Melbourne electronic pioneers Cut Copy deliver a matured and stripped back vision of their iconic synthpop sound with 'Haiku From Zero'.
When I think of Australian bands that have had stuck with me the longest, aside from the obvious choice of Shannon Noll, it's always been Melbourne's CUT COPY. Ever since 12-year-old me discovered a Limewire downloaded, low bitrate MP3 of 'Future' on my computer, probably from my older brother, I was hooked. Through their glittery debut to the dazzling In Ghost Colours, Dan Whitford and co served me steaming synth-pop bangers on a plate. I'll admit, they lost me with 2011's Zonoscope, but in hindsight while it might be their weakest, it's still a solid cut. 2013's Free Your Mind, seemingly the group's most polarising, is actually my favourite, with its mixture of 60s psychedelia, Primal Scream worship and early 00's house touching me in all the right places. Haiku From Zero is the group's first studio LP in four years (aside from the January Tapes release) - so can it live up to the scrutiny of a longtime fan?
Haiku From Zero is curious in that it almost seems like a reaction to the thick sonic arrangements of Free Your Mind. With this LP, they've stripped back to a more minimal sound than they've ever done before - think Zonoscope with even more faders turned down. Thanks to the magical hands of Ben Allen, who has produced killer albums from Animal Collective, Deerhunter and Neon Indian, the album is a lot more sonically focused and a less exhausting listen. Free Your Mind was, like I said, fantastic, but with an hour run-time and sound akin to doing a colour run while on LSD, it was an involved listen.
With Haiku, Whitford stated he wanted to explore "the idea of squeezing poetry from chaos," and with the stripped back production this is evident from the very first track, 'Standing in the Middle of the Field'. A naked kalimba melody builds the foundation while cowbells and hand percussion layer underneath. The track is a slow burn that feels like it's going to go nuts but remains subdued, instead flowing minutely like a sine wave. 'Counting Down' proves a little more rambunctious, with a tight, catchy beat and rhythm guitar throughout, and a spacey breakdown towards the end.
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'Airborne' is the album's obvious 'single' track, and is the most lively of them all. Curiously, it focuses less on electronic extravagance and builds a simple, solid hook just from guitar, drums, bass and effected vocals, like a regular four piece. This is pretty par for the course with the other tracks: electric guitar and physical drums are the driving force for 'Living Upside Down' and 'Black Rainbows', with synths and the like often taking a backseat.
In this sense, Haiku From Zero is a lot like Zonoscope 2.0, with a greater focus on a live, natural sounds rather than sequenced electronics. It's good to see Cut Copy exploring new sonic territories, and while the occasional natural breather on their albums was welcomed, an album full of them leaves me wanting a little more. It's a lot more focused on melody and message as opposed to pure sound, and it almost seems like a maturation of the band as a whole. While it might not immediately grab you like Free Your Mind or In Ghost Colours, Haiku From Zero is a solid addition to Cut Copy's discography and is surely a slow burning gem. Where it lacks that pizazz from the group some might expect, it delves further into new territory, and given that they've been a band for quite a long time, it speaks volumes that they can still shake things up, take risks and try new things. Complacency has never, ever been Cut Copy's style, and Haiku From Zero proves exactly that - this is a band that was integral to the rise of Australian dance music, and taking a backseat or the easy way out is not an option for them. We're just hoping it's not four years until the next record, because we're certain they're not done yet.
WORDS BY MAX LEWIS