First and foremost, Australian band Cut Copy are all about the dance floor. The numerous labels affixed to their sound, be it dance rock, dance pop, synth pop, electronica, etc., don’t matter so much as knowing that if you put on a Cut Copy record, there’s little chance you’ll be able to avoid moving at least one part of your body to the beat. But in addition to those intense grooves, they’re also extremely adept at crafting hooks that stick with you long after the music has stopped. Their last album, 2008’s “In Ghost Colours”, was plentiful in all those ways, and tracks like “Lights and Music” and “Hearts On Fire” were more than just great cuts to play in the club – they were anthems worth playing in some huge spaces. That record also had a very “night out” feel to it, perfect to play when the neon lights were aglow and you’re cruising the city in a flashy suit or sparkly dress. The band is back at it again this week with their third full length “Zonoscope”, and it’s a lighter, brighter affair that scales back the massive choruses just a little in an effort to produce something a little more intelligent and cohesive than what they’ve done before.
“Zonoscope” opens with the uplifting “Need You Now”, a 6+ minute track that starts with a relatively basic beat and builds to an explosion of light and energy that’s just plain thrilling. There’s a distinct 80s pop vibe to “Take Me Over”, and it’s no wonder considering that much of the melody is just a dressed up dance version of Fleetwood Mac’s “Everywhere” with new lyrics. Cut Copy make it their own, though it does have what feels like a Blondie vibe too (think “Heart of Glass”). And in what becomes a running theme through the course of the record, “Take Me Over” transitions flawlessly into first single “Where I’m Going” without looking back. Thanks largely to the backing vocals and a little bit of a psychedelic edge, “Where I’m Going” comes across like a beat-heavy Beach Boys classic. The track has such a sunny disposition to it, with the energetic shouts of “Yeah!” during the insanely catchy chorus, that you’ll fall in love with it almost immediately. Altogether it makes for one of the best songs of a young 2011, and at this point in time it’s difficult to think of how much else could surpass its brilliance.
The way the keyboards and splashes of cowbell are used on “Pharaohs and Pyramids”, along with the eventual wind-up and breakdown in the final 1:45 of the song, there’s something about the track that transports you to a classic club setting. It feels like something a band like Delorean would put out, though three things actually push this song to an entirely higher level. First is the beginning of the track, which holds a Talking Heads-ish stature before the chorus strikes the first time. Second is the end of the track, which courtesy of some carefully placed bass guitar brings to mind New Order in the best possible ways. And thirdly, Dan Whitford’s vocals convey just the right emotions compared to the tempo and overall arrangement. If a record like this could actually get away with going a bit sentimental, this is the closest Cut Copy get and it works beautifully. Not just because of the title, “Blink and You’ll Miss A Revolution” owes some contemporary debts to LCD Soundsystem and !!!, as both bands have similar markers that are on display in the track. The bits of xylophone and violin are nice Cut Copy touches though, bringing just a little extra wink and a smile to the party.
Guitars begin to factor in much more heavily on the second half of the album. “This Is All We’ve Got” brings in some almost shoegaze-inspired hazy electrics amidst the twinkling electronics for what ultimately becomes a very lovely ballad. That leads to a silky smooth transition into “Alisa”, which is by far the most guitar-centric song on the entire record. At its core the song is reminiscent of Echo and the Bunnymen mixed with David Bowie and My Bloody Valentine. It’s still very pop-driven and danceable, but darker and again with the shoegaze edge. Acoustic guitars show up for a bit on the ballad “Hanging Onto Every Heartbeat”, blending pretty effortlessly with the spacier electro bits and synths. For some reason the band Yes comes to mind whenever I hear that song, and the comparison may very well be justified in this case. “Zonoscope” ends on a pretty wild note, with the 15+ minute “Sun God”. The track is essentially a showcase for everything they’ve done on the album up until that point, moving from a slightly uptempo pop song into a blissed out instrumental. The good news is that there’s very few dead spots across that 15 minute runtime. The bad news is that there’s very little justification for why the song exists in the first place as it primarily feels like an extended club remix of a normal Cut Copy song. Given what you’ve been listening to for the previous 45 minutes, such a thing can’t be considered bad, just a little underwhelming considering what came before it.
This is not the best time of year to be releasing a dance album, but that’s probably only relevant if you live in a place where the weather gets cold and snowy in February. Of course it’s always hot inside dance clubs no matter where you are, with crowds of sweaty bodies rubbing up against one another. “Zonoscope” is less of a club record than Cut Copy’s last one, but that doesn’t make it any less good. The more tempered approach taken by the band this time puts better overall composition on display, which in turn also does well in elevating moods. If you’re suffering from seasonal affective disorder and a daily dose of sunshine just isn’t doing the job, this album is like the audio version of that. Even once the weather improves and you’re outside in some blistering heat, you’ll still feel motivated to dance if you turn this record on. What Cut Copy lacks in the emotional connection that LCD Soundsystem does so well, they more than make up for with dynamic pop hooks and flawless transitions that work so well portions of the album feel like one long slice of beat-infused bliss. If you can appreciate such things, “Zonoscope” will likely be one of your favorite albums of 2011. So far, it’s most definitely one of mine.