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Cut Copy “Zonoscope” Review

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While standing as a definite high point, Cut Copy‘s 2008 breakthrough In Ghost Colours was anything but the pinnacle of an overnight success for the Melbourne-based group. The album peaked on the Australian charts and was lifted to a respectable position on the Billboard 200, fueled in part by singles “Lights & Music” and “Hearts on Fire”; the latter eventually being honored as the seventh best track of the year by Pitchfork. By this time however it had already been over seven years since Cut Copy dropped its first EP: 2001′s I Thought of Numbers. Now nearly a decade after that initial release the band returns with their third full length, Zonoscope.

Mixed by Ben Allen (Deerhunter, Animal Collective, Gnarls Barkley), the hour-long collection shows a willingness to explore a global sound while remaining dedicated to the dance pop that has taken the group this far. Opener “Need You Now” leads the way with nearly a minute and a half of progressive electronics before the track subtly develops into a booming synth-pop piece. “Pharaohs & Pyramids” continues the electronic theme, bubbling with bouncing synth and airy stylized vocals before evolving further; the gap between the past and present sounds eventually narrows as the song builds to its energetic conclusion. Different approaches are then utilized in terms of the group’s electronic blending, “Strange Nostalgia for the Future,” for example, glimmers with sprinkled bursts of sound through its brief two minutes before bleeding seamlessly into the rhythmically heavy “This is All We’ve Got.” While it’s easy to get lost inside of the blissful maze of hazy synths, the track is one of a handful that really go to show how rhythmically strong Zonoscope is.

Early on in the release “Take Me Over” commits heavily to an animated bass line that overtakes a contagious guitar riff as the focal point of the track. From there the group further introduces a variety of instruments in the album’s most rewarding song, “Where I’m Going.” Again though, there’s an interesting tempo at work beneath the bouncing track, allowing the chanted chorus to pop as enthusiastically as it does. “Blink and You’ll Miss a Revolution” continues with the use of a bold bass line, this time offset by an interesting hollow wooden sounding percussion piece that lends the track its own unique sound.

An adventurous use of percussion only goes so far however, and the music does lose its momentum late in recording. Following the bass-heavy “Alisa,” “Hanging Onto Every Heartbeat” comes as close to a full-blown rock song—albeit synth rock—as the album might have while “Corner of the Sky” makes use of a downtempo pace that goes a long way in altering the emotional high that had previously been riding strong throughout Zonoscope. To follow these two distinct sounding tracks the band made a risky decision of closing out the album with the incredibly long “Sun God.” Running 15 minutes in length, the song transitions through a variety of individual stages, opening to the cry of “Please, please, please, please, please won’t you give your love to me,” before eventually reaching its James Murphy moment (lyrically, at least) as the vocals yield “You got to live, you got to die/So what’s the purpose of you and I?” From there, nearly half the track drifts away into instrumental and electronic bliss. It’s quite beautiful, really. Considering the feeling that is left once the album fades out however, one can’t help but add the qualifier: beautiful, yet inconsistent.

Zonoscope is however a complete recording: The album touches on many facets of electro-pop while continually kicking in unique diversions that lend nearly every track an identity of their own. There are just as many opportunities to score successful singles from the release’s strongest tracks (of which there are many to choose from), which will likely help it overshadow its predecessor commercially. And despite failing to find a groove in the late stages of the album, the band fails to sound indecisive throughout the tracks. It’s that very quality that gives Zonoscope the ability to weather the shakiness, and one that will likely help the band further spread their reach across the global musical landscape. Don’t be shocked if the overnight success label is tossed around once again; don’t be hesitant to lend the reminder that it has been a decade in the making, however.