Cut Copy: Zonoscope


RIYL: Talking Heads, OMD, Poi Dog Pondering

Hipster elitists would like to convince you otherwise, but pop is not a four-letter word. It’s short for popular, after all, and who doesn’t want to be popular? Hell, even hipsters want to be popular. How do you think they became hipsters in the first place? Because they were never popular.

Australia’s Cut Copy, on the other hand, has no such inhibitions about the notion of popularity, if their latest album Zonoscope is any indication. Rounded out to a quartet, the electropop band who started their career riffing on New Order and Daft Punk has opted for a sunnier – and a tad softer – approach this time around, toning down the guitars while unleashing sky-high synthesizer tracks. Singer Dan Whitford can do a mean impression of OMD’s Andy McCluskey when he feels like it, and in fact the album’s opener, “Need You Now,” bests anything from OMD’s recent reunion album History of Modern. The galloping “Where I’m Going” is flat-out irresistible, while “Pharaohs & Pyramids” has an explosive finale. Zonoscope sees the band stretching things out as well, with several songs surpassing the five-minute mark and the album’s closer, “Sun God,” clocking in at a whopping 15 minutes. This is fun, gorgeous stuff, capturing the spirit of new wave while giving it a contemporary sonic makeover. One can only hope that more bands follow their lead, because God knows the world could use a few more albums like this. (Modular/Fontana 2010)

Cut Copy MySpace page
Click to buy Zonoscope from Amazon

  

Audio Bullys: Higher Than the Eiffel


RIYL: Primal Scream, The Ting Tings, Basement Jaxx

Yet another lesson in why bands should choose their names carefully. The word ‘bully’ suggests someone aggressive and intimidating (and, conversely, someone insecure and a little scared). The Audio Bullys, however, are no such thing. They’re beat mongering rockers, like Hard-Fi pulling the late shift in an Ibiza club. (Singer Simon Franks and Hard-Fi’s Richard Archer should do a duet, just to mess with people’s head over who’s singing which line.) The band’s third album Higher Than the Eiffel has some good ideas – lead single “Only Man” is armed with one hell of a hook, and closing track “Goodbye” is a nifty modern-day take on the Specials – but is sorely lacking a filter, not to mention an editor. Two of the first three songs contain fragments of ideas stitched together, much like Coldplay’s Viva La Vida, but there is no flow. Why did “Daisy Chains” need to end with an a cappella bit? (Answer: it didn’t.) “Shotgun” is the only song here that takes advantage of melding two separate ideas into a whole, but it arrives a bit too late to care, thanks to the album’s 56-minute (!) run time. Take out some of the clutter, and this bully could have been a contender. (The End Records 2011)

Audio Bullys MySpace page
Click to buy Higher Than the Eiffel from Amazon

  

Pendulum: Immersion


RIYL: The Prodigy, Nightbreed, King Cannibal

Pendulum have the most apt band name in history, because they love to swing back and forth between two genres; drum and bass and hard rock. Their 2006 debut Hold Your Colour was almost exclusively drum and bass, but their 2008 follow-up In Silico saw the group abandon almost all of the drum and bass influences in exchange for a hard electronic rock style (think Nitzer Ebb meets metal) that put off much of their core fanbase. It also made them mainstream stars throughout much of their native Australia as well as Europe, leading bassheads around the world to cry “sellout.”

Well, this should shut them up, although it probably won’t. With Immersion the band takes a hard swing back to their drum and bass roots while still keeping just enough of their rock influence to sound exciting and different. They even pull in some electro-house and dubstep influences into the fold. Sometimes they even do it all at once, like with the two-parter track “The Island,” which starts as a straight-up electronic-rock song before suddenly exploding into a sea manic breakbeats and then transforming again into a shockingly good dubstep sound, a genre that is usually as boring and empty as the fans who listen to it. There are a couple mid-tempo tracks on Immersion that stick closer to the rock/dance formula of In Silico, and most of the songs still feature an abundance of vocals. I’m sure the most hardcore drum and bass fanatics out there will cling to those two facets of the album to convince themselves that Pendulum are still a bunch of sellouts. They can go ahead, the rest of us will be rocking out to the first great electronic album of 2011 (or the last great electronic album of 2010 if you live in the rest of the world, where it came out months ago). (Atlantic 2011)

Pendulum MySpace page

  

Destroyer: Kaputt


RIYL: Dirty Projectors, David Bowie, anything on Kompakt

Though he may be more known for his role in indie rock supergroup the New Pornographers, Dan Bejar has been enticing people into his strange world for the past 15 years via Destroyer. Backed by a frequently rotating cast of band members, Bejar uses Destroyer to craft his own brand of avant-pop-rock, unmistakable to anyone who has ever heard it. Over the course of nine albums, he weaves tales of numerous women, told in a hybrid of speech-yelp-singing with non-sequiturs, dense, visually striking metaphors (so dense someone created a Wiki for them), and references to his own body of work. So what happens when you’ve spent 15 years basically perfecting your own genre? What happens when what starts out as weird suddenly becomes the standard? With Kaputt, Destroyer’s ambitious tenth album, Bejar proves he can still make us question our notions of normality and taste.

When he serenades someone in “Blue Eyes” with the line, “Your first love’s New Order,” Bejar surely must be speaking of himself, because with the heavy synths, the saxophone and the female backing vocals that flutter throughout Kaputt, he seems to be unleashing his inner ‘80s. But, as tacky and oppressive as those reference points can be, under Bejar’s particular guidance, they are transformed into something delicate, as though he accidentally played dance records at half-speed and heard something he liked.

The first half of “Suicide Demo For Kara Walker” would make a decent soundtrack for footage of outer space. It opens with slow, steady synths, various sounds floating in and out of the background, such as a quiet guitar riff, light chimes, and what sounds like someone breathing. The song shifts drastically about half-way through, when some relative of the flute jumps in, followed by Bejar’s voice, cautioning, “Fool child, you’re never gonna make it / New York City just wants to see you naked, and they will / Though they’d never say so.” By the time the backing vocals arrive, one might conjure an image of Bejar in a white suit, performing at a hotel somewhere in Hawaii with a Robert Palmer-style all-woman band.

Though it arrives at the end of the album, “Bay of Pigs” serves as the obvious transition piece between Kaputt and Destroyer’s earlier works. Loosely relating to the 1961 invasion of Cuba, Bejar built an EP around it last year. In its original form, “Bay of Pigs” was over 13 minutes long. In its slightly trimmed down length, the 11-minute opus still finds time to transition from droning ambience to scaling blips that sound like they could come from an early Nintendo game, to the guitar-based avant-pop sound he became known for, complete with hand claps. It was around “Bay of Pigs” that Bejar’s record label, Merge, coined the term “ambient disco,” which is the most apropos classification for anything off of Kaputt.

Take off one of those Ts, and Kaputt becomes “kaput,” which means to incapacitate, break, ruin, or destroy. Knowing Bejar’s self-referential tendencies, it could be that he found a cheeky way to create a self-titled album. But with the new direction he’s embarking on, it speaks more fittingly to the ways he is destroying the Destroyer of the past, killing his old sound to create something new. (Merge 2011)

Destroyer MySpace page

  

Duran Duran: All You Need Is Now


RIYL: Duran Duran’s first two albums, Mark Ronson

It’s funny how people can surprise you even when you think you know them better than they know themselves. After spending a good decade releasing albums that ranged from underrated (Medazzaland) to underwritten (Pop Trash), Duran Duran reunited the Fab Five lineup early in the 2000s and dropped Astronaut in 2004. It was the closest the band had come to their trademark sound in 20 years, and they were rewarded with some of the best reviews of their career. But old feelings die hard, and guitarist Andy Taylor bailed on the band again the middle of making the follow-up to Astronaut. That album, titled Reportage, was supposed to be a back-to-basics affair, an angrier, more aggressive album. Rather than finish the album, though, the band dissolved their partnership (we’re guessing that’s a money move, so Andy would no longer be involved in any revenue sharing) and started over from scratch…

…with Timbaland and his hack protege, Danja Hills. Ye gods.

DD_London_3705_Reduced

The ensuing album, 2007’s Red Carpet Massacre, was a gigantic step backward, filled with wonky synthesizers and the worst drum sounds a rock band ever put to tape (and that includes Missing Persons’ Rhyme & Reason). The whole modern-day hip-hop production didn’t suit them at all, and the worst part is that there were ways that Duran Duran could have modernized their sound without looking silly; Timbaland was not one of them.

And clearly the band realized this, because midway through the tour for Red Carpet Massacre, they teamed up with UK It Boy Mark Ronson and asked him to remodel their hits. The collaboration proved to be fruitful, as Simon Le Bon would go on to sing on Ronson’s (great) 2010 album Record Collection (the title track, no less), and keyboardist Nick Rhodes contributed a song. Ronson returned the favor by producing the band’s new album, All You Need Is Now, and with that, they found their new Colin Thurston and released their best album since Rio.

Let’s qualify that best-album-since-Rio line, though. It’s their most consistent album since Rio, no question, with nary a duff track in the bunch. But it’s surprisingly lacking in the ‘killer hit single’ department. The title track is a gem, and “Runaway Runaway” captures the essence of the band’s glory days better than anything here, but as good as these songs are, it’s an album full of songs on par with “Anyone Out There” and “My Own Way.” There isn’t an “Ordinary World,” “Planet Earth” or even a “New Moon on Monday” to be found.

There is, however, a new “The Chauffeur” buried in the album’s final third. “The Man Who Stole a Leopard” is a masterpiece, but its run time (over six minutes) and tone will make it a hard sell for release as a single. Beginning with a flanged keyboard, string accents (courtesy of Arcade Fire’s Owen Pallet) and minimalist percussion, the song slowly builds into a melancholy dance track not unlike Massive Attack’s “Unfinished Sympathy,” with haunting call-and-respond vocals from Kelis. Easily the best song the band’s done since “Ordinary World” and “Come Undone.”

It looks as though something good came out of Red Carpet Massacre after all. The band realized that chasing the pop charts is a fool’s errand, and that the best thing they can do at this point in time is simply be themselves. All You Need Is Now could be better, sure, but Duran Duran hasn’t shown this kind of focus in nearly 30 years, and that alone is reason to be cheerful. Well done. (Skin Divers 2011)

Duran Duran MySpace page

  

Related Posts