Geography has a strange effect on the perception of music; you can’t help it. Here in Australia, Cut Copy are a huge pop band. Their first single, “Hearts on Fire”, has been blaring from every radio station for the past six months — it was voted in at number 39 on the country’s largest annual music poll, Triple J’s Hottest 100. And In Ghost Colours recently reached number one on the charts when it was released locally. The audience for the group in America and Europe, though, is less clear-cut. Over the past few years, Cut Copy had accumulated a bit of an Internet following from sporadic reprises of positive reaction to the 2004 debut Bright Like Neon Love, but in general has remained a presence most largely felt on music blogs or, occasionally, in forward-programming bars.
If anything’s going to change that, it should be In Ghost Colours. You can’t predict, say, MTV interest, but if we’re judging pop music on quality alone, Cut Copy would be justified in expecting a significant uptick in interest following the release of this sophomore LP. Tim Goldsworthy (from DFA Records) contributes a sure hand on co-production. As with Hercules & Love Affair, Goldsworthy proves invaluable as a facilitator of the band’s sound; unlike more sonically overbearing producers, Goldsworthy allows his bands’ innate characteristics to breathe without self-consciousness. In the case of Cut Copy, it’s the faultless combination of live instrumentation and electronic manipulation that makes the songs feel like both current rock and current electro at the same time.
Most of the time, you don’t notice the live drumming or the acoustic guitars (both prominent components of Cut Copy’s sound); you’re too busy luxuriating in the sunny, welcoming melodies and the bright sound. Not bright like neon love, but more like last summer’s evenings at the beach, the memory of great times slightly tarnished. This is reflected from the opening words of “Feel the Love”, as vocalist Dan Whitford sings, “All the girls I’ve known are crying,” but immediately follows with, “But all the clouds have silver linings.” So, things are looking up.
More or less from the first song, Cut Copy leads the listener on a bouncing tour of new wave/dance-rock goodness, referencing Joy Division and Madonna along the way. The group sustains the feel of a full album, as it did on Bright Like Neon Love, by engineering a number of short transitional compositions and occasionally revisiting earlier melodic formulae, which reinforces the sound and the feeling of nostalgic familiarity. Still, the variety of songs (and the fact that each is a compelling potential single) is impressive. “Lights and Music”, the first single, is a doozy: a sparkling disco gem, with bouncy synths buried deep enough in the shimmer, and vocals smoothed around the edges with the hint of an echo. The song sets off a string of upbeat, attractive tracks, from “Unforgettable Season”’s twisting psychedelic guitars through to “So Haunted”’s buzzing, unstoppable rock drums and harder rock edge. Even “Hearts on Fire” finds new life in a buoyant mix that emphasizes the track’s disco leanings.
In stark contrast to the latest material by rival Aussie electro duo the Presets, Cut Copy’s new songs feel relentlessly fresh, even when you’ve heard it many times. Their material takes that blog-house aesthetic and turns it into pieces of well-constructed pop. It never feels insincere. In fact, the atmosphere of the record is so wide-sky and positive that it brings to mind that particularly West Australian brand of nostalgic psych-pop (of bands like the Panics and Sleepy Jackson). But Cut Copy’s urban dreams are ever-present: their celebratory and lush songs work just as well in the nightclub as in the country.