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The all-inclusive, ever-changing, and uncomfortably flexible guide to all things music in the 2010's.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Cut Copy - Zonoscope: B

I was getting pretty frustrated listening to Zonoscope for about the third time, trying to figure out what indistinguishable 80’s band Cut Copy were taking most of their musical cues from. It was clear that Depeche Mode was an enormous influence on the group and that the maladroit white-boy disco of Hot Chip were an easy reference point, but, with each time I listened to a song like “Take Me Over” and “Blink And You’ll Miss A Revolution”, I knew there was one specific band from the eighties these guys could not help but ape in the most conspicuous ways.

Now, it should be enough of an insult to Zonoscope that I ended up spending the time listening to it playing “guess who” with the influences, but what should be an outright slap in the face is that the group I ultimately deduced Cut Copy were carbon copies of was not actually a band from the 80’s at all. It was Yeasayer. If you listen to a song like “Take Me Over” and then hear a song like “O.N.E.” from Yeasayer’s excellent Odd Blood from last year, it literally sounds like the same band is performing both songs. The only clear difference between Zonoscope and Odd Blood-era Yeasayer is that Yeasayer did a much better job of making the nostalgia of the 80’s something quite vibrant. Zonoscope just sounds like the rehash of a rehash, Dan Whitford’s noncommittal deadpan not even trying to compete with Yeasayer’s Chris Keating’s glorious yelp.

Zonoscope, is a decent synth pop homage, but, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the short time I’ve run this blog, it’s that there’s quite a bit of decent synth pop homage out there. The first half is slightly promising with the chorus of “Need You Now” being pretty good and “Take Me Over” sounding like a modest party-starter (probably because its synth line is almost exactly that of “You Can Call Me Al”) but, even then, the album sags to instantly forgettable new-wave exercises in its second half. Then the whole painfully mediocre mission statement is summarized in the closer, “Sun God”, which manages, with ease, to take all the things that make Zonoscope banal and pointless; aimless synth throbs and half-assed lyrics (“You got to live / You got to die / So what’s the purpose of you and I”) and space it out over 15 minutes, which gives it absolutely no playback value, but, on the bright side, is a shorter length than the rest of Zonoscope, so it could be a pretty good substitute for the same listening experience. If you want a good Cut Copy album, get Odd Blood and let this one fade into what I would call (but never again) THE BOREVOID.

James Blake - James Blake: A-

James Blake is a game-changing album, and a game-changing album does not deserve to be written about at 4:32 in the morning by a lazy fuck who can't get his shit together for his fucking blog. James Blake won't be my favorite album of the year, but it deserves a unique presentation, so just keep it as a little nugget in your mind for a little bit until I can get around to expanding upon it in a way that I find most appropriate.


Stateless - Matilda: B+

I’ve never understood the comparisons between Muse and Radiohead. I concede that both bands started with a similar schtick of raging/quiet British alt-rock with soaring vocals, but, as both bands’ careers have expanded over the years, they have become quite divergent. Where Radiohead, in my opinion, have become more insular and spare, Muse are getting very close to eclipsing U2 as the most bombastic band that’s still making music. If you look at the two bands now, the most recent Radiohead output being 2007’s In Rainbows and Muse’s being their contribution to the Twilight: Eclipse soundtrack, “Neutron Star Collision (Love Is Forever)”, it’s hard to imagine the connection as little more than cosmetic, as Radiohead and Muse are British bands that have frontmen who like to sing in a higher register.

You know who does sound like Radiohead? Stateless. Yeah, the influences are in and Stateless, a British band, have absolutely no qualms with copping the desolate, sheepish, and vaguely electronic sound that I was surprised to find I could track to its source material within the first track’s first ten seconds. On their second album, Matilda, the band also sounds like Massive Attack. Boil it down to Matilda’s basic elements and you won’t need more than that description before listening to the album. Songs like “Curtain Call” and “Miles to Go” sound like the work of countless bands out there right now, a good portion of which have flushed out their material to significantly better effect.

Another band immediately linkable to Stateless is the British band These New Puritans, which basically denotes that, at times, the band sounds like Radiohead and Massive Attack with a more pronounced Eastern influence. “Visions” wouldn’t sound out of place on a Gnarls Barkley album. All these influences combine to make something that doesn’t ever sound contrived, but, rather, the work of a band with absolutely no defining qualities. Matilda is a pretty good record, but it ranks in my mind as one of the clearest stylistic rip-offs of a single group I’ve ever heard, and when that group is Radiohead, your outfit is not long of this Earth.

So Matilda is worth your time if you like Radiohead or Massive Attack, and if you’re OK with that (and if you are, that rating up there would indicate you’re in good company), then the album will be a rewarding experience. The glaring lack of originality shouldn’t outright offend you, because the songs are actually pretty good. The only thing truly offensive about Matilda is that it took four years to make.