Review Summary: You've gotta give up the things you love to make it better.
“Standing In The Middle Of The Field,” the opener to Cut Copy’s fifth album Haiku From Zero
, finds the Australian electro pop pioneers in an oddly contemplative place. “Find love, build it on sand,” Dan Whitford says, talking more than singing. “Find love, swinging in the wind / watching it some more, build it back again / find love, lying on the shore / driving out to sea, lost forever more / find love, strangest of things / but chaos inside, peace that it brings.” The plink-plunk of the melodic backbeat is a constant, morose rainfall, the handclaps strangely muted, the rhythm rolling onward seemingly on pure inertia. “Watch me slowly fall apart / you’ve gotta give up the things you love to make it better,” Whitford sings as the chorus kicks in and slow burns to a peaceful bit of euphoria: the equilibrium when the pill wears off in a haze of contentment, but before next day’s anxieties kick in. The way it soars to the stratosphere, a touch of melancholy in its arc, is somewhat inexplicable, hooking onto something deep and profound, building and releasing tension in a way you can only usually get marooned in the middle of the dancefloor. This sort of spatial songwriting is something that has always set Cut Copy apart from their peers – Holy Ghost!, Miami Horror, Empire of the Sun, etc. etc. – but on Haiku From Zero
, it’s the exception rather than the rule. Shortly after this comedown, it’s back to things as usual.
“Counting Down” is a more fitting template, all precise bursts of jangly guitar, a liberal dose of studio effects and a fat, fat bass sound. Where Free Your Mind
reveled in the loose, lurid sound of acid house and Mancunian ‘90s nostalgia, Haiku From Zero
is firmly placed in the structured sounds of Studio 54 and impeccably produced new wave. The best example of this is “Black Rainbow,” which sounds like Rick Astley shot into space around a spinning, white-hot globe of cocaine. The guitar, generally more of a firm supporting presence than the star on any prior Cut Copy record, is harder to ignore, either in “Black Rainbow’”s taut finger-picking or the golden age of porn chords on “Airborne.” Most notable of all, the improvisation and vamping that have characterized Cut Copy’s more club-influenced tracks is nowhere in evidence, the funky “Living Upside Down” being the closest they come to the Hacienda heights of Free Your Mind
. Cut Copy can still produce dance-rock with the best of them, though; first single “Airborne,” in particular, is a mindlessly good time, with a bass motif in the chorus so cheesy it’s tough to see any other band being able to crank it out with a straight face.
For the most part, however, Haiku From Zero
suffers from a quality not usually associated with Cut Copy: ordinary. The band’s turn towards straightforward dance-rock, unmarred by the genre eclecticism and studio experimentation of their past, means songs like “Stars Last Me A Lifetime” and “No Fixed Destination” are enjoyable in a vacuum, but in the context of the album come off like Cut Copy paint-by-numbers. Love it or hate it, Free Your Mind
at least earned those strong reactions. Haiku From Zero
feels too easy, a pleasant enough groove to get locked into and then flip over as the party ebbs or flows. There is, of course, nothing bad here, although closer “Tied To The Weather” seems to want to say far more than it can support. The record’s energy is impressive; the craft, even more so. What it doesn’t have, though, is any sense of vision, nothing of that dangerous excess or discovery that the best Cut Copy provides in spades. Instead, Haiku From Zero
ends up being a bunch of great songs and little else – an unfortunately paper thin reproduction of the band at their best.