The Melbourne band Cut Copy have built a career on updating the electropop of the 1980s. Suave, dour and evincing the appropriate amount of heartsickness, their first two albums were full of steadily percolating songs that bathed downcast melodies in pulsing LEDs. They were also saturated with an artful melancholia: Cut Copy write the kind of songs that take place at two in the morning, and usually at a high school drama club after-party. Imagine if the first few Depeche Mode records were gracefully understated instead of flamboyant and chic and you're getting close.
On Zonoscope, Cut Copy don't alter their approach so much as temper it: The rhythms are a little less insistent, the focus more on sharpening the details rather than deepening the groove. What emerges is an album of moments rather than anthems: The krautrocky drone of "Alisa" gets sporadically attacked by hornet's nest guitars; "Take Me All Over" sports a guitar line that's little more than a nervous twitch and a bass line that's eerily similar to Men At Work's "Down Under," but its backdrop is a cornucopia of weird rattles, miniature congos and synths that sparkle in the distance like the aurora borealis. "Pharoahs & Pyramids" is a comprised of a constellation of pinprick electronics, tiny flecks of sound they scatter across the song's black backdrop like glitter.
The album works just as well for those without the patience for deep focus. Frontman Dan Whitford arranges his small universes of sound around the same dour, deliberate baritone vocal melodies that characterized the group's first two outings. As a frontman, he pulls off the contradictory combination of vulnerable and assured: his voice prances proudly up the center of the songs, a bold, grand, sweeping gesture on an album characterized by nuance. The worlds he creates may be tiny and flickering, but make no mistake: He rules them.