Cut Off Your Hands began life as a post-hardcore band called Shaky Hands, rife with D.C. punk influences and an abrasive sensibility, so it’s not entirely surprising that their name is a bit brutal in the scheme of things. The Auckland, New Zealand band’s music, however, no longer retains the aggressive style they briefly adopted. For a fan of all things Dischord like myself, that could potentially be a disappointing development, but for a fan of impeccably crafted new wave pop, like myself, it can also be one of the best things that could happen. Hearing the glossy, melodic jangle in action on new album You & I in action, I can only conclude that Cut Off Your Hands made the absolute right decision in pursuing a more accessible, buoyant direction.
The songs on You & I are bright and powerful, emotional and stylish, but in the least pretentious way possible, particularly for a band that carries such a prominent Smiths influence. Leadoff track “Happy As Can Be” gallops with a mighty and propulsive beat, and crashes with the ring of a bell underneath a melody that vaguely recalls Blondie’s “Dreaming” if filtered through early ’80s Scot-pop. From there, the band soars into “Expectations,” which finds the band taking on the sound of a scrappier, more likable Killers. And “Oh Girl” is a charmingly innocent love song with just the slightest punk rock edge.
“Turn Cold” is the band’s most blatant Smiths homage, with “This Charming Man”-like riffs, yet the bold production gives it a modern gloss. In contrast, “It Doesn’t Matter” doesn’t so much stand out as having any direct, obvious influences, but stands as one of the best new wave songs to have not been written in the ’80s, its magnificent chorus being one of the album’s highest peaks. And while the musicianship in the band is top notch, the not-so-secret weapon is frontman Nick Johnston, whose delivery is so charming and earnest that when he croons “sell all your things and come run away with me” in “Let’s Get Out of Here,” you can’t help but want to oblige.
In fact, Cut Off Your Hands is a band that’s hard not to like. From their well-crafted melodies, to their unabashed display of influences, to Nick Johnston’s sweetheart lyrics, it’s a complete package that’s destined for success. I haven’t heard any of these songs on the radio as of yet, but give it a few months, and tracks like “Oh Girl” or “Happy As Can Be” will take the place of all those MGMT songs that have been saturating the airwaves for the past year.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.