Combining dense, pummeling energy and palpable ache, “The Great Pan Is Dead” is four minutes of stunning 21st-century rock’n’roll. Wowee. I hardly knew at first how to unpack what I was hearing—the buzzing-guitar wall of sound, the orchestral synth lines, the relentless sonic drive, the sense of furious poignancy suffusing this whirl of sheer electrical power. In the center of it we get the full-throated emoting of front man Wes Eisold. Eisold has a history as a screamer in hard-core bands, and you can hear it at the edge of his singing, even as the singing is genuinely sensitive, even moving.
So I let it cycle on repeat for a long time and I finally began to hear, maybe, what was happening. In the tradition of modern classical minimalists more than any pop song I’ve heard, “The Great Pan Is Dead” spends long periods of time anchored in one chord—the music moves energetically and rhythmically while staying unusually rooted harmonically. We do not, for instance, hear a chord change in the song until 51 seconds in. That is not normally done. This lack of harmonic motion adds immeasurably to the pent-up fury of the aural landscape. Eisold, in the middle of this, sounds like someone throwing his battered body against a bolted door. “I know people without substance,” he sings; you can hear the thud of exclamation points in his phrasing.
And then, later in the song (2:33), we arrive at an opposite place: Eisold singing a largely one-note melody against a shifting series of chords—another kind of subtle, claustrophobic tension to contend with. This is one crazy cool song, and my first shoe-in for a place on the 2011 favorite song list.
Cold Cave is a trio based in NYC. “The Great Pan Is Dead” is from the band’s second album, Cherish the Light Years, due in April on good old Matador Records. MP3 via Matador.