Australian Synth Swampdwellers, Cut Copy, Clear Dance Floor with Messy Zonoscope

Jamie Helmsworth

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For those unfamiliar with Australian cultural trends, let me bring you up to speed: They like to party. Remember the viral video of the kid with “famous sunglasses” who threw a house party that turned into a riot while his parents were gone? He’s Australian. Do you know where will.i.am discovered the electro-for-dummies sound the Black Eyed Peas have stuck to since TheE.N.D.? Yes, the famed land of kangaroos and wallabies. Yet oddly enough, the continent’s love of partying has not directly translated into pop-music greatness. Sure, they’ve presented us with the gifts of AC/DC and Nick Cave, but INXS, Jet and Wolfmother were also spawned in Sydney’s cesspools.

Fortunately, Cut Copy falls into the former category, meaning they’re pretty good. The band first emerged in the early 2000s, when the pop culture Illuminati decided that dancing and the 1980s were super-cool again. In the wake of this decision, two distinct types of bands formed: the staccato-guitar, hi-hat heavy band (Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party, etc.) and the more synth-centric, dance-oriented band (CSS, LCD Soundsystem). Cut Copy — like its English colleagues Hot Chip — is somewhere in between. While certainly dance-oriented, the band also uses guitars and sweeping hooks.

Cut Copy’s 2004 debut, Bright Like Neon Love, featured wiggly synths, funky beats and lead singer/songwriter Dan Whitford’s low, montone voice. Yet the band truly hit its stride on its second album, In Ghost Colours, which yielded such anthems as “Hearts on Fire,” “Lights and Music” and “Nobody Lost, Nobody Found.” Here, the tracks flowed together via mists of ethereal voices and synth drones. Whitford’s roller coaster-like drops stripped the beat down and brought it back in just the right places, making for stimulating listening and great dancing.

Sadly, Cut Copy’s newest release, Zonoscope, fails to match the grandeur of In Ghost Colors, or evenBright Like Neon Love. Instead of adjusting the beat throughout songs, Whitford creates a boring mess of synthesizers by heaping layers on top of each other. The track “Pharoahs & Pyramids,” for example, starts as a lean new romantic tune, but quickly devolves into of mess of noise and handclaps.

With Zonoscope, Whitford relies on his old tricks. The fades between songs on In Ghost Colourswere interesting then, but on Zonoscope, they go on for far too long, and sound too similar to prior albums. On previous efforts, guitar leads sliced through the synth-mix like razors, heading straight for your ear. Yet on the new album, the guitars are more of an afterthought, playing boring rhythms now and again.

However, Zonoscope isn’t all bad: “Strange Nostalgia for the Future” is a two-minute sound experiment featuring cooing voices, some unidentifiable instrument and piano. “Corner of the Sky” is also a standout, pairing possibly African drumming with some serious Gary Numan vibes, and “Alisa” is a catchy song punctuated with drilling synths panning back and forth.

Zonoscope’s tragic flaw, like most bad dance music, lies in its rhythm. The tempos on Cut Copy’s newest album are markedly slower than those on older tracks; The rhythms are very straight and the percussion is surprisingly low in the mix for a dance album.

Experimentation in music leads to beautiful things — The Beatles wouldn’t be the most popular band of all time if they stuck to their early sound. Yet in its effort to branch out, Cut Copy stretchedZonoscope a little too thin. A bit less ethereality and a dash more punch would do the band favors on future efforts. After all, the members are Aussies; They owe it to their country to party.

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