The cover of Freeze, Melt, the latest album from Australian electropop group Cut Copy, depicts a glimmering ocean wave rolling towards the camera and a snow-capped mountain looming in the backdrop against a soft blue sky. A row of treetops rises over the water on one side. It’s a refreshing nature shot appropriate for the music on the band’s sixth studio album. When compared to the cover of their 2004 debut, Bright Like Neon Love, it also represents a maturation in the group’s sound.
The cover of Bright Like Neon Love features a close-up of a cartoon woman with glistening purple lips and massive sunglasses reflecting a metropolis at night. If you look close enough, you might notice a river crammed amongst the buildings, but there are no mountains or trees to be seen, just a seemingly endless urban expanse, every skyscraper dappled with tiny squares of light, racking up staggering electric bills. The title font glows hot pink. The woman’s view is from above; she looks down on the city with an unimpressed cool. On the cover of Freeze, Melt, we look up from the water, gazing at nature’s majesty.
Cut Copy’s career trajectory hasn’t been a neat course from city to country. 2013’s Free Your Mind detoured the band’s sound through Ibiza and the UK’s Second Summer of Love, mining musical and ideological tropes from the halcyon days of acid house. But aside from this excursion through the land of e’s and whizz, the band seems to be dipping into the mellower corners of its sound more and more often. Freeze, Melt feels like the culmination of this development.
The album contains one anthem, “Like Breaking Glass”, in which the synths splash and the percussion bubbles during the sort of habitually earworm-inducing chorus Cut Copy have long been celebrated for, and that surely pays for all those vintage analogue synthesizers. The song sounds sparse when played between thickly-braided anthems from In Ghost Colours or the endearingly overstuffed, festival-worthy uppers on Free Your Mind. Listened to in the context of Freeze, Melt – after the measured buildup of “Cold Water” and before the six-minute-long slow jam “Love Is All We Share” – the song reaches radio-friendly peaks.
Freeze, Melt isn’t aimed at the radio, though. This time around, Cut Copy trade in accessibility for expansion and make their pop a touch more cerebral by imbuing it with elements of IDM and ambient music. The opening minute of “Cold Water” is reminiscent of the ambient compositions on keyboardist Hans-Joachim Roedelius’s 1981 album Wenn Der Südwind Weht. Album closer “In Transit” is likely the closest Cut Copy will ever come to recording a Boards of Canada song. “Stop Horizon” doesn’t introduce the rhythm section until about four minutes into the track.
“Rain” never introduces a drum track at all, opting for synthesizers akin to wind chimes and an arpeggiator backbone. The song introduces an organ tone and cathedral-sized harmony before moving into the climax in its final third, which is blanketed by a string section. No other Cut Copy song sounds like this. The band’s short-run cassette from 2016, January Tape, included some ambient sketches, and most Cut Copy records include ambient interludes, but nothing as multifaceted as “Rain”. The song feels worlds removed from the metropolis of Bright Like Neon Love. We’re certainly not in the vicinity of any nightclubs.
Instead, Freeze, Melt is a fitting soundtrack for the landscape pictured on the cover. These are spacious tracks to complement clear blue skies, not lipstick-smudged anthems for strobe-lit mega clubs. Listeners who haven’t tuned into Cut Copy since Zonoscape may be surprised by their latest direction, but longtime fans who welcome change from record to record will find something to enjoy out here in the country.