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Review: Cut Copy’s Aptly Titled Freeze, Melt Is an Album Caught Between Modes

A dance album about the loss of motivation brought on by romantic failure is intriguingly knotty but a bit self-defeating.

2.5
Cut Copy, Freeze, Melt
Photo: Tamar Levine

Cut Copy has a propensity for big soundscapes constructed from dense layers of atmospheric synths, frenetic percussion, and electronic flourishes. Singer-keyboardist Dan Whitford’s vocals crop up when the emotion of a song really needs to be driven home, but they can be extraneous to the band’s focus on movement and space.

“Stop, Horizon,” a cut from the Australian indie-pop outfit’s sixth album, Freeze, Melt, takes its time establishing a valley of plucked harp, chimes, and low, rumbling bass, delaying the introduction of Whitford’s voice until the five-minute track’s halfway point. In the past, Cut Copy’s expansive vistas were designed for dance floors, but Freeze, Melt proves to be their moodiest work to date, filled with regretful, lovelorn missives.

This change in approach is saying a lot for a band whose m.o. up to this point has been optimistic romanticism, with songs that exalt love’s ability to transcend heartbreak and which offer salvation with borderline-cheeseball platitudes. Here, though, Cut Copy takes such sentiments and flips the script, observing the inevitable disappointment that comes from such idealization. The first line of the album’s opening track, “Cold Water,” is a typical expression of single-minded devotion—“All I need is you”—but it’s quickly contextualized with a melancholic sense of passion slipping away like a distant memory. Likewise, the latter half of “Love Is All We Share” finds Whitford singing “only love” again and again in a droning, deadened manner that suggests just how hollow such all-consuming devotion can be.

While it’s easy to appreciate this shift in perspective, Cut Copy’s disenchanted lovesickness isn’t as accessible as their dance-driven odes to love’s purification. This is partly because, genre-wise, Freeze, Melt still leans heavily on electro-pop even as it attempts to pull off something more heady and internalized. The songs tend to oscillate between new-wave post-disco reminiscent of the Pet Shop Boys and eclectic indie-rock that recalls Hot Chip, but unlike 2017’s Haiku from Zero, which was driven by Tim Hoey’s funk guitar licks, tracks like “Like Breaking Glass” and “A Perfect Day” are built almost entirely on stuttering synths and rhythm collages. A dance album about the loss of motivation brought on by romantic failure is, in theory, intriguingly knotty, but in practice feels a bit self-defeating.

Freeze, Melt’s more percussive tracks are reminders of just how precise Cut Copy’s music can be, from the hand-drummed breakdown on “A Perfect Day” to the flittering drumbeat of “In Transit,” which has the feel of a clicking metronome. Across their music, the group adds elements that splinter from the main instrumentals, curling off in new beats and moving parts. But the album’s moments of levity—such as Whitford’s intentionally heavy breathing on “Running Through the Grass”—mostly serve as reminders of Freeze, Melt’s neither-here-nor-there approach. The result is an album that appears caught between modes, playfully riding cascading synths even as it lyrically subsumes itself in dourness.

Label: The Orchard Release Date: August 21, 2020 Buy: Amazon

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