Many music blogs have diagnosed Cut Copy’s new synth-pop single “Take Me Over” as being a conscious fusion of Men at Work’s “Down Under” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Everywhere.” Upon meeting the techno quartet in New York City dive bar Blue and Gold, Vulture mentions the stunning similarities in bass and vocal lines, and drummer Mitchell Scott says, “There’s never that conversation of, ‘We want to sound like this.’” Okay, so we move to Exhibit B in the case for their having a purposefully eighties sound: “Sun God,” the fifteen-minute tripped-out closer to their eagerly awaited third album, Zonoscope (out this week), which cops the iconic, repetitive bass line from the Talking Heads’$2 1981 “Once in a Lifetime.” At this, bassist Ben Browning, who is adorable but also the group’s grumpiest (often rolling his eyes in seeming impatience), relents a little: “People will write about your music, ‘That sounds like that old song,’ and that’s the moment you say, ‘Oh yeah, maybe that is something I was channeling at the time.’” Front man Dan Whitford adds a nod of respect to his Aussie forebears: “I can definitely think of worse people to be compared to than Men at Work.”
The hypnotically alluring eighties sound is hardwired into Zonoscope, an album that, for several months, musicblogworld has been predicting will blast the hipster darlings into the pop-star stratosphere. (They’ve already topped the charts in their home country.) The band recorded the album in a warehouse outside Melbourne stuffed with vintage electronic-music-makers: Aided by the pioneering early eighties Fairlight synthesizer, which brought a world of new sounds to musicians’ fingertips, the album so lovingly and deftly pastiches and references Cut Copy’s avowed heroes — a list that includes Talking Heads, Tusk-era Fleetwood Mac, Heroes-era David Bowie, Brian Eno, Malcolm McLaren, Grace Jones, Kate Bush, and Graceland-era Paul Simon — that the listening experience becomes an ecstatic aural trip through the brainier quarters of an era when electronics exploded into pop music. To further pinpoint its sound, Whitford says that if Zonoscope were informed by a set time period, it would be 1973 to 1983. “That was the most exciting time I can think of; you had the birth of disco, punk, and New Wave. Music lost its way for a little after that.”
Whitford is also a graphic designer (though he doesn’t have much time for it anymore; the band will be touring constantly in the months ahead), and his nerd-cool vibe has infiltrated the band. For one performance, they all wore the blandest office shirts and slacks imaginable, prompting Hipster Runoff, the deadpan-wiseass anonymous blogger, to ask readers, “R u gonna go business casual to be like Cut Copy?” (Lest you think s/he is contemptuous of the band, the blog also called Zonoscope “one of the most anticipated indie releases of all time.”)
But in a way, the plain-Jane garb captured the move-busting, only slightly ironic cerebralism of these guys, who admit they’re far more besotted by sounds from their infant years than they are busy trying to bottle the latest flavor. “People say Animal Collective or MGMT just did this, so we’ll do the same,” says Whitford. “There’s more of a blank canvas when you look back further.”
They are, however, modern boys. They used to all be engrossed in their individual laptops in Wi-Fi-equipped green rooms until only moments before going onstage, but they recently decided they needed to get psyched up. So now they’ll have a primal sing-along to, say, the Smiths’ “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out.” “We crank it up so we don’t have to hear each other,” scowls Browning.
Are they the new INXS, the artily handsome boys from Continent Koala?
“Dan is the new Michael Hutchence,” says Browning, mentioning the INXS front man who died in 1997, reportedly a suicide.
“You’re the nerdy guy with the glasses,” retorts Whitford.
Browning smirks. “But he’s alive.”