Throughout the year, I said a few times that I was surprised at how much I was digging Zonoscope. Cut Copy does have a plastic ’80s synth pop sound at their core. I mean who doesn’t enjoy a little Toto every once in awhile, right? But a whole album? Cut Copy must be bringing something more to this somehow. I have been struggling to figure out and elucidate what that something is. So I am going to go at this in a different way: pretentiously live blog it as I listen, song-by-song.
1. “Need You Now” displays most of the aspects of Zonoscope that I like: swirling synthesizers, a throbbing pulse, the singer’s cool voice, a ton of sugary melodies, and lyrics that are either heartfelt love or deranged evil (“in the morning I come down / in the morning I break down / you’re never gonna get away / I need you now”).
2. “Take Me Over” feels more pop-oriented than “Need You Now,” simple and catchy. I like the simplicity. Cut Copy never feels like they over-do anything. It would be too easy to compare this to Duran Duran, with these synthesizers, the bongo-y rhythm, the almost-anthemic chorus (just the right sort of anthem).
3. “Where I’m Going” repeats the same theme as the first two songs. So far every song is directed at a savior of sorts, someone to show him the way (“I know we’re going crazy but I need you now” / “take me over, take me out to the jungle through the night” / “take my love if you know where I’m going”). Is that what a zonoscope does? Shows you the way? Rescues you? I have no idea if “zonoscope” is a real word.
4. “Pharaohs & Pyramids” builds up a bouncy synthesizer into a strange track. It’s strange in that it sounds like it should be dance-y, but takes awhile to get there. Walls and walls of synthesizers, despite the overdone ’80s referencing, when done right, is pretty cool. Maybe the ’80s were better than we think?
5. “Blink And You’ll Miss A Revolution,” like most songs on here, connects directly to the previous song through a little coda. Cut Copy took great care to blend everything, to make the album flow and feel a whole. Songs don’t exist on their own, they exist as part of Zonoscope. I love when albums do that. This song has a great bassline, though the idea of the song (dancing revolution) falls short for me. Still, Zonoscope is superb up to this point – nothing blindingly original, perhaps. But the familiar synth beats are twisted with something slightly psychedelic, which saves it greatly from being just a pure ’80s redux.
6. “Strange Nostalgia For The Future” is a trippy breather instrumental in the middle of the album.
7. After all the grooves up to this point, “This Is All We’ve Got” feels more tense, and a little darker, subtler. Not my favorite song on here, but nice to get that sort of contrast. Without it, I might start tiring of this album soon.
8. “Alisa” begins with a beat similar to “Blink,” but sped-up. Despite being so synth-heavy, songs like “Alisa” demonstrate that Cut Copy is not just some guy making songs on a computer (or, if they are, he does a good job infusing the feel of a live band into it).
9. “Hanging Onto Every Heartbeat” introduces some seduction into the album. Like the rest of the second half of the album, it is a little darker. I think that gets down to why I like this album so much. Sure, there’s the bright catchy synths all over the record, which is something I especially enjoy, but they’re balanced with the shadowy songs like this.
10. “Corner Of The Sky” starts to border on prog rock, as I think there are lyrics about cauldrons and comets and whatnot. Maybe that’s where their next album will go?
11. “Sun God” is a fifteen-minute epic album-closer (and one of the best songs of the year by anyone). If you recall, my last album review (Disappears’ Closer) also closed on a fifteen-minute epic. And despite the two groups having almost nothing at all in common, they actually do accomplish similar things. I guess that’s why they’re placed together on my list. But in the same way I found Disappears’ garage krautrock addicting, so too am I hooked on Cut Copy’s trippy ’80s synth beats. Hypnotic repetition is a key to both styles, when Cut Copy is at their best, it’s finding a groove or two and fitting them together so you just can’t get enough.
As usual, you can listen to my top albums on this Spotify playlist. Sorry, did not realize that Disappears’ wasn’t available — it’s hard for me to tell since it is on my computer, so I can hear it regardless.