The difference between an act like Cut Copy and, say, Chromeo, all comes down to intent. You can have fun with Chromeo and all their ’80s-indebted cheesiness but you can’t shake the feeling that they’re having a laugh. There’s no clear sense that they mean what they’re playing; it could just as easily be an elaborate hoax as it could be an honest continuation of a treasured era. But since their breakthrough release, In Ghost Colours, Cut Copy has sounded like a band that’s not just comfortable with who they are but in love with it.
Zonoscope finds the band continuing to embrace their particular skillset, which frontman Dan Whitford has described as “a lot of segues” that “just sort of flows together.” That statement makes Cut Copy’s specific brilliance seem flimsier than it really is and all you need for evidence is a cursory listen of their “pastichey-” to use Pitchfork’s parlance- debut and then the time to compare it to how they’ve since evolved.
You see, on their debut Cut Copy sounded like a band chasing a couple of different ideas of what was hot. Now, they sound like a band following dream logic, floating from feeling to feeling, the music an outward expression of the noises that come to them at night. There’s a patient tension that runs through the whole of Zonoscope, from “Need You Now” and its melodramatic plateaus to the hypnotic groove of epic closer “Sun God.”
Breaking down “Need You Now” is the simplest way of clarifying the Cut Copy template. It starts out simply, just texture and a bassy analog synth that remains static while the percussion slowly gets more complex. The vocals wait for the music to do a little fake-out before appearing, Whitford milking a cooing melody that he keeps carefully restrained until the final moments, when he really lays into the chorus.
It’s not that Cut Copy is sleepy or downtempo, it’s just that they know the power of the tease. On the more athletic moments, such as “Where I’m Going” and its glammy stomp, the band keeps the listener begging for more by dropping hooks almost cruelly- a hint of a group chorus here, Who-style synth arpeggio breakdown there, rolling drums that pop in and out throughout.
There are glimpses of other sounds appearing in the Cut Copy canon, too. “This is All We’ve Got” takes some excellent ingredients from the dream pop recipe, with its hazy production and reverberated analog drums, and mixes it with Cut Copy’s signature synth hooks. But it’s the traditional band sound that remains the most addictive element. There simply aren’t any other groups doing quite what they’re doing, quite so well. There’s something indescribable about the magic of a track like “Hanging Onto Every Heartbeat,” which takes elements of the rhythm guitar from Daft Punk’s “Digital Love” and merges it with an Air-like synth hook and comes up with someone new and alien, something altogether beautiful.
The ’80s elements give Cut Copy some unlikely peers and even allow them to hold court on the same dance floors but with Zonoscope, they’ve shown that there’s something more important going on. At the time of its release, In Ghost Colours looked like it could be a fluke, a brief example of a band who got lucky and had all the right planets align for them, a la the Rapture. Zonoscope is nothing short of total affirmation of the band’s value, proof positive that they’re not destined for the bargain bin any time soon.