CHRISTOPHER T. SHARPE
Free Your Mind. How about that for a title eh? Both a statement and an appeal: direct and all-encompassing; singular and pluralistic. It’s with these split interpretations in mind that Cut Copy seem to have been building up to Free Your Mind‘s release, the iconography and references they’ve been employing – everything from Tribal Gathering to pseudo-spiritual self-help TV networks – seemingly all part of an attempt to tap into and explore this binary mind-set.
The band’s video for the title-track casts veritable Adonis Alexander Skarsgård as a cult leader. He’s surrounded by blue-uniformed followers, ever-willing to wash his feet and warm his bed, but despite this he seems almost always at a constant remove to his surrounding environment, facially implacable and framed in centralised apartness in most shots. By the end he’s sprinting away from it all in his tighty whities.
This concern with the interplay between distance and connectedness was carried through in the first streams of new music from the record, which represented an attempt to tear away from the conventional modes of interacting with music, whilst simultaneously exposing the raw framework and interactive relationship of those conventions. Based around people using their smartphones within the co-ordinates of half a dozen billboards scattered around the globe, the outcome as a listener was to be stood there at these hives of music (whether it be in a central city car park or the Californian desert) isolated in a screen, just as you would be on a Soundcloud stream. Inherently though, those who undertook the pilgrimage were being drawn towards something, an event that even passively created a connection, a collective experience.
In that vein then, this billboard/cloud framework is an astute comment on how we consume and react to music in the social media age. More obvious though, is that this promotional stunt was part of a bold attempt to create – artificially or organically depending on your viewpoint – the kind of late 80s/early 90s rave atmosphere that Cut Copy resolutely attempt to recreate on their latest record.
It’s here though, the actual fruit of Dan Whitford and his bandmate’s labours since Zonoscope, that all the surrounding intrigue falls slightly flat. As a consequence, the structures built around them collapse, and the rubble serves to highlight just what’s missing here.
There’s a pervading coldness to the record – that sense of connected distance again – which is instilled by the same sort of cynical post-modern nostalgia that made the late 00s “New Rave” scene such an immediately drab, commoditised piss in the wind. It’s not necessarily even the band’s fault, but even some of the moments that should really be balls-to-the-wall amazing – the pre-chorus build of Meet Me In A House of Love, the hand percussion of We Are Explorers or the shimmering keys on Take Me Higher for instance – feel too stock, even for all their careful composition and rich production. There’s a sense of depleted potency, drained authenticity even, which mean that over the course of the record these moments which aspire to a universal appeal, misplace that universality for the immediately identifiable, and so Free Your Mind becomes almost ethnographic, a shrine built from knackered Video8 footage and some 808 State bootlegs you found in the attic.
The result is that you’re having fun – on tracks like the stellar title-track and the popping candy overload of Let Me Show You Love you can’t help it – but increasingly it feels hollow… almost kitsch, and deep down you know that you, and the band, can really do better.