold Moon Chad Parkhill , June 15th, 2015 11:46

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Just who exactly is Cold Cave mastermind Wesley Eisold? Is he the hipster-baiting darkwave impresario previously skewered on this site as an embarrassingly sincere Ian Curtis impersonator? Or is he the purveyor of stadium-sized synth-pop, lauded for making "the kind of noise the Killers might if they were pumped full of amphetamines"? Or is he instead the bedroom industrial producer and Prurient collaborator of Cold Cave's early releases?

Whatever the answer to these questions is, it's clear that Eisold has given them a great deal of (possibly anguished) thought since the release of Cold Cave's last proper album, 2011's Cherish The Light Years – an album he has since gone on to disavow as "the Cold Cave that I can't even stand to hear". Full Cold Moon, a compilation of EPs released after Cherish The Light Years (and previously released on Eisold's own Heartworm label before this year's wider reissue on Deathwish, Inc.) doesn't so much put across a definitive statement about Eisold's musical character, as provide snapshots of him working through these very questions.

The good news for both Eisold and his listeners is that these snapshots are never less than thoroughly well-executed. Written and recorded entirely by Eisold (who has been assisted only in mixing and mastering by fellow Hospital Productions alumnus Kris Lapke), Full Cold Moon pulls away from the overstuffed sound (and album credits) of Cherish The Light Years without fully reverting to the lo-fi minimalism of his first proper album, 2009's Love Comes Close. The opening track, 'A Little Death To Laugh', might sound like the reductio ad absurdum of everyone else's idea of a Cold Cave song – saw-wave synth progressions, tinny drums, Eisold trying to coax his relatively reedy tenor voice into a sonorous bass, that title – but insofar as it lives up to expectations it also crushes them simply by virtue of doing it all really well. The synths sound plump rather than etiolated; Eisold's vocals no longer sound like an Ian Curtis impression but rather like, well, Eisold himself; the drums cut through the mix without dominating it. "I lost a limb / On the left hand path / And I never, never, never got it back," Eisold belts out – and while he's never shied away from a diaristic approach before, these couplets about his famously absent left hand (he was born without one) might mark his most compellingly direct lyrics yet.

If 'A Little Death To Laugh' is Eisold playing to type, then Full Cold Moon provides a few examples of creative risk-taking. 'Tristan Corbière' – named after a relatively obscure poète maudit who passed away at 29 from tuberculosis – is a frankly lovely instrumental that brings to mind the kind of library music produced by Bernard Fevre and Ariel Kalma, all goofy synthesised effects and hypnotically simple melodies. 'Young Prisoner Dreams Of Romance' takes a leaf from Eisold's past as a member of various hardcore punk bands – it's a short, sharp little vignette that crams what feels like a whole song's worth of material into less than a minute and a half (with a four-bar drum machine outro to spare!). 'Black Boots' is a slinky, low-key synthpop number that could have been taken from Martin L. Gore's Counterfeit EP. When Eisold repeats the line "People, there's too many people" it's not the full-throated cri de cœur you might expect after Cherish The Light Years' pomp, but a disgusted sneer.

Other tracks cleave more closely to the format provided by 'A Little Death To Laugh' – even compilation highlights 'Oceans With No End' and 'God Made The World', both quite fine songs in themselves, feel more than a little like Eisold performing a drag version of Cold Cave. One disadvantage of the compilation format shows through here: the completist instinct means that nothing from the original EPs is left out, so we hear Eisold return to familiar ground several times over – how much this matters will depend entirely on how much patience you have for Cold Cave's recidivist darkwave schtick.

This sense of repetition, however, is a price worth paying for 'Meaningful Life'. Although the track appears towards the end of the new Deathwish Inc. edition, it functions in many ways as Full Cold Moon's spiritual centre. The lyrics look like doggerel on paper (or screen): "Some people lead very meaningful lives / Dedicated, devoted, husbands and wives," Eisold deadpans. It ought to be a bathetic moment, but the simple beauty of the song's sparse arrangement – a cheap bossa nova beat, Hammond organ chords, and the kind of reedy synthesised flute that The Knife used to great effect in 'Behind The Bushes' – renders the sentiment weirdly touching. Eisold has talked in interviews about his missing hand having made him an outsider from birth; here we inhabit, for just a few minutes, an almost-unbearable yearning for normality. "I want to lead a very meaningful life," he repeats at the song's conclusion: not in anguish, nor in determination, but simply as a statement of fact. 'Meaningful Life' suggests that Eisold has come to a place of self-knowledge and self-acceptance. Even if Full Cold Moon transpires to keep the real Wesley Eisold still hidden from his audience, it seems as though he finally knows who he (and by extension Cold Cave) is. The question that remains is whether Cold Cave's next album will showcase this understanding, or if Eisold will retreat to the musical safety of his Cold Cave drag. Let's hope it's the former.