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cut-off-your-hands-you-and-i.jpgCut Off Your Hands
You and I
Frenchkiss Records

In a vast ocean filled with countless overseas rock bands like Franz Ferdinand and Kaiser Chiefs, New Zealand’s Cut Off Your Hands releases the album You and I and are set to compete with the lot of them. The Auckland trio takes their music in different directions with this record, and working along side English producer and former guitarist of Suede Bernard Butler did not hurt either.

The energy of the song “Happy as Can Be” fits the title. It sounds like happy-go-lucky surfer music. Also, it’s definitely a fun, kick-back song you can take to the beach on a sunny day. Frontman Nick Johnston channels the vocal prowess of the Cure’s Robert Smith and it works in his favor, but Johnston adds a touch of his own flavor that tastes like a cold glass of lemonade on a hot day. In other words, this band goes down smoothly and very chill.

The second track entitled “Expectations” maintains that same high-energy and it’s very catchy. Early on this record, Cut Off Your Hands is making a personal statement that even with the “expectations” of competing with numerous foreign groups staking their claim on U.S. soil, they are well aware that it’s a challenge and not going to be easy. Plus, the fact that the band’s name contrasts their sound- the violent demand to “cut off your hands” does not match the up-beat, positive energy they exude, but that seems to be the least of their problems.

“It Doesn’t Matter,” track five, stays safe on that steady, catchy beat. The hand clap is a nice touch and the vocals are spot on. While it sounds like a standard pop song, the band is touching on something heavier with the lyrics: “I can’t bear to be sober.” There’s a bit of introspection going on here, which makes Cut Off Your Hands a little more dynamic and relatable on a human level.

Johnston mixes it up some with “Heartbreak.” Oddly enough, the title, for once, suits the melody. The guitar-playing is softer and introduces the powerful keyboards. Then, all of a sudden, the song distorts at one moment and then goes back to normal. Out of all the songs so far on this album, the spontaneity of this track pushes the band into new, exciting territory.

“In the Name of Jesus Christ,” captures immediate attention with just the title. The vocals are beautiful and showcase Johnston’s enchanting storytelling abilities. This song pulls at the heart strings and it is definitely a stand-out track.

The doo-woop sound really comes out during song “Still Fond.” In general, it is really rare for rock bands to incorporate such a classic sound. It highlights Johnston’s mindset in the studio, and even though Phil Spector resides behind bars, he’s freed from purgatory unexpectedly by Cut Off Your Hands. Johnston even sited Spector as an influence during the song-writing process and it simply goes to show the artistic freedom that was so bravely and nicely executed by this artist. However, when it’s all said and done, the New Zealanders manage to make it effortlessly their own.

The track “Nostalgia” has that prom dance sway to it. It’s a romantic rock song without over doing it. Listen closely and you can hear birds chirping towards the end. Just when you think it’s over, the song returns with that steady stride and it sounds like a radio broadcast while the track fades. This band is unpredictable in a good, refreshing way.

Last but not least, here comes the song “Someone like Daniel.” It is stripped down and soothing with just the electric guitar strumming in the background. There’s nothing fancy here, but who says there needs to be an over-the-top finale, when it’s perfectly fine to go back to basics.

While Cut Off Your Hands manages to stay in the safe zone of the rock genre, their latest album, You and I gave the band an opportunity to push the envelope musically and try new things. This shows maturity as an artist and the competitive spirit this band needs to stand out, as well as keep afloat in that large sea of musical acts. From the looks of this record, it may very well be smooth sailing from here for Nick Johnston and the boys.

–Gail Navarro