Cut Copy | Zonoscope (Modular)

Instead, what Zonoscope recalls most is the engrossing, expansive, longform progressive house and dance pop New Order and Pet Shop Boys ruled the world with in the late ’80s.

The new Cut Copy is markedly less pristine than breakthrough LP In Ghost Colours. It’s still a meticulously produced record, but it’s not nearly as blindingly glossy, not quite so nakedly aimed at car stereos and party speakers. The approach is more reminiscent of Hot Chip’s electro-soul, taking synthetic sounds and giving them a slinky, fleshy pulse. It’s as if the band realized any attempt to either match or up the pop ante would result in apathy, or worse, backlash. Instead, what Zonoscope recalls most is the engrossing, expansive, longform progressive house and dance pop New Order and Pet Shop Boys ruled the world with in the late ’80s. You hear this straight away in the dramatically slow-building (and madly anthemic) opener "Need You Now,” which thunders with the complex heartbeat of Introspective and Substance 1987. It conveys the completely pleasant thought that this is going to be an album where all the originals come off as 12" remixes.
While it doesn’t quite hit that mark, a tinkering spirit weaves throughout the disc’s hour runtime. "Where I’m Going" merges a late ’60s folk-psych acoustic guitar shuffle with fat, burbling Who’s Next primitive synth sounds. The spirit of oddball rhythmic pop gets into many a crevasse—Oingo Boingo’s skewed thump seeps into "Blink Or You’ll Miss A Revolution," which also boasts a short but hellacious chorus. Meanwhile, "Take Me Over" grabs the record’s most effortlessly catchy pop number and adds swirling, hypnotic synths, and, of all things, the offbeat percussion and bouncy, coastal pop-rock of fellow Aussies Men At Work. Meanwhile, "Pharaohs & Pyramids" resounds with the echo of a cavernous dance club with a really killer sound system, begging you to move your feet while making your head ponder its multiple twists and turns. It even throws in a short bit of Peter Hook bass for good measure. It’s a canny mix of irresistible melody and mysterious aura, like a bright pop art version of that eyeball-pyramid on the back of a dollar bill.
Cut Copy certainly hasn’t abandoned the more straightforward electropop they built their kingdom on; they gravitate back towards it in the album’s second half. But that’s not a knock—even the more basic of Zonoscope‘s songs are far richer than their ancestors. "This Is All We’ve Got" dials down the hyperactivity and throws in a Phil Spector stomp, making it refreshingly different as well as an instant single. "Alisa" is similarly broad, but feels organic, and stands out by using a phased, howling guitar line to great effect.
The elephant in the room is the 15-minute finale "Sun God." The first five minute chunk rocks an insistent, trancelike pulse, incorporating shades of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s cod tribal rhythms, before morphing into a series of ambient sections, underpinned with ebbing and flowing beats, like something that wouldn’t be out of place on an Orb or Future Sound of London album. The successful execution justifies the ambition and length; it’s a fitting, impressive complement to the album’s mini-epic first track.
This is a record that could have easily turned out a mess, drowning in unfocused pretension. That it doesn’t is a testament to Cut Copy’s skill at deftly merging pop hooks. Cut Copy proves a desire to stretch its sound, and a nonspecific yet intriguing sense of mysticism. Zonoscope appeals equally to the feet and the brain—and that’s no mean feat. A- | Mike Rengel
RIYL: top shelf electropop; the envelope-pushing extended arrangements of late ‘80s New Order and Pet Shop Boys; dorm hallway bull session debates on the significance of occult symbolism

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