Now that the wall between rock purism and the digital dancefloor has been reduced to mere rubble, a suite of newer, harder, brighter, faster bands are getting down to the business at hand: having a good time. This week, Melbourne's dance-pop mood masters Cut Copy go from bright neon love to hazy ghost colors.
Critics love to talk about Cut Copy in relation to other bands. Reviews of the band’s 2004 debut, Bright Like Neon Love, repeatedly referenced Human League, Fleetwood Mac, and New Order’s Bernard Sumner, whom lead singer Dan Whitford sometimes sounds like. No doubt their newest record, a shimmering pop gem called In Ghost Colours, will invite comparisons to ELO, Jean-Michel Jarre, and Hall & Oates.
Whitford is only too happy to lay bare his influences. “I’m really into the music of the late ’70s, from disco to middle-of-the-road pop music, and the early synthesizer stuff that preceded new wave,” he says from the L.A. office of Modular Records, the dance-happy Australian imprint the band calls home. What Whitford hints at, and his records make clear, is that Cut Copy is more interested in mood than outright meaning–their music skillfully evokes bygone eras and emotions without actually ripping them off.
Melbourne-native Whitford, a coffee lover and huge Ghostbusters fan, is a graphic designer by trade, which definitely shows in the band’s painstaking attention to detail, the stylishness of their songs, and their eye-catching record covers and live shows. Cut Copy began in 2001 as Whitford’s solo instrumental hip-hop project, but the influence of French house (Alan Braxe, Motorbass) and electro-loving friends like Bang Gang DJs and Midnight Juggernauts slowly crept in. By 2003, he had recruited friends Mitchell Scott and Tim Hoey to play drums and bass, respectively. “The thing that appealed to me was just that DIY aesthetic,” says Whitford. “I just thought, ‘Why don’t we try to put together this Sonic Youth-style garage band and cover the songs that I’ve written in the studio?’ and it sort of evolved into what it is now.”
On the new record, the band indulges Sonic Youth-esque moments of catchy guitar feedback on “So Haunted,” and you can hear echoes of shoegaze’s flanged vapor trails on the carefully crafted interludes that string one track to the next. But what’s really revealed on In Ghost Colours is Cut Copy’s talent for pop songwriting. “On this record, I definitely became more comfortable with vocals,” admits Whitford, who recorded the album in Manhattan with the DFA’s Tim Goldsworthy (the previous record was tweaked in Paris with Cassius’ Philippe Zdar). “I’ve always been a fan of records with lush vocal arrangements and the Californian pop sound, like the Beach Boys and America. During ‘So Haunted,’ we just kept layering and layering more harmonies, and once we actually muted the track it sounded like Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ in the chorus. That’s a sound I love that isn’t captured by any other instrument but the voice.”