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Friday, February 4, 2011

Cut Copy: Zonoscope (Release Date: 2-8-2011)

        That I can think of, pop-music knows no description that is more two-sided than, 'catchy.' It's not like anyone can just step up to the plate and make something that sticks: there's a definite level of craft there that's pretty undeniable. But like other similarly loaded words like, 'interesting,' or, 'intense,' calling something catchy certainly describes a powerful quality, but not necessarily a likable one. The fact that Who Let the Dogs Out? and The Macarena are songs that none of us will ever in our lives forget does not quite make them regulars in our ipod rotations. Similarly, the fact that Cut Copy's latest, Zonoscope, is catchy is irrefutable. Just how pleasurable it is to have it swim around in your head all day is something I'm still trying to decide.

        The album kicks off with Need You Now, possibly its most immediate moment. It's a song that swells and sinks over and over again, cymbal crashes and pulsating rhythm lush and ready for the dance floor, Dan Whitford's chorus wailings ripe with sing-a-long potential. On more than one occasion, I've found myself playing it over again in my head all the way through the following track, the comparatively underwhelming Take Me Over. This style of trace-inducing, beat-driven sound is something that occupies the majority of the album, Pharaohs & Pyramids proving just as groovy, the Marimba aided Blink and You'll Miss a Revolution losing no steam, either. But disco is not all that Zonoscope has to offer, as Beach Boys riff Where I'm Going and the echoing retro of This is All We've Got can readily attest. All of Zonoscope seems to take place within the same soundscape, but it's interesting to see the variety of sounds the band can create within its musical confines.

        As with most albums that seemingly spin on repeat in your head, Zonoscope has a tendency to let its songs run a little long. The most obvious example of this is closer Sun God, which sticks around for just over fifteen minutes, the first few anchored by lyrics before the tune morphs into endless instrumental reiterations of the same theme. It's not a bad listen, but it slips into background music in a way that I have to imagine was unintended. Other than that, the other ten tracks are all about four to five minutes long, a seemingly tidy length that sounds expensive due to the band's apparent disinterest in mid-song change-ups. This lack of risks leads to fewer face-plants, but also fewer triumphs. What simply must be noted about Zonoscope, however, is that its almost always a pleasant listen,  Hanging on to Every Heartbeat being the only song likely to regularly move thumbs to the skip button.

        To me, Zonoscope sounds like the love-child of Hot Chip's One Life Stand and Caribou's Andorra, and you've got to think that there are a lot uglier children out there. I anticipate it being regularly compared to Hot Chip's latest, and it's easy to see why: not only does Cut Copy's album stake out a lot of the same sonic territory, but it also straddles the line between genuine sentiment and over-earnestness in the very same fashion. There's always the risk of coming off as cheesy whenever you dredge up sounds from the past, a rule that seems to double on itself where disco is involved. For this reason, I'm not so sure that I would play Zonoscope in front of people I was trying to impress, but I would be lying to you if I claimed to have never whispered Whitford's lyrics to myself under my breath. For those more interested in the genre, there's certainly plenty to like here, but for me, Zonoscope stands as a light form of guilty pleasure listening: neither as guilty as some of its gooier counterparts, nor as pleasurable as the zany musical risks that those same bands sometimes commit.

Grade: C+

Next Week at Hype Starts Here:
Monday, February 7th: Bright Eyes' The People's Key Album Review
Wednesday, February 9th: Mogwai's Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will Album Review
Friday, February 11th: Toro y Moi's Underneath the Pine Album Review

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