The album art for Cut Copy’s Zonoscope features an image by the deceased Japanese artist Tsunehisa Kimura that can either be read as a merging of the manmade and the natural (Manhattan-meets-Niagara) or as a large-scale natural disaster destroying New York City in one swift movement. Either way, it is eye-catching and suggests that the Melbourne electropop outfit are bringing forth a muscular effort on their latest album. It is not only Kimura’s image that suggests that Cut Copy is a serious band with big dreams. They recently turned down an offer to support Lady Gaga on tour, an experience that would have guaranteed for them a staggering amount of exposure and popularity, but would also forever bind their legacy to our time’s most famous commercial pop star. Cut Copy’s refusal of the offer seemed to indicate that they are either not interested in being that kind of commercial band or they don’t want to be an opening act anymore–or both.
Cut Copy’s first album, 2004’s Bright Like Neon Love, set the tone for their career, even though they have departed from its simple, sugary pop sound. 2008’s In Ghost Colours brought forth a sound that was both more complex and more refined than that on Bright Like Neon Love, though this may have come as a shock to their earliest fans who prized the minimalism. Just listen to the lyrics and you’ll see what I mean. The songs on Bright Like Neon Love are simple and repetitive (though not thoughtless, as the repetition often helps to reinforce the meaning of the words, which dwell on the sense of stagnation that can come with love). The songs on In Ghost Colours are also largely about the emotions that one must endure for love, but the Kraftwerk-like repetition is traded in for a more varied song construction. The same can be said of the instrumentals: although they hadn’t completely abandoned the electronic keyboard, it was no longer the main feature and instead had equal emphasis as the guitar, bass and drums.
With such a sweeping overhaul of their sound in favor of sophistication, it was hard to know what to expect from Zonoscope and, indeed, the step from In Ghost Colours to Zonoscope is not as big the previous one. However, this proves to be no less important. Cut Copy seems to be settling into its identity as a rock band, which was really not so clear from the start. Zonoscope displays an increasing reference to the classic pop rock of bands like the Beatles and the Beach Boys. This is perhaps best exemplified by the track “Where I’m Going” (one of the best on the album) that features a lot of “oohs” and “yeahs” and optimistic lyrics about the possibilities that are opened when you ask a lover to “take my hand.” The result is infectious escapism and it could hold up against the best pop rock songs of the mid-1960s.
The album is not without its flaws, with its greatest problems related to timing. Clocking in at just over one hour, the length of the album is symptomatic of their tendency to over-include material. “Take Me Over,” for instance, feels like it was left off of In Ghost Colours and could have been left out here too. During the second half of the album, the tracks alternate between the abstract (“This is All We’ve Got,” “Hanging Onto Every Heartbeat”) and the catchy (“Alisa,” “Corner of the Sky”). Although both styles are welcome, this particular construction compromises the album’s overall momentum. The final track, “Sun God,” is 15-minutes long and, though instrumentally impressive, includes some of the least convincing lyrics on the album. However, with Cut Copy’s use of interludes and overlapping songs, these problems are less obvious than they would be otherwise, as the album aims to suck you in and distract you from your sense of time. For much of the hour, it succeeds.
Zonoscope is a valiant effort from a band that is reaching maturity. Ten years of effort is paying off: Cut Copy is going nowhere but up and they don’t need anyone else to help them do it.
Article by Weston Clay