Release Date: Sep 22, 2017
Record label: Astralwerks
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, New Wave/Post-Punk Revival, Alternative Dance
Somewhat of a cult record among DJs for its stop-start angular sound and use of sampling, it heralded a crossover of previously siloed worlds of keyboards and guitars. The band have made a hugely successful international career on this sound, adapting it across four studio albums, as well as the requisite remixes and mixtapes you’d expect from a DJ-led outfit (there was even an ambient electronic cassette release last year; take that Frank Ocean). So where does their fifth album find them? Well, less urgent for a start. There’s a laid-back feel to Haiku From Zero of a band that are comfortable in their sounds and their skins, making great dance music for the festival crowd.
On 2013’s Free Your Mind, Cut Copy incorporated a heavy dose of celestial imagery into their exploration of the expansiveness of human emotions. The Australian quartet’s follow-up, Haiku from Zero, similarly lays its foundation in a blend of new wave and disco, but it replaces the prior effort’s acid-house flourishes with Afrobeat and tropical music while casting its mind-expanding thematic focus toward the transcendental abstractions of dream logic. Throughout, Dan Whitford sings about a blurred line between dreams and reality, a compelling, if somewhat repetitive, motif.
“Standing In The Middle Of The Field,” the opener to Cut Copy’s fifth album Haiku From Zero, finds the Australian electro pop pioneers in an oddly contemplative place. “Find love, build it on sand,” Dan Whitford says, talking more than singing. “Find love, swinging in the wind / watching it some more, build it back again / find love, lying on the shore / driving out to sea, lost forever more / find love, strangest of things / but chaos inside, peace that it brings.” The plink-plunk of the melodic backbeat is a constant, morose rainfall, the handclaps strangely muted, the rhythm rolling onward seemingly on pure inertia.
Cut Copy have always been a band of fans, dedicated students of composition and production whose ideas feel reverential rather than revolutionary. Looking back over the Australian quartet’s lengthy career—their ’80s mish-mashing debut, Bright Like Neon Love, came out thirteen years ago—you can trace the zeitgeist of a decade of what we once called “dance-rock” but now identify as the electrofied, groove-led sound of contemporary indie rock, from Tame Impala to Glass Animals. After riding the DFA-adjacent wave of ’00s indie disco towards festival-slaying status alongside bands like Soulwax and Metronomy, Cut Copy got bigger and slicker; 2011’s Zonoscope embraced the MOR of ’80s Fleetwood Mac and the after-dark euphoria of Chicago house, while their foray into baggy rave on 2013’s Free Your Mind coincided with a mainstream wave of ’90s dance nostalgia that included Disclosure and Jamie xx.
Cut Copy frontman Dan Whitford claims his band initially attempted to straddle indie and dance, looking to bridge a divide between audiences that didn’t usually mix. But that’s slightly flawed. As we know, plenty of bands bridged and continue to bridge said gap – Hot Chip, !!!, Django Django, LCD Soundsystem – and that’s before we start on any bands stretching back decades prior. Which might explain what makes much of Cut Copy’s fifth album sound flat.
Cut Copy have been gone for a little while now, just under four years in fact. A lot has happened in the world during their absence from music, and a large majority of it has been pretty bad. Despite this depressing reality, Cut Copy aren't here to mope, instead heading straight back to the dancefloor with their colourful fifth studio album Haiku From Zero, which searches for a synth-pop paradise where the sounds of shiny synth leads and disco tinged guitars are all that you need to get by.
When Cut Copy announced their return, they shared a link to the band’s Spotify page where they’d compiled a new greatest hits playlist with tracks from their last four albums. It was an instant reminder of their effortless ability to craft brilliant danceable pop. There were those echoing harmonies, lo-slung bass, club-friendly beats and breezy ‘80s pop - Dan Whitford’s voice floating across all of it. There was a strange alluring nostalgia in this sonic universe – it sounded like a playlist of undiscovered ’80s radio hits.
Back in 2013, we praised this Australian dance-pop unit's fourth LP, Free Your Mind, while admitting it wasn't a much of a step in any direction for their sound. Four years later Cut Copy returns with Haiku From Zero, and still little has changed-and perhaps it's time new directions be explored. From its start with "Standing in the Middle of the Field," Cut Copy's upbeat electronic sound is not far off from what first put Dan Whitford and company on the map in 2004, but with a heavier lean toward organic noise thanks to its xylophone- and cowbell-driven rhythm track.
Where In Ghost Colours (2008) was robust, Cut Copy’s new record Haiku From Zero feels ramshackle. If that reads as an insult, it is, their new record is bright and dancy on a first listen and mostly empty and crumbling by a fourth. As 80’s nostalgia continues to disappear in favor of whatever elements have resale value from the 90’s, Cut Copy continues down a path they have traveled before—when they wrote better songs.