Throwback Thursday: Cut Copy’s ‘Bright Like Neon Love’
Ahhh, 2004. What a year, huh? Of course, I remember nothing because I was only eight. Among many things, it was the year a humble quartet of Melbourne boys released an album titled Bright Like Neon Love under the name CUT COPY.
Neon Love emerged seemingly out of nowhere in a time where terms like ‘indietronica’ or ‘chillwave’ didn’t exist in the mainstream. If the Hottest 100 for that year is anything to go by, ‘youth’ music was still being inundated by rock – ‘Take Me Out’ by Franz Ferdinand was #1, and bands like Spiderbait, Eskimo Joe and Grinspoon won multiple spots. As such, Neon Love, with its halcyonic, new wave sound reliant on samplers, synths and drum machines, was like a prophetic vision of what would dominate the airwaves in 4-5 years time.
Compared to later Cut Copy albums, Neon Love sounds very much like a Dan Whitford solo album. It makes sense, since he was the founding member of the group, and the sole contributor to ‘1981’ (the single that signed them to Modular Recordings) and its follow up EP I Thought Of Numbers, both in 2001.
With Neon Love being well underway in 2003, Whitford’s sampler – integral to the band’s early sound – broke, leading him to recruit friends to fill in the pieces in what has remained Cut Copy ever since. This switch-up gave Neon Love a curious sound somewhere between hazy one-man bedroom pop and a post-punk band that only plays in someone’s dad’s garage while he’s at work.
Right off the bat, the opener ‘Time Stands Still’ sets this introverted pop scene nicely. A minimalist drum pattern drives an array of colourful bleeps and bloops while Whitford’s vocals croon simple and processed lyrics. ‘Future’ was the album’s lead single – fittingly so, since it is the perfect introduction to the album’s mixed sound. The live drums and bass among the arpeggiated synth hooks and Whitford’s monotonic vocals add a post-punk layer, and the track flows between this electronic vs rock sound freely.
Harking back to I Thought Of Numbers, ‘Saturdays’ combines lots of samples with a nostalgic, synthy sound. It feels very 80s, yet not in the lifeless way that later synthpop would try to copy – it’s a nostalgia that feels new and fresh. Then there’s ‘Going Nowhere’, a cut that leans closer to the post-punk side without the misanthropy. It’s a heavier song that still retains its poppy buoyancy thanks to catchy synthwork and simple hooks.
‘That Was Just A Dream’ and ‘Zap Zap’ turn the dial back to bedroom producer territory. Starting as a sample-rich, minimal synthpop cut with the former, it morphs into the latter, turning into a dreamily repetitive exploration of the former track’s hook. The duo form a fun little intermission that feel like an early version of the many interludes that would pad out their later albums.
‘The Twilight’ borrows heavily from their debut single ‘1981’ – which in itself seemed to borrow heavily from ‘Blue Monday’ by New Order – and, fittingly, turns it into a post-punk dirge that wouldn’t be out of place on New Order’s Brotherhood. Synths take a backseat in exchange for electric guitar crunches and driving live drums. Compared to the programming and sampling of earlier tracks, it feels like a very organic track, living and breathing with energy – a perfect midsection.
‘Autobahn Music Box’, paying homage to Kraftwerk in name, oozes more 80s energy, although unlike ‘Saturdays’ it feels melancholic and downtrodden. Woozy synths evoke this nicely while old, scratchy samples loop between Whitford’s monotonic vocals. ‘Bright Neon Payphone’ is the perfect antidote to the previous track’s blues, with rapid guitar strums and frantic drums, as well as Whitford’s almost punk-like shouting, giving the album’s post-punk vibe one last hurrah.
‘A Dream’ ends the album as it began – a soft, introverted synth-pop number that, while harkening back to the past, feels forward-thinking at the same time. That’s really Bright Like Neon Love as a whole.
When thinking of this album I thought it came out much later. Indeed, I didn’t listen to it until around 2008 or so, when the indietronica hey-day was well underway, and nobody was sick of MGMT’s ‘Kids’ yet. But in the context of 2004, Neon Love feels fresh and unique. Maybe it’s because ripping off the glitz of the 80s wasn’t in vogue yet. But on its own, there’s something fascinating about the album’s mix of sounds and it’s infectious nostalgia. It’s not my favourite Cut Copy album – Free Your Mind wins that spot and I will fight to the death anyone who talks shit about it – but I definitely think it’s their most important one. It’s indicative of how inventive and ahead of the curve Australia’s electronic music scene can be.
From Severed Heads to The Presets, we’ve always been at the forefront of exciting shit happening in the electronic realm, and Bright Like Neon Love serves as another perfect nugget of this history.
Image by MODULAR RECORDINGS
Words by MAX LEWIS