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

Cut Copy: HMV Forum – Sunday 6 March 2011

Cut Copy

If ever there was an ideal band to re-write the pop handbook so the genre could be cleansed and its image overhauled, Cut Copy would be the ones to commission.

The four knights in shining armour from Australia were on a rescue mission of sorts at London’s HMV Forum on Sunday 6 March, and succeeded in breathing life into an otherwise plastic, clichéd world of boy bands, poor Madonna and Kylie replicas and cringeworthy Euro cheese. Their brand of 80s-influenced synth pop unstuck the shoes of a somewhat static crowd, transforming the old theatre into a mass of flailing arms and happy faces.

Arriving to one of In Ghost Colours’ atmospheric interludes, Visions, the band appeared through an eight foot high panel with a door playfully projected onto the screen. Mirroring the album, they launched into Nobody Lost, Nobody Found, and in stark contrast, a Pretenders beat introduced Zonoscope’s Where I’m Going. This was neatly knitted into So Haunted, whose guitars hammered home the realisation that the band never really been solely about synths and beats, and its twinkling xylophone at the break also became a wake up call for the crowd’s dancing feet.

Flashing lights played with the techno beat and cowbell of Corner Of The Sky, whipping the atmosphere into a soft peak. But it was perhaps the most popular Cut Copy offering to date – Lights And Music – that ensued a frenzy to its immaculate sing-a-long-ability and perfect piques and troughs. Dan Whitford and Tim Hoey’s on-stage confidence visibly grew with the reaction to their pop chemistry.

After the blissed-out, beachy Take Me Over, comparisons between Pharaohs & Pyramids to The Orb’s Pink Fluffy Clouds became visual as well as audible, as clouds floated in and out against a bright blue sky on the screen behind the band, rather like a Chemical Brothers live performance.

Amongst the 12 tracks there was even slot for synth-saturated Saturdays, from Bright Like Neon Love, with its edgy 80s-come-funky-house feel. Nevertheless, it was Hearts On Fire’s deep bassline and pleading chorus that galvanised the band’s party atmosphere and prickled the hairs on the back of the neck. Its soulful saxophone was a deliciously impossible to refuse, textbook example of a hands-in-the-air moment.

A straw poll of the audience would have probably concluded that Sun God’s inclusion was a bit self-indulgent. Announcing, ‘this is probably a good time to take a toilet break’, the band’s 15 minutes of button pushing, freestyle percussion and woven synths – although delightfully anorak-ish and introspective – would have been better spent on three more tracks. It felt like finding out you’d missed out on a three-for-one deal after spending as much on buying the product on its own.

Aptly choosing to include Zonoscope’s Need You Now in the encore, the track was a new favourite with the well-versed crowd, who’d clearly had the new material on regular repeat since its release. Signing off with Out There On The Ice, the quartet were greeted with a chorus of, “Yes, no, maybe, is all I need to hear from you” – the backing ‘doo doos’ layered amongst other instruments to give the track a complexity that’s become so rare in pop, while the slow build up was dropped at just the right level of tension. Fundamentally though, this track is like a biopsy that shows the fundamental make up of Cut Copy.

In a nutshell, they make immaculate, un-soppy songs about love and life that are both complexly layered and structured, but sound simple at the same time. Live, you might have expected them to struggle to translate that magic, but instead, it feels like Cut Copy might be the new owners of the keys to electro pop perfection.

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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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Ruthsmanuvas: albums for 2011 vs 2010

Just over one week into the New Year and 2010 seems like ages ago. The thing is I’m still so attached to some of last year’s albums that the class of 2011 is going to have to produce some pretty special stuff to make the products of its musical blood, sweat and tears a permanent headphones fixture.

There were a few albums that got shoehorned into my top five list come December 31, niftily sidestepping competition from Frightened Rabbit’s Winter of Mixed Drinks, Errors’ Come Down With Me and Hot Chip’s One Life Stand.

5. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

This 16-song epic flew onto my iPod in August, finally hitting that sweet spot with songs full of charm and honesty that packed euphoric whirlwind violins and piano chords.

It was a watershed of sorts for many people’s love of the American seven piece who, in the past, had struggled to straddle the line between the thrill of the orchestral Funeral, and the seriousness and lyrical craft of Neon Bible.

4. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening

With an egocentric title of which you’d expect nothing less, LCD Soundsystem proclaimed this album in May as their self-indulgent last.

It’s not as instantly gratifying as Sound of Silver, but here, James Murphy and co definitely achieved their holy grail of balance between pretentiousness and perfectionism to create musical chemistry. From the stark opener, Dance Yrself Clean, that drops listeners off a spine-tingling bass cliff after three minutes, to the Bowie-esque All I Want and the sentimentality of Home that gives the band a softer edge, it’s a sublime album.

3. Caribou – Swim

Dan Snaith’s collection of intricately placed beats and stark lyrical proclamations made this record an unmissable, refreshing collection of dance tunes that completely challenged those flailing in its wake.

It’s almost obsessive compulsive in sound, and a total u-turn from the folky Andorra. It packs everything; from Odessa’s insistent beat that sounds as if it’s being played through a crackly stylus, Sun’s mesmerising repetitions and Mr Scruff jazz rhythms, to Bowls’ Tibetan percussion and mathematically timed chimes. Then there is Jamelia’s soulful loop and questions of ‘Am I good enough?’ that wrap this up into an album full of elegant musical nuances.

2. The National – High Violet

This one felt like a slow burner – so much so that it smouldered away in my music collection for a while before finally exploding into the consciousness in November.

Perhaps this, their fifth long-play album, mirrors the fact the band have been far from an overnight success. The truth is, High Violet is a masterful collection of melancholic writing. oozing with sorrow and beauty that sits just perfectly with Matt Berninger’s absolutely apt baritone singing voice. And in Bloodbuzz Ohio there might just be the lyric of the year with, “I still owe money, to the money, to the money I owe.” Just perfect.

1. Foals – Total Life Forever

The award for surprise of the year went to Foals in May, with a bolt out of the blue that delivered a mature, sensitive, yet wholly signature-sounding record.

It achieved the holy grail of completely bettering a debut whose math-rock rhythms and carnival quality felt so good it could’ve easily forced them to peak too soon. Some would argue TLF is a departure from the enigmatic, tautly plucked brilliance of Antidotes. In truth, they’ve still retained the percussion led breaks that burst midway tracks like sunlight through opening curtains, not to mention the rhythmic lyrics that double up as instruments in themselves. It’s just that this album also injects soaring, aching guitar riffs and pigeon-toed bashfulness that makes the listener feel they now begin to understand this Oxford quintet.

This all makes last year a tough act to follow – 2011 doesn’t whiff of box office big hitters. But over the next 12 months there are some albums I’ll be on the edge of my seat waiting to hear:

1. Cut Copy – Zonoscope

The long-awaited follow up to In Ghost Colours, Zonoscope is the Melbourne-based trio’s third album that’ll undoubtedly bless us with more sunshine-soaked disco electro pop.

It’s taken three years for this to drop, but if Take Me Over is anything to go by, we can expect healthy dollops of catchy synths, positivity-injected lyrics and more of the same ingredients that put the previous album near the top of record of the year lists last time.

2. Metronomy – The English Riviera

With an album title that either holds a slice of Devonshire coastline in basked glory or gentle mockery, this is another record that’s been a long time coming.

Nights Out was a further favourite offering from 2008 – it had charming dischords, 8-bit beats and riffs, and film set sound effects shoehorned into the fabric of its tracks. The album also boasted the instantly likeable Heartbeat and On Dancefloors that both felt like the soundtrack to a bad night out – or a broken heart. Oh how we wept and danced along with them.

3. The Avalanches – TBC

This album has been a year-on-year promise from a band that brought us Since I Left You over 10 years ago. But if the more convincing- of late – rumours are true, it makes them impossible to miss.

From an album that brought us that flute-led loop on Since I Met You, to the funk-beats of Radio – the band mixed sheer madness with sultry French Moulin Rouge, soul, jazz rhythms and more samples than you could shake a fist at. That is, all played through this scratchy filter that felt like you were sitting in a flat listening to the most brilliant house party though the walls.

4. The Joy Formidable – The Big Roar

Thankfully, there are now only a couple of weeks to go before the release of this album that A Balloon Called Moaning EP has whetted the appetite for.

With an epic maelstrom of indie rock and pint-sized Ritzy Bryan’s breathy and robust vocals, Wales and London-based trio, The Joy Formidable’s debut should match the swathe of expectation that has gathered around their music over the last 18 months. With tracks like Austere, Cradle, Whirring and The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade, their blistering paced drums and delicious wall of sound is unlikely to pass without impact.

5. Battles – TBC

Even the first listen to Battles’ Mirrored – the band’s first album proper – spoke of the madness within.

With an album cover comprising of instruments caged behind a glass box; it conjured images that this supergroup of four might just need to be reined in to maintain sanity. The tracks echoed that. It was post-punk, glam-rock, sci-fi computational circuit-boards, dance – and more that you can’t even describe because it’s simply in a category of its own. And that’s why I want more this year of whatever Battles were on in 2007…

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The Golden Filter: Voluspa – album review

The Golden Filter - Voluspa

There’s a lot to appreciate about this electronic-disco pairing from across the pond. The Golden Filter already has a strong word-of-mouth network of support from the blogosphere and is a big-hitting name on Hype Machine thanks to remixes of Cut Copy, Peter Bjorn & John and Empire of the Sun.

Thankfully the debut, Voluspa, has more of those mystic vocals and looping synthesizers from the remixes. New Yorkers, Penelope Trappes and Stephen Hindman, have already released three singles from the album; Solid Gold, whose pulsating beat deftly weaves a mythical tale of a journey through golden landscapes behind a dancefloor backdrop, the disco-happy Thunderbird and Hide Me – a track with popstrel echoes of Kylie at her best.

These aren’t the only tracks of note from the Aussie-American duo, who cleverly walk a tightrope of influences ranging from new wave 80s-synth, French-electro, pure pop and other-wordly Scandinavian folk sounds.

Dance Around The Fire’s quivering violins and ethereal vocals build in suspense to a pounding folktronica close, whilst the coquettish Look Me In The Eye and Moonlight Fantasy have all the staccato beats and imprints of Goldfrapp in Number One.

Trappes’ sentimental, half-whispered Australian accent is coupled with nostalgic memories on The Underdogs, as she muses, “Please don’t take this to the grave, we drift apart again.” Looping melody and bubbling beat layer over each other and swap roles on Frejya’s Ghost, fighting in your ear drum to be the most audible at the crescendo.

Despite the seductive whispering vocals and transfixing disco-electronica, there’s a nagging unoriginality that The Golden Filter never really manage to shake across the 11 tracks. In fairness, Voluspa has no stinkers and there is nothing on the album you would classify as padding.

The duo have self-produced a debut that is so full of identity and is so cohesive and measured that it ends up being a little too formulaic, so much so that on many occasions you just wish they’d have broken from the steady-synth beat and ‘lost it’ in giddy excitement. Similarities to other artists and restraint aside, it is an accomplished debut with musical dips and layers, hinting that The Golden Filter might just be exhilarating live.

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