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. Yeasayer’s 2010 Odd Blood LP, for all of its virtues, was the object of such scorn from certain publications.
Also frequently cited in these rants is electropop collective Cut Copy, an Aussie outfit that revels in the sort of synth-heavy dance floor sensuality that made Depeche Mode and New Order such a hit 30 years ago. Prior to fleshing out the band with current members Tim Hoey (guitars, samples) and Mitchell Scott (drums), Cut Copy founder and songwriter Dan Whitford released his first single, “1981” – the title of which makes more than a passing references to the stylistic predilections that the group would explore and hone over seven years and two full-lengths.
The second of these aforementioned albums was 2008’s In Ghost Colours – a lush collection of celebratory dancefloor reveries that critics and fans met with nearly universal praise for its dual capacities as a club soundtrack and headphone listen. Slaying that clichéd beast known as the sophomore slump, expectations are now higher than ever for Cut Copy as they ready LP No. 3, Zonoscope, for an international release on February 8th.
Like its predecessor, Zonoscope strings together a dizzying array of electronic textures and nocturnal rhythms meant to get the bodies moving. This time around though, things feel even more ethereal and ambient, no doubt the result of the band’s deliberate move to engage in more open-ended improvisations and extended jams. Cut Copy has always excelled at injecting some zeal into a genre filled with sterile and soulless repetition, and their latest collection of songs takes an even more organic approach with a swarm of percussion instruments that include roto-toms, congas, and bongos.
The album packs a stellar one-two punch out of the gate with “Need You Now” and “Take Me Over,” both of which feature Whitford’s sultry croon (“Take me over / take me under / through the jungle / through the night”), shimmering synthesizer harmonies, and newest Copier Ben Browning’s throbbing bass lines. Up next is “Where I’m Going,” which features a galloping triplet groove, 1960’s-inspired harmonizing, and an invitation to tag along for the ride: “It’s a journey / it’s yours if you want it.” “Blink and You’ll Miss a Revolution” rides on what feels like a Martin Gore-penned synth percussion melody and vocals that possess a touch of James Murphy’s snarky yelp.
Tunes like “This is All We’ve Got” and “Hanging Onto Every Heartbeat” don’t fare as well for Cut Copy, though it is nice to hear the maelstrom of guitar noise in the former and the XX-styled minimalism of the latter. “Heartbeat” even includes some lightly strummed acoustic guitar – an instrument not often found amongst the scores of keyboards in the band’s arsenal.
Of its 11 tracks, Zonoscope has 4 that extend beyond the 5-minute mark. The closing cut, “Sun God,” is a quarter-hour jam in A/B/A format, with the midsection providing a celestial interlude to the two more swiftly-paced bookend dance-a-thons. The song nearly parallels what surely must’ve been designed to soundtrack a rave-like environment; it begins with an in progress groove, devolves into an icy and chilling come down, and then slowly dies down in a woozy haze with the decaying thrum of a synthesizer and kick drum.
There is no denying that Zonoscope is steeped in 1980’s synthpop, but Cut Copy has managed to avoid – unlike their New Wave Down Under predecessors Men at Work – any trace of kitsch or camp. Clocking in at just a shade over an hour, Zonoscope is – as its cover art of Manhattan being engulfed by a waterfall suggests – a very surreal leviathan, an object that surely mesmerizes as we all wait for the oncoming Armageddon.