“Zonoscope,” the third release by Australian indie-disco pioneers Cut Copy, has one of those delightful album covers that perfectly conveys the album’s aesthetic—in this case, an enormous waterfall washing impossibly over New York City. The album is an indie-rock-tinged synth-pop album on an epic scale—a rare product in a genre whose appeal is largely based in pure danceability—and inevitably, its hugeness does seem campy at times. However, Cut Copy ultimately—and miraculously—keep their ambitious production aloft through unwaveringly strong musicianship and unabashedly expansive takes on traditional pop themes.
Core elements of Cut Copy’s style flow faithfully through the album, rooting it in the synth-pop genre. A thumping dance-floor beat stands at each song’s center, around which the band shapes its lush synthesizer rhythms. Dan Whitford’s clean, emotional vocal hooks float imperturbably above the rich instrumentals. A bright ‘80s sheen emanates from the smooth electronic pulse of most tracks. Songs like “Take Me Over” and “Pharaohs & Pyramids” make it clear that, despite the album’s adventurously dense production, the band has disco in their veins.
Cut Copy do not forget their winning pop sensibility either—while the album lacks a catchy breakout hit, the band generates every verse, chorus, and synth riff with a natural sense of brilliantly simple hooks and vocal melodies. Almost every song adheres to a standard verse-chorus structure, building tension with catchy verses then launching into anthemic choruses.
The musical and structural influences of synth-pop are consistent through the album. But “Zonoscope” is ultimately defined by its extraordinary diversity. Over the framework of their genre mastery, Cut Copy grab freely from a vast spread of musical traditions—the echoing, passionately swelling vocals and low bass pulse on “Need You Now” channel U2 via Yeasayer; “Blink and You’ll Miss A Revolution” crosses synth-punk bass with blissful, tribal percussion lines and an ethereal chorus. Each song transcends its synth-pop genealogy in a different way, and the resulting collection is of a grand scale—the songs all have their own energy and aesthetic, yet they feel like parts of a coherent whole.
Cut Copy manipulate these many elements with extraordinary deftness, capably pulling together their arsenal of musical and production components into charged mélanges. Their technique is one of continual rejuvenation, and of endlessly fusing new components onto the synth-pop cores of their tracks. They do so elegantly and precisely—never do the tracks seem chaotic or bombastic; rather, they simply remain engagingly full-bodied, and never lose their focus or their appeal.
More impressively though, Cut Copy have constructed compositions that are naturally dynamic enough to support longer, more ambitious tracks. Further evoking “Joshua Tree”-era U2, “Need You Now” moves from its simple, rolling groove into a powerful symphony of interlocking synthesizer swirls as Whitford’s lovesick vocals build in desperation. This dynamism is not just limited to crescendos—“Pharaohs & Pyramids,” indie-psychedelic thumper “This Is All We’ve Got,” and sun-drenched anthem “Where I’m Going” reign their thunderous grooves back into long, captivating builds before returning for gargantuan finishes.
In isolation, Cut Copy’s lyrical focus on vapid pop themes would be unremarkable, but just as the music elevates synth-pop basics into lavish pieces, the lyrics coat their airheaded themes in a varnish of campy grandeur. “Blink And You’ll Miss A Revolution” and “Alisa” among others, cast hackneyed formulae of love troubles and escaping society onto great cosmic canvases, indulging in lyrics such as “Baby, baby, can’t you see / We’re on a path to eternity” and “10,000 years I’ve traveled / And many hearts unraveled.” These lyrics are shamelessly vacuous, but their dressing of simple themes in absurdly grandiose language ends up perfectly reinforcing the album’s titanic aesthetic.
Ultimately, the entire album’s structure is modeled in miniature by its 15-minute culminating song, “Sun God.” As the track shifts from elegantly brooding to indignantly anthemic and then ominously freeform, it keeps its ambitious scale focused through fluid, varied composition.
“Zonoscope” ends up a less accessible album than most in its genre— it requires a time commitment, and its schizophrenic variety can make for a demanding listen. However, for all of its stretched limits and diverse grandeur, “Zonoscope” stands confidently at an artistic height few synth-pop bands have reached.
—Staff writer Austin Siegemund-Broka can be reached at email@example.com.