February 3, 2011

Aaron Frank is more of a rotoscope man.

For any relatively discerning critic or fan, the follow-up to Cut Copy’s stellar 2008 release In Ghost Colours isn’t a flop by any stretch. In fact, Zonoscope affirms the band’s consistency as one of the best new wave-inspired rock groups, and will likely be another selling point for casual fans who jumped on board with their last album. What it will leave die-hard fans and critics with is a sense of rushed incompleteness and some unanswered questions towards their arc of creative expansion.

With In Ghost Colours, Cut Copy achieved the pretty difficult feat of releasing an album that received praise from curmudgeonly indie critics, while still allowing them to gain a set of younger fans along the way. Their debut, Bright Like Neon Love, hinged on spacier, experimental territory, but on its follow-up, they managed to balance those influences with an affinity for new wave and vintage pop. Upbeat dance tracks and moodier ballads were spliced between colorful, ambient interludes, impressing a range of emotions on the listener while still giving them room to absorb the headier tracks. Even the ends of songs like “Out There On The Ice” and “So Haunted” gave you a feeling you were being led to something bigger.

Nary a second on In Ghost Colours wasn’t directed towards tying everything together to a larger conceptual purpose. Which is why it comes as a surprise that its successor, Zonoscope, feels so sparse and unimaginative. “Need You Now” and “Pharoahs and Pyramids” are two of the few songs on the album that manage to genuinely encapsulate the band’s various influences into something original. The former being the only one that successfully combines the build and explosiveness of a dance song with Cut Copy’s pop sensibility. Oddly enough, the 15 minute track that’s supposed to mimic the climax and release of a dance song falls flat with its incessantly corny lyrics and derivative bassline. Singer Dan Whitford doesn’t even sound excited about singing his own lyrics (“You’ve got to live. You’ve got to die. So what’s the purpose of you and I?”), and rightfully so. He just sounds jet-lagged and uninspired, which two years of nonstop touring can do to any good musician.

Cut Copy is known for their danceability not their depth. But here, they don’t even make the pretense at introspection or anything remotely emotionally resonant —  the way they did so successfully with “So Haunted” and “Strangers In The Wind.” It’s impossible to deny the feel-good pop of the first four songs on Zonoscope, even “Take Me Over”, where the bassline is essentially a tongue-in-cheek tip of the hat to fellow Aussies, Men At Work. But beneath the surface, there just isn’t anything nearly as enjoyable as their previous efforts. Cut Copy seem so dominated by their need to incubate instant dance parties that their  experimental roots have been all but purged from their repertoire.

Longtime fans of bands like LCD Soundsystem and Hot Chip can see where bands of this particular genre can hit a creative ceiling when it comes to songwriting. What converted so many fans with In Ghost Colours was the near-perfect balance of feel-good dance songs and indie-rock anguish. That sense of despair is nowhere to be found on Zonoscope, which seems almost unsettling for a band only on their third record. It’s immediate that’s there’s less of a focus on traditional pop song structure and more consideration given to extended dance grooves. They’re still out there on the ice, but this time, it feels a little too thin.

MP3: Cut Copy-“Where I’m Going”

Cut Copy – “Take Me Over” (Radio Edit) Premiere by modularpeople

Stream: Cut Copy – Zonoscope

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