– By Austin Reed –
From the standpoint of dance music creation, production and general popularity, I’m deeply proprietary. I’m not naïve enough to believe that the best dance music in the world is born in the United States, but I’m also not quite burned enough to believe that it couldn’t. After all, the genre itself is anti-residential; every corner of the world has, within recent history, planted a flag in some rendition of dance music, the United States (read: Brooklyn) included. It’s a statistic without pattern, and if the progress of the genre wasn’t so mandatorily (and tangibly) rooted in artistic talent, quality and forward thinking, it would almost seem arbitrary.
Objectively, I’m required to observe that this is the case. But subjectively (and almost humorously), I have to make an observation: I hate it when, “that corner of the world,” isn’t my corner of the world. When critically acclaimed music crosses the pond and positions someone else as the undisputed leader in the progression of dance music, I want to scream, sort of. It makes me sick, but not really. I want to fight, but I don’t want the fight to leave the confines of my own self-determined mental parameter.
That being said, I’m fighting with Australia right now.
If you’re reading this and you’re wondering why I’m not fighting with the British, your point is valid. U.K. acts like Disclosure, Duke Dumont and Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs are without question sitting atop the dance-music pyramid with a very comfortable margin between them and the next-best. But I don’t have an issue with the British for the same reason that I don’t have an issue with the University of Texas football program. They’re good, even when they aren’t that good. They have prolific tendencies, even when they’re behind the curve. And they’ll always be a threat to the progression of anything else, even if, on paper, that threat doesn’t technically exist. At their best, they’re a powerhouse talent, and you can only hope not to get creamed. At their worst, they’re a wildcard play, and your chances of beating them never get much better than, “Well, maybe.”
Nope. Today, my beef is with Australia, and more specifically, my issue is with Cut Copy.
To those avid listeners, the threat that Australian quartet Cut Copy poses is nothing new. Actually, it dates back nine years, which makes the threat old enough to talk back but not old enough to drive away. Bright Like Neon Love, CC’s debut full-length, delivered something of an anomaly to the dance music genre in 2004, specifically because of its disinterest in leaning bass-heavy and content-light. Instead, it opted to incorporate discernible lyrics, cogent melodies and emotionally permeable hooks into a genre that, quite frankly, required that necessary roughness to move forward.
And that’s the way it has always been with these guys. 2008’s In Ghost Colours and 2011’s Zonoscope were both critically acclaimed, and tracks like, “Hearts On Fire,” “Lights & Music,” and “Take Me Over,” will forever be the club-ready representation of something much more culturally relevant—something that can only be discovered by listening to each record in its entirety.
Which brings us to Free Your Mind, Cut Copy’s spectacularly produced (albeit poorly titled) fourth and most recent full-length. It’s so recent, in fact, that it’s not even released yet. We’re three days away from the launch, but the album is available to stream on Stereogum.
What we have on Free Your Mind is an exercise in Cut Copy’s own self-awareness. From the first bar on album opener, “Free Your Mind,” the album sets up shop in a universe based entirely upon Cut Copy’s supposition as to what they should sound like. If Bright Like Neon Love qualified Cut Copy’s intent, and if In Ghost Colours provided a multidimensional illustration of Cut Copy’s potential, and if Zonoscope was the Go-Go-Gadget-Arm that exponentially extended Cut Copy’s scope and impact, Free Your Mind is the free-fall plunge into Cut Copy’s own brutally unforgiving superego.
This is undeniably what makes Free Your Mind such a powerful presentation. With little effort, the album runs a gamut of emotion, from the sexually hubristic, “Let Me Show You Love,” to the abstractly innocent, “We Are Explorers.” Despite the immeasurable amount of ground being covered, however, each track is a different version of the same compound question: “What should this album be, and why shouldn’t it be anything else?”
Obviously, it could take a while to get to the bottom of that one. But the most important takeaway to extricate from Free Your Mind is not the severity of the question—it’s the way Cut Copy uses both the album’s architecture and each track’s content as a means of answering it.
Case in point: “Footsteps,” FYM’s strongest and most danceable moment, is an ironically unconcealed admission to being lost, alone and without recourse. It should come as no surprise, then, that, “Footsteps,” is located in the very middle of the album.
With intermittent breaths of background beat infiltrating select moments within the duration of the record, Free Your Mind is a track-by-track roller coaster that behaves much more like an uphill climb. The only imagined payout comes at the very end, when the light, airy, “Walking In The Sky,” transitions seamlessly into album closer, “Mantra.” It’s here where (I suppose) Cut Copy surrenders to the question, eerily chanting, “Free your mind,” and figuratively citing that it might be better not to know the answer at all.
Lucky for them: That was the answer the whole time.