Friday, February 18, 2011
Cut Copy - Zonoscope
Speaking from grossly limited experience as a music writer (read: unemployed blogger), it can be difficult to review a band that you know nothing about. This is true of music from all genres, but the effect seems amplified when writing about indie, partly due to the massive influx in popular artists from the genre in recent years. As quickly as the scene grows, so does the range of sounds encompassed under the descriptor, often resulting in combinations of influence that are simultaneously derivative and entirely inventive.
This phenomenon is most recently embodied in Zonoscope, the latest album from Australian indie outfit Cut Copy. In some ways, Cut Copy have here chosen to stick with their guns, following the sonic tropes of their obvious influences. Singer Dan Whitford prominently echoes Joy Division and other early electronic artists, even as far up to the present as LCD Soundsystem. The similarities can be difficult to ignore. Whitford sings with the same wistful tenor as many of his predecessors, but with none of the prerequisite angst and teenaged frustration that characterized so many early electro-pop artists.
It’s a marked similarity, but the resemblances more or less end there. Behind Zonoscope’s vocals lie such a vast array of sonic devices that you can’t help but feel that you’re hearing something entirely new. In “Take Me Over,” Cut Copy provide a lush arrangement of echoing percussion, prominent guitars, and electronic backdrops, all set around one of the best grooves to come out of the scene in recent memory. Next, the pounding drums of “Where I’m Going” lay out the frame for Whitford to do some of his most creative vocal work. He hits his stride here, harmonizing an excellent chorus melody that numbers among the best moments on the album.
That chorus also represents all that is best about the album. Each tune resounds with an enthusiasm for creation that is rare in all forms of music. Track for track, this might be one of the happier albums you’ll hear in months. The songs are almost uniformly upbeat, but in a way that never feels cheesy or less than genuine. For example, “Alisa” is really not much more than a good love song, but it is composed with such clarity and sung with such stylish grace that it becomes something more. The album does occasionally fall too far into its own patterns, as is the case with “Hanging Onto Every Heartbeat.” The track thumps along on the album’s most patient groove, relying on shimmering electronics and strummed acoustic guitars rather than huge dynamic bursts and polyrhythmic explorations. It’s not so much bad as uninteresting, given the immensely animated sound of the album as a whole. It’s a rare miss for an album that is otherwise entirely in charge of its own direction.
Speaking of structure, it’s impossible to talk about Zonoscope without mentioning its closer, the 15-minute electronic excursion that is “Sun God.” Lyrically, the song is nothing spectacular, but the sheer audacity of ending a pop album with a song over ten minutes long should not be ignored. “Sun God” is a trek through the best of Cut Copy’s electronic abilities, an entrancing showcase of pop sensibility and inventive instrumentation. It’s as effective a closer as it is a standalone work, a feat that is admirable in itself, and a testament to this band’s willingness to follow their creative urges. Ultimately, it is the album’s ending that provides its most resounding endorsement: when “Sun God” finally drew to a close my first time through, I just wanted it to keep going. It’s tough to get much better praise than that.