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Cut Copy Indulge the Banal, Vapid Side of ’90s House on the Constricting ‘Free Your Mind’

Cut Copy / Photo by Michael Muller
SPIN Rating: 4 of 10
Release Date: November 05, 2013
Label: Modular

It’s not a good sign when a band’s new record reminds you of a band you used to really like, and it’s the same band. It’s been about two years since Cut Copy hit us with their third album, Zonoscope, a 2011 year-end favorite and rightly so: The thing was voracious and gleefully vertiginous, as likely to wink in the direction of Men at Work as at a peak-hour 21st-century dance floor. Moreover, it cemented this Australian outfit’s rep as a synth-pop band par excellence, one that might eventually deserve a spot on the genre’s Mount Rushmore alongside Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys, and, I dunno, Erasure.

But man, two years feels like a long time ago.

Kinda sorta about cults or something, Free Your Mind takes nine jams and five tracks of trippy dialogue snippets to accomplish in 50 minutes what the Orb’s “Little Fluffy Clouds” did in eight, in 1990. The record is so one-note it makes its predecessor sound like an entire season at the London Philharmonic. That one note is Cut Copy’s very specific (and in this case incredibly anodyne) combination of four-four kicks, barely groovy bass lines, and strobe-light synth stabs: your basic dance-pop mirepoix, a flavor base the band generally does wonders with, or at least did.

“Let me show you love”… “Just keep holding on to love”… “Meet me in the house of love”… what sounds like a bad night of ’90s house is, in fact, Cut Copy in 2013. Instead of a whirlwind tour of dance-pop songcraft with whiffs of Spaceman 3, Bronski Beat, and OMD — i.e., the kind of thing of which Cut Copy are capable — we’re treated to John Carpenter-esque cheeseball danger-synths that evoke Big Trouble in Little China and spooky atmospherics that recall Halloween, which is sort of a compliment, but not one I think Cut Copy would (or should) appreciate. “Footsteps” is half-baked acid house; “Take Me Higher” sounds like Fatboy Slim trying to sound like Black Grape trying to remember how to sound like Happy Mondays. The beats are limpid, the noodling aimless. Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in warm oatmeal.

Now, look. I like this band, and perhaps there’s another way to assess Free Your Mind, which is as a daft little experiment in early-’90s ambient-house reclamation, a glance back at that time when the poppier bits of early Ministry and the prettier bits of Aphex Twin burbled up in music made by groups like Orbital and Underworld. Those were neat times: E was pretty new, ravers took to the desert, Miley Cyrus was barely alive. Perhaps Free Your Mind is trying to get at that, and perhaps that’s kind of cool, but to paraphrase Yoda, “Rave or rave not; there is no try.”