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My musical ramblings – gig and album reviews, music news and views

Cut Copy: Zonoscope – album review

Cut Copy - Zonoscope

To last the distance, a serious relationship must be able to get past the heady early days, eventually giving way to affection and security. Cut Copy could easily have failed to translate the surge of dopamine-excitement they created with their first two albums into something more long-lasting. But in Zonoscope, they’ve managed to maintain flurries of stomach-turning moments with a developed sound that makes it feel like a natural progression.

The original Aussie trio of Dan Whitford, Tim Hoey and Mitchell Dean Scott have now been joined by bassist Ben Browning. And together, they’ve delved deeper, producing an album mixed by Ben Allen (Animal Collective, Deerhunter) that feels like calm after the rush of 2004’s Bright Like Neon Love, and the near-perfect In Ghost Colours of 2008.

A long build up on Need You Now piques curiosity for the new material, giving way to that familiar Australian vocal and altogether less familiar electro-minus-the-pop sound, prefixed by 80s tinges. Take Me Over’s calypso drums add percussion elements to the kind of Cut Copy sunshine dance that originally stole the heart, while its stories of love rely heavily on metaphor to ward off any triteness.

There’s a strong Beach Boys feel to Where I’m Going – from the cooing harmonies, to the off-beat drums and guitar rhythms. Psychedelic keyboards hark back to The Who, while the chorus, which at first feels a bit cringeworthy shouts, ‘Woah, yeah yeah yeah yeah!’. Any initial adverse reaction later settles upon imagining the response it would receive in a festival field.

Both Pharaohs and Pyramids and Blink and You’ll Miss the Revolution have a knack of smoothly soldering two tracks together. The former flutters in like The Orb’s Fluffy Little Clouds, yielding to Kraut-dance influences before a 90s keyboard loop bursts in halfway, sending unmistakable Cut Copy coursing through the veins with shades of melancholic New Order riffs. Breathy wooden notes and uncharacteristically low vocals punctuate the latter track’s suspense-coiled verses. In a Jekyl and Hyde twist, soaring keyboards and disco beats are reintroduced as Whitford declares, ‘Blink and you’ll miss the revolution’.

Unlike the frequent dreamy interludes of In Ghost Colours, the stark piano, dreamy ‘oohs’ and rewinding chimes of Strange Nostalgia for the Future make up the only instrumental segway track on the album. Escalating notes introduce This Is All We’ve Got, where Dovesy offbeat drums and electric guitar once again yield to quixotic reverb and see-sawing fairground notes. These blend into Alisa – a heavier, shoegazy track with a determined beat, served with Pink Flloyd experimental, ranging guitars that threaten to snap strings until the chorus releases the tension.

If unfamiliarity begins to reign severe towards the album’s end, Hanging onto Every Heartbeat’s fiddly chimes and twinkles reward loyalty by breaking midpoint, sending the track coursing through the ear drums. Corner of the Sky continues whetting the appetite for big beats and buzzing synth loops. Sun God satisfies, signalling Cut Copy’s bold intent as Zonoscope’s 15-minute curtain call. It drills ‘Are you gonna give me your love? Love won’t be enough’, into the subconscious over an insistent beat that batters you into submission with piques, builds, drops, and repeats.

This epic close is the emphatic full stop that should ward off any whispers suggesting the album is a disappointing come down from the heady, poppy positivity of In Ghost Colours. Those who fell for Cut Copy after Bright Like Neon Love will notice that – like all relationships that are built to last – the heady beginnings haven’t disappeared. They’ve just been blended with a new maturity and breadth of sound that’s taken them to new and better things.


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Flashman: To The Victor – The Spoils – album review

Flashman: To The Victor - The Spoils

The most successful stories are always ones that encourage the mind to imagine new worlds, illustrate tales and fill in blanks with personal interpretations.

Bearing that subjective visual imagery in mind, To The Victor – The Spoils, is Lemon Jelly frontman Fred Deakin, and The Beta Band’s Robin Jones’ musical story of a journey to banish a traitor. The six tracks make up a tuneful dual, but Flashman tell it through so many instruments and styles that it ranges from masterful to at times, a difficult listen.

Limited to 1,000 copies in either blue or red covers, the success of this album will depend on how successfully the tracks strike a chord with those that lay their hands on it.

Familiar Lemon Jelly-esque soft beats creep across The Proposition’s stark, mixed suspense-ridden dischords that speak of a beginning. Falling into shuffling drums and subtle ‘plink, plonks’, dense layers give it a scat-like structure that twists in different directions, punctuated by guest star, British-Canadian Wally Falkes’ jazz clarinet.

Deakin’s “jazz-folk-techno” description of Flashman fits well with Setting Forth, where a plucked bass bosses the frenzied tempo. Jazz pianist Brian Kellock’s guest piano dives in and out with Spanish fiesta notes, and there’s a brief pause to catch breath before the track takes the same course, only this time with a solitary pre-bull fight Latino trumpet.

Tight Spot merges a piano loop reminiscent of 90s dance with slow, bossa nova jazz beats. It’s mesmerising piano is the purposeful instrument, relaying with an ethereal hummed loop, harmonica, tabla drum, and clarinet.

Pitter-pattering rainfall pianos begin The Quisling – an odd, atmospheric track that wouldn’t sit uncomfortably backing a homes-abroad TV programme. Santana siren guitars weave with hold-music beats, but it’s the talents of Kellock stop this track fading away.

Guitars and a sung loop banish the doom-laden keyboards that introduce Redemption, and layers of instrumental repeat give the track richness and depth. It’s one of the few of the collection that could easily fall onto dancefloors from the hands of jazz-techno crossover DJs like Mr Scruff. The Flashman duo steady their listener using peaks and troughs, each time building the same insistent jazz beat from which the layers cascade gloriously.

Then, re-visiting a Lemon Jelly trademark, a breathy, see-sawing male vocal repeats track title, Heading Home. Backed by a slow, ranging piano, the pace slows after Redemption like an aerobic warm down to a sunrise soundtrack.  Soft violins contrast with ear piercing keyboard notes, and sentimental plucked guitar riffs speak of the melancholic reminiscing that people often do when thinking of places they used to live.

There’s no doubting this is a complex and at times, beautiful record – it’s hard not to be impressed by the myriad of layering. At times, it provokes emotions and imagination where other instrumental albums fail, but the jury’s still out on whether this group of individually brilliant musicians lives upto To The Victor – The Spoils’ original promise of a story. And that’s because it’s not quite cohesive enough to create a jass-folk-techno world you want to experience over and over again.

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