Sweden's Cut City turns a respectful eye towards the gods of '80s post-punk on its debut album.
You could be forgiven for mistaking Cut City, a new band out of Gothenburg, Sweden, for a true blue '80s post-punk band. It's got the act down almost to perfection: vocalist Max Hansson's disaffected baritone; striped shirts and characteristic asymmetrical hairstyles; and of course, the chaotic insularity that defines the post-punk sound. The effort here is to sound reminiscent without being merely imitative, and on that score the band succeeds -- these short, fierce songs are never precisely placeable. Eventually, giving up on the game, you just come to say, That's a Cut City song.
Having said this, it's still true the biggest rock gods of the last 20 years hang heavily over Cut City from the opening bars of Exit Decades. If Hansson's voice eventually carves out its own niche through Scandinavian pronunciation and slightly histrionic melodrama, it is still heavily influenced by the accentuations of Ian Curtis, and the muddiness of Morrissey. The intermittent float of high-pitched guitars in the exposition of melody strongly recalls U2's the Edge. Newer entrants like Interpol, Franz Ferdinand and Bloc Party provide a different touchstone, and make evaluating Exit Decades more complicated: since each of these bands has changed the way dance-punk / post-punk / dance-rock is interpreted post-2000, to so faithfully recreate this old style of music somehow seems a little disingenuous.
So we get songs that are effective, if a bit predictable. Opener "Like Ashes Like Millions" marries a short U2 guitar riff with a totally expected chord change signaling the refrain. Without much by way of choruses, these songs are all recitative. Trouble is, these phrases at the end of each verse don't have the power of -- unfair comparison, maybe -- a song like "Love Will Tear Us Apart". At least, the structure of that song and "Numb Boys" is the same, and Cut City's "Let's just act it out baby" just doesn't cut it; the whole thing feels like a wandering with no direction.
Having established this perfect homage over the course of most of the disc, "Just Pornography" offers something else, and it's a welcome change. Above a fuzzed-out guitar wall that recalls for a second TV on the Radio, the vocals begin to hint at melody. It's atmospheric and alienating in the best way. And when Hansson repeats, "it's beyond even me to change this" it's the first hint of real feeling in the whole album -- regret.
If only Cut City could transpose that authenticity of feeling over to some of its other songs. Too many of the tracks lack direction; the strain between pop's soar and austere post-punk is never resolved. The band hints at knowledge of its place just once: in "Anticipation", when Hansson slyly nods to Interpol with the line, "Sometimes idle hands are just that". If Cut City could maximize this idea musically, it would have something quite compelling. As it stands, the band's debut just sounds straight throwback -- and that appeal is limited.