Album Review: Cut Copy’s Free Your Mind

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Cut Copy

Free Your Mind

Modular Recordings/Loma Vista Recordings

Release Date: November 5, 2013

Track Listing

  1. Intro
  2. Free Your Mind
  3. We Are Explorers
  4. Let Me Show You Love
  5. Into the Desert
  6. Footsteps
  7. In Memory Capsule
  8. Above the City
  9. Dark Corners and Mountain Tops
  10. Meet Me in a House of Love
  11. Take Me Higher
  12. The Waves
  13. Walking in the Sky
  14. Mantra

Personnel

Dan Whitford

Tim Hoey

Michael Scott

Ben Browning

Now known as international stars and critical darlings, indie electro pop/indie rock act Cut Copy started out from some rather humble beginnings – as the solo creative project of Melbourne, Australia-based DJ and graphic designer Dan Whitford in 2001. And as a solo project, Whitford released a single and an EP before recruiting current members Tim Hoey and Michael Scott, and former drummer Bennet Foddy in 2003 to flesh out the project’s sound. As a quartet, the band released their debut full-length album Bright Like Neon Love, which gained quite a bit of international attention after the band had opened for acts like Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party and Daft Punk.

  The band’s sophomore effort, In Ghost Colours was released in 2008 to critical praise – Pitchfork, the site famously known for being particularly snarky placed the album at number four on their best of list that year; Metacritic, a website known for assigning a normalized rating out of 100 from the reviews of mainstream album, ranked the album pretty favorable, giving a 79, among others. Personally, it may arguably be one the best albums of the past decade as it deftly mixes and blurs the lines between psychedelica, synth pop and indie rock in a way that was not only absolutely perfect for the dance floor, but managed to be deeply personal yet universal. It was honestly, the sort of album that made the band an international sensation – and quite quickly.

  The band’s follow up, Zonoscope was a carefully considered change in sonic direction, as the material leaned heavily towards a sweaty, tribal, tropical feel. The album was released to critical praise, and yet I couldn’t quite understand where the praise came from; in fact, I disagreed with many of my fellow critics and considered the album a massive disappointment. Lyrically, the material wasn’t as strong or as poignant. And despite the handful of very good songs, the album overall didn’t cohere as well.

As a critic and a fan, I was still excited to hear that the band’s fourth full-length effort Free Your Mind through Modular Recordings and Loma Vista Recordings would drop on November 5th.  And from the release of the album’s first single, the album title track “Free Your Mind,” the material suggests a synthesis of elements from their previous three albums. Several tracks lean heavily towards house music with densely layered synths, swirling electronics, room-rattling drum beats, completed by Whitford’s lyrics about love found and claimed under neon lights and to pulsating beats in a crooning falsetto. In some degree songs like “Free Your Mind,” “We Are Explorers,” “Let Me Show You Love” and “Footsteps,” “Meet Me in a House of Love” manage to capture something that was missed on Zonoscope– the sweaty energy of a dance party in some basement nightclub and the ecstasy of being desperately in love. But don’t be mistaken, as there are (at times) subtle elements of Bright Like Neon Love and Zonoscope throughout. “Free Your Mind” uses a looped sample of animal noises, along with keyboards and congos to introduce the hook – and it recurs during the song’s bridge. “We Are Explorers” one of my favorite songs bears a similarity to the layers of shimmering synths and pulsating beats of “Lights and Music” or “We Fight for Diamonds” off In Ghost Colours – but with brief bits of congo and other percussion in the background.  “Let Me Show You Love” reminds me the most of Zonoscope and in some way sounds as though it could have been from those sessions, complete with swirling electronics – that’s not a bad thing as it would have been a pretty average song on either album. “Footsteps,” is probably the most straightforward house music track on the entire album and it almost sounds as though it could have been released in 1989. “In Memory Capsule” with its hazy synth intro bears an uncanny resemblance to a couple of my favorite songs off Colours as it has the same subtle psychedelic air with a hint of a mournful air, thanks to Whitford’s vocals and lyrics which describe a once in a lifetime love. “Dark Corners and Mountain Tops” manages to sound like a synthesis between the sound on Colours and Zonoscope but with a mournful horn line during the bridge, before one of the best bass lines I’ve heard on the entire album. Interestingly, the track ends almost exactly like “Lights and Music” does – with a gentle, hazy fade out. “Walking in the Sky” sounds the most like “Strangers in the Wind” but with an almost gospel-like feel.

   Generally with electro pop, I don’t expect the most profound, thoughtful lyrics on the face of the earth. After all, the genre tends to be about the slick production work, setting up a particular mood and getting you to shake your ass. So if I hear something that resonates lyrically, the songwriter has done what any songwriter who’s worth a damn would do – write something that sounds as though it came straight out of the listener’s head. Lyrically, Free Your Mind manages to be a mix of their second and third albums. At times it manages to offer the most direct, universal sentiment of pop music – and when it makes contact, it hits homers. When it strikes out, it strikes out swinging for the fences. “In Memory Capsule” “House of Love” and a couple of others have pretty decent lyrics. However, lyrically, “Walking in the Sky has some of the most cloying lyrics on the entire album, and I almost wish it was cut from the album altogether.

   Overall, the album manages to be a pretty decent album as it reveals how polished Cut Copy’s sound is while never losing a swooning, passionate Romanticism. They’ve always managed to craft an entire album in the sense that you can always easily get an overarching theme or an overarching mood to the entire proceeding – there’s always a very general sense that rearranging the sequence of the songs on the album would create a totally different, weird album. And in many ways, it’s a great synthesis of what has made the band so popular so far. In many ways, it’s a return to form without it intending to be a cookie-cutter copy but in some way, much like Interpol (who I also love), it feels a bit like they’re going in a creative circle. There’s still things to love about it – man, the album will get you dancing – but it’s at best, an improvement over Zonoscope in my mind.