October 30, 2013

Test Spins: Cut Copy, Free Your Mind

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Ignore that silly album cover for a second. In fact, forget about that multicolored motto on the cover imploring you to “free your mind,” too. The best way to “free your mind” is to just listen to the album.

Cut Copy made a splash in 2008 when its second album, In Ghost Colours, dropped, bursting with  melodies that seamlessly blended in a haze of ambient noise. Amid the demise of early 2000s dance-punk revival, the album’s New Order-inspired dance was welcome and cemented Cut Copy’s reputation as a group of musicians with a knack for infectiously catchy melodies. Follow-up Zonoscope brought some much-needed focus with hypnotic hooks and a psychedelic bent, but its long songs often seemed too dragged-out. Free Your Mind finally reconciles these two opposite directions by combining what was best. As a result, the album is full of concise dance-pop gems with little filler that make the album one of best dance records of the year.

Free Your Mind succeeds in taking the same hypnotic, dancey baselines in Zonoscope that could have gone on forever and taming them into the strict structure of a rock song. Unlike other recent ’80s synth throwback albums (Hot Chip, anyone?) that move from one hook to the next with the memory of a goldfish, Free Your Mind acts like a good rock song, returning to its best parts to flesh them out. “Let Me Show You Love” touts a groovy, four-note disco baseline, not unlike the one on Donna Summer’s disco classic “I Feel Love”: Minimal beats and airy vocals evince that all attention should be paid to the endlessly repeated and ingenious synth line. It is only towards the end of the song that the driving bass is upped a pitch for the climax.

Before Cut Copy put Free Your Mind up for streaming, the band had forced eager listeners to travel to different worldwide billboards to hear its first single. This annoyed some fans, and five minutes after the initial announcement, someone had already figured out how to stream the song. Regardless, this viral marketing campaign is part of a newfound confidence and directness for the band. Free Your Mind so unabashedly puts its music at the forefront that the ambience and reverbs in the previous two albums feel like insecure gimmicks. The house influences in “Footsteps” thump the whole way through, not unlike the best of The Juan Maclean’s songs. The chorus in “Take Me Higher” does indeed sound like a hazy halcyon memory of the album’s purported influence, 1967’s Summer of Love. Title track “Free Your Mind” is the most unabashedly psychedelic song Cut Copy has made yet, but the piano on it contributes just a hint of acid house that works beautifully.

Listeners who hear Free Your Mind with In Ghost Colours in mind will be disappointed that the two don’t match up, but this is an unfair comparison. It is unlikely that the band will pump out another In Ghost Colours with its LCD Soundsystem influences (that album was produced by Tim Goldsworthy who is part of the DFA production duo; the other member is LCD’s James Murphy). The band has proved with this album that it can seamlessly incorporate other genres into its oeuvre and, as a result, they have little incentive to revisit old works. Throughout Free Your Mind, Cut Copy seems to have a clear sense of what they want, and the exuberance they bring proves they can pull it off.