Cut Copy’s new album Freeze, Melt is an enjoyable trip through the shiny textures, mid-tempo beats and introspective vocals of modern electronic pop. This does not exactly put it at odds with their previous releases, but the formula is executed well, while the production and songwriting keep the Australian four-piece ahead of any imitators.
Opening track Cold Water contains some delightful synth layers – twin arpeggios running side by side, portentous notes dissolving in reverb – and the song at the heart of it is pretty neat, the hook intriguingly abstract (“Ooh, the sky is falling down / Ooh, or am I falling up? / Ooh, feet are off the ground / Ooh, cold water takes me now”). The song’s rhythm section rejects plodding in time with the arpeggios, opting instead for a nimble ’80s-inspired drum machine beat, and the instrumental outro ties things together nicely with scalic harmonies.
The best sound design on the record belongs to A Perfect Day, which utilises a 4×4 house beat and hand percussion under shimmering synth work. The structure creates an impression of constant build, then the big brassy chords chime in at the end with all the bombast held back in previous sections. Meanwhile, first single Love Is All We Share takes things in a more low-key direction, a downtempo groove with subtly glitchy elements and meandering chord sequence. The effect is woozy and lush, especially when a slightly detuned synth sound dominates the track’s latter half.
At certain points however, the question arises: all these chords, all these sweet vocal lines, all these medium-to-long song structures, what are they in aid of? Yes, new music is good to have and good to experience, but when the tunes become interchangeable that notion starts to feel hollow. Running In The Grass coasts for a substantial period of time on a simple ostinato that could have been generated by an AI program, even if the call-and-response interaction between vocals and bass is entertaining, and there’s nothing to write home about on closing track In Transit, as the synth line is little more than a ’90s IDM imitation, and the ticking beat quickly cloys.
Part of the issue might be a vocal delivery, which often sounds removed and semi-ironic. Like Breaking Glass is a good example, pure ’80s vapidity with disaffection dripping from the verses (“Jump out of the car / Jump out of the car, ooohhh / But I can’t open the door / Can’t open the door, ooohhh”) as a new agey synth timbre burbles away in the background. The more committed performance on the hook of Rain is a refreshing change, a shot in the arm to a record that by this point sometimes feels a bit complacent.
Stop, Horizon’s synthetic guitar layers sweep up and down in pentatonic fashion, a balearic house sound characterising this mostly instrumental centrepiece. In this format the elements have more room to breathe, the production feels more vibrant for having the spotlight shone on it, and one suspects that the vocal-free approach of 2016’s January Tape may be worth pursuing as more than a side project.
Freeze, Melt is the latest offering from a band that are now decidedly middle-aged as an outfit. This is not to do them down, as plenty of groups remain brilliant for decades, but in the more perfunctory tracks one can detect a workhorse-like quality: they know how to create music, and it seems to be done through muscle memory rather than inspiration per se. Yet with this particular brand of electronica practically a cottage industry, Cut Copy’s star power won’t be waning anytime soon, and on a few tracks here that status feels justified.