Release Date: Feb 8, 2011
Record label: Das Modular / Modular Records
Genre(s): Electronic, Club/Dance, Indie Electronic, Alternative Dance
Click to Listen to Cut Copy's Zonoscope Australian synth-pop quartet Cut Copy do the Eighties eerily well. Too well, in fact. Cue up the band's third album, and you find yourself playing spot-the-influence. (That verse? So Depeche Mode. The chorus? Pure O.M.D.) Zonoscope opens with the New Order ….
As well as putting themselves in the running for coolest album cover of 2011, Melbourne’s finest, Cut Copy, have finally found their niche upon releasing their third record, Zonoscope. Their debut, Bright Like Neon Love, was rough and raw, but brimming with potential. Their very authentic brand of New Wave-inspired electro-pop was something as fresh as it was fun.
Cut Copy are Australian, and it's summer in Australia right now. So if it feels a little weird listening to an album of euphoric, starry-eyed dance-rock on earbuds while you're scraping snow-grit off your windshield, keep in mind: Somewhere in the world, someone is probably road-tripping to a swimming hole with this album playing, or eating a popsicle, or playing catch with their dogs while it blasts out of a car stereo or nearby boombox. By the time summer arrives for those of us in the northern hemisphere, we'll know these songs by heart and be able to sing along loudly.
Cut Copy have never been able to figure out whether they’re indie rock experimentalists or ‘80s dance purists. So they’ve become both. Zonoscope, the Australian quartet’s third full-length studio album, is their most impressive balancing act yet, walking a fragile tightrope to either a world where pop radio is a hell of a lot weirder or one where the freaks are DJing the school dances.
Australian dance-pop masters Cut Copy have never sounded better. Now on their third album, the trio seemingly sips a cocktail of discarded 1980s synths and distilled rainbows, liberally laced with timeless pop refrains. What once came across as an exercise in frantic retro-kitsch akin to hipsters swilling Tab soda (sure it's tasty now, but what about after the caffeine buzz fades?), the newest tweak on their recipe leaves them sounding relaxed and bigger than ever.
Cut Copy’s 2008 album In Ghost Colours was a triumph of late-2000s dance-rock, combining strands of new wave, synth pop, disco, and French house into a glittering, streamlined display of how to make music that was equally adept at getting crowds moving in a club and breaking hearts over headphones late at night. It’s an understatement to say that the follow-up had a lot to live up to, and for the most part, Zonoscope is up to the challenge. There isn’t a single weak track to be found, and though could have easily done so with no side effects, the group didn’t just remake Ghost, they made some subtle alterations here and there to their approach.
Cut Copy - Zonoscope CUT COPY play Sound Academy April 7. See listing. Rating: NNNN The title of an interlude track halfway through Cut Copy's third album could be the Melbourne-based trio's mandate: Strange Nostalgia For The Future. It arrives just when the album begins to break free from pop song structure and lapse into an ecstatic dream world of Beach Boyish harmonies, blissful melodies and seamlessly integrated analog and electronic percussion.
As part of the pre-release build up to Zonoscope, Cut Copy released some behind-the-scenes videos depicting the making of their third record. Far from revealing, they simply portrayed a band congressing in a suburban house, in something of a soporific state, slowly padding out tracks and giving very little away. They looked far too comfortable for the group that made their erratic breakthrough with 2008's In Ghost Colours; an album defined by its shamelessness and sense of fun.
Let’s not muck about... Zonoscope is a fine record; It's the sound of a band in rude health and one that includes the sort of alt-dance sounds that will murder the awkward and the hipster with the brutal efficiencies of its big, bounding baselines. Single Take me out is a prime example, a brilliant piece of wizz-poppery that essentially smacks you repeatedly in the face with its jubilant riff and gliding vocals (though, it must be said, it’s a far more pleasant experience than such a description makes it sound).
Australian neo-synthpoppers Cut Copy were always going to face an uphill battle with the follow-up to their rightfully adored, near-perfect sophomore album In Ghost Colours, an album that sat atop the list of PopMatters’ Top Electronic Albums of 2008 and was one of the top 10 overall albums for PopMatters and various other publications that year. While Ghost Colours II would have likely upset no one, making lightning strike twice is a very hard thing to do indeed. Much of the aforementioned album’s magic was thought to come courtesy of superstar producer Tim Goldsworthy (The DFA, UNKLE), who added an ecstatic fluorescent sheen to the proceedings and who has not returned for this year’s Zonoscope.
Cut Copy’s 2008 breakthrough, In Ghost Colours, was a rare thing in indie-dom: A much-hyped record with virtually no backlash, a multi-quadrant hit that vaulted a little-known Australian band to the top of an entire continent’s music scene. You could even argue that the New Order reissues in 2008 were a direct result of Cut Copy’s fame: If people were willing to shell out for a new New Order, why wouldn’t they be interested in buying the original? Bands rarely hit on that kind of alchemy twice. So it’s not necessarily surprising that Zonoscope, the band’s third album, is something of a comedown (maybe even a disappointment?).
Manifold are the surprising ways in which the P2P revolution has transformed the indie scene, but even so, who would have guessed that the aughts was going to be the decade that taught hipsters how to dance? Used to be that indie fans unanimously located their scene’s leading lights among the art-rock avant-garde—you know, Fugazi, Radiohead, and their ilk. And it’s not that those kinds of bands have ceased to matter, but their privileged position among indie fans is no longer one they can for granted.. See, for example, 2010’s year-end lists, where archetypally difficult indie acts like Deerhunter defended their turf against the more instantly gratifying likes of Robyn, Big Boi, and LCD Soundsystem.
This Melbourne quartet's third album is almost like a mix tape, taking snatches of recognisable songs and blending them together into their own tracks with the aim of creating a greater whole. You'll hear a Fleetwood Mac bassline, a fragment of Men At Work's Down Under, or (on the single Take Me Over) a chorus suspiciously reminiscent of Boymeetsgirl's 1988 smash Waiting for a Star to Fall. This approach won't win the Aussie electro pranksters awards for originality, but they do it with enough sleight of hand to stay ahead of the lawyers, and it's a lot of fun.
It comes as little surprise that Zonoscope — Cut Copy’s long-awaited follow-up to their 2008 breakthrough In Ghost Colors — feels like such a letdown. In Ghost Colors, true to its name, was a work of indelibly smeared textures, a soft-glowing, otherworldy palette. Zonoscope feels, in comparison, hopelessly prosaic. Whereas that preceding record sounded like the embodiment of sentimentality, this one simply feels stuck lagging behind the times.
When [a]Cut Copy[/a]’s [b]‘In Ghost Colours’[/b] exploded all over the blogs in a shower of synths and nods to the ’80s, it still sounded fresh because – even three years ago – their fusion of disco, rock and electronica hadn’t been done to death. After the ubiquitous presence of ’80s-indebted music last year, a follow-up with little stylistic deviation isn’t a thrilling proposition: [b]‘Take Me Over’[/b] steals a hook from fellow Australians [b]Men At Work[/b], adds “ooh-ooh” backing vocals and just about gets away with it. [b]‘Where I’m Going’[/b] packs in a [a]Kasabian[/a]-aping chorus, while expansive 15-minute closer [b]‘Sun God’[/b] hints at what might have been – namely an excursion into less familiar territory.
A third long-play set likely to sound great come this summer’s festival season. Ian Wade 2011 Melbourne’s Cut Copy first came to attention to UK audiences with their Bright Like Neon Love album in 2004, mostly due to support slots with the likes of Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand. Despite still keeping a fairly low profile here since, they’ve become big news in their native Australia where their last album – 2008’s In Ghost Colours – shot straight to the top of the albums chart.
Music critics of this day and age are given to a fair amount of whining about how oversaturated the marketplace is (or perhaps, the iTunes store) with bands that tout a dance angle when promoting their respective aesthetics. True enough, there’s a bevy of acts in operation today who have taken a page from the playbook of The Killers and Franz Ferdinand, amalgamating post-punk and New Wave influences into a highly successful subgenre that, while certainly fetching, has all but been exhausted in recent years by groups like Passion Pit, MGMT, and Hot Chip. Yet it’s not just dance music that’s become ubiquitous on the indie scene – it’s also how often the songs come off as hackneyed 1980’s kitsch, in which an artist’s most sincere gestures always fall victim and prey to nostalgic irony.