Free Your Mind is a passable homage to early rave culture

Regardless of what Dan Whitford’s Aussie outfit Cut Copy meant by “free your mind” or how they got there, their newest release is a collection of tunes that differ significantly from their established indie-tronica future-sound.

“Free Your Mind” explores the richly rave-y past of England’s second summer of love in the late 80s, tapping into the early days of acid house raves, illegal acid house parties and possibly acid. And as far as homages go, it’s not a bad one.

The spacey, 20-second intro of distant radio whistling seamlessly merges into the funky, bongo-induced dance beat of the title track. If you didn’t know any better, you’d assume Cut Copy was a gaggle of pretty far-out guys with whom to party.

But you do know better, don’t you? And in a way, so does Whitford. His droning, bland vocal delivery works just fine when it’s complemented by structured synth fills and pop hooks. But when he tries to be both MC and DJ of the rave party, he sounds as if he’s trying to be the cool dad at prom—not the genuine party guy.

This misstep stems from the band’s effort to utilize their usual, structured approach to new wave and synthpop with the very unstructured world of rave music. This works in the sense that all the right pieces are there: tight beats, pounding synth, unmistakable hints of Ibiza-flavored piano, jumbly sounds of dance-able chaos. But it all sounds much too clinical for the chaotic, dance floor feel they’re going for.

Weirdly enough, when Cut Copy dips back into old habits—harmonizing pop songwriting with rave experiments—the band accidentally creates some of the album’s finest moments. Upbeat, hook-filled number “We Are Explorers,” dreamy track “Footsteps,” synth-pop jem “In Memory Capsule” and the soulful “Let Me Show You Love” keep the insane club beats and psychedelic haze going.

It’s only when Cut Copy tries to be rave DJs that the clunkers emerge. Opener “Free Your Mind” goes on entirely too long, building around a rather uninspired groove. “Meet Me In A House Of Love” and “Take Me Higher” are loaded with far too many ideas, sounding more like repetitive cacophonies (likely due to the band turning every sonic flitter dial available in the studio).

For something that strives to be experimental, “Free Your Mind” ends up being too tame for its own good. Cut Copy tries to channel the energy of the beginnings of England’s rave culture but comes away sounding more like bored adults doing a thesis.

Cut Copy is in its element when the band sticks to its strengths and ends up making much more exciting and meaningful music when it doesn’t attempt to clumsily recreate the textbook version of the past.

Grade: B-