Posted by: Jeff | January 21, 2011

Album Review: Cut Copy – Zonoscope

In 1982, Brian Eno sat down for an interview and described the genesis of a trio of albums – Music for Films (1976), Music for Airports (1978), and On Land (1982) – that used ambient noise and delicate piano to create atmospheric emotion and mood.   According to Eno, they “arise from a mixture of nostalgia and hope, and from a desire to make a quiet place for myself. They evoke in me a sense of ‘what could have been’ and hence generate a nostalgia for the future.”

It’s a neat turn of phrase to encapsulate the work of the man who would introduce sonic landscapes to contemporary music, infusing rock and pop with enveloping tones of ambience or dissonance.  Through his own productions and work with David Bowie, Devo, U2, Depeche Mode, and the New Wave movement, Eno left a large mark on the development of pop music that continues to influence a wide range of bands today, from Coldplay to electronic acts like Cut Copy.

Though much of the music on Cut Copy’s forthcoming LP, Zonoscope (release date Feb. 8, 2011), bears little resemblance to Music for Airports, the sonic texturing and atmospherics – especially on the frequent interlude and outro tracks, including the aptly-titled “Strange Nostalgia for the Future” – clearly stems from the pioneering work of Eno.  In fact, Cut Copy’s influences weigh heavily on this record, and frontman Dan Whitford easily identifies them:

I was obsessed with Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk while working on this record– a lot of the Lindsey Buckingham tracks have a proto-80s African feel. Also Talking Heads, Slave to the Rhythm by Grace Jones, and Malcolm McLaren’s Duck Rock album. And a lot of acid house era, post-rave indie music like Happy Mondays and Primal Scream.

Pitchfork: Are there any other new things you guys are trying on the album?

DW: Yeah, we had this idea of getting a choir and some strings to add an extra dimension to some songs. I listen to a lot of David Bowie and I really love his Young Americans record where got all these soul singers to do backing vocals. If we’re talking Bowie albums, the production and general sound of this new record is probably closer to Low or “Heroes” [Ed. Note: both produced by Eno], but Young Americans was my reference for the vocal sound in particular.

These and other influences shine through vividly throughout the hour-long album.  The vocal harmonizations of lead single “Where I’m Going” is indeed reminiscent of “Tusk”, while “Take Me Over” sounds ripped straight from the middle of a Talking Heads greatest hits compilation.

Cut Copy faced a great deal of potential pitfalls with this album – an absolutely stellar breakout album (2008’s In Ghost Colours) is a tough act to follow, and openly nodding to influences can cheapen a new release by opening it to accusations of copy-catting or redundancy.  But Cut Copy navigate the terrain of a follow-up LP masterfully, wearing influences on the sleeve but transforming them into something entirely their own.  And though the ghost of the spectacular In Ghost Colours certainly lingers, the new album manages to turn in an entirely new direction while never losing sight of what made the first album so great – introspective dance music with funky grooves and vivid atmospherics.

Leading with “Need You Now”, Whitford and company open with their greatest single song yet.  Having largely abandoned traditional pop song structures in favor of more open-ended dance tracks on this album, Cut Copy expand their sound on “Need You Now”, slowly building into a hushed verse that leads to a transformation in tonality and atmosphere.  In Ghost Colours was known for hooks and choruses, but the exaltation of “Need You Now” surpasses anything they’ve previously written, making the six minute burner pass seamlessly.  This is a truly epic track, and one that could distinguish Cut Copy’s career for some time to come.  I can’t wait to hear it on a soundsystem when they come into town this March.

One area of deficiency on the new album is perhaps the transitioning from song to song.  On In Ghost Colours, each song bled seamlessly into the next, creating a unitary listening experience that made the album feel a cohesive whole.  In fact, even after dozens of listens, it can be difficult to point to any part of the album that stands out from the rest.  On Zonoscope, Cut Copy make an attempt to offer such seamless seguing, but the range in styles feels more disorienting here.  Case in point is the first three tracks – where Cut Copy aimed for a magnus opus of continuous mix through the first six tracks of their first LP, they instead offer three disjointed styles to start Zonoscope.  Though each of these tracks is great in its own right, the feeling and mood is not very cohesive.

Navigating from a progressive dance track that could feel at home on dancefloor mavens Way Out West’s latest record to songs that hearken back to 1970s Talking Heads and Fleetwood Mac is a testament to the dexterity of the band, and it works.  But it does feel as if Whitford and his mates had too many great ideas for one coherent album.

If there is one over-arching theme, however, it may be stated most explicitly on “Pharaohs & Pyramids”, a funky pulsing track with simulated steel drums over which Whitford howls “loudspeaker sound, white disco lights.”  This is at heart a party record, with feel-good tracks and epic buildups and release that will absolutely kill in live shows worldwide.  It’s a record to be played loudly, sung at full volume, and exalted.  Though the end of the album meanders a bit – most noticeably on the 15-minute long “Sun God”, Cut Copy are having fun here, a stark contrast from the danceable but ultimately moody debut album which offered as much fodder for introspection as the latest album from brood-rockers The National.

Cut Copy swung for the fences and hit a solid triple – it isn’t the iconic album that their last was, but it is filled with fun moments, tips of the hat to influences spanning decades, and music that sounds great on the dancefloor or on the road.  Given the height of expectations for a follow-up, it’s a smashing success, and an album that deserves to be played over and over again – especially the brilliant first track.

Cut Copy – “Need You Now”

Cut Copy – “Take Me Over”

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Responses

  1. Cut Copy’s debut LP was 2004’s Bright Like Neon Love. It was decent, but nothing like these last two.

  2. This review is well-written, but you must note that 2008’s In Ghost Colours is NOT Cut Copy’s debut. But 2004’s Bright Like Neon Love is…

  3. Noted, and fixed. Not sure why I would make such a mistake seeing as I actually have that album and just totally forgot about it. Thanks for reading!

  4. […] my other favorite band from 2008. Cut Copy has a single out from its upcoming new album Zonoscope as well. Nice clubby track… a Deadmau5-like buildup, and then something like between U2 and […]


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