At what point does mastery become boring? Cut Copy are now almost a decade deep into a career of nothing but dizzy starry-eyed dance-rock anthems, and their sound has evolved in tiny fits and starts since they debuted with 2004’s Bright Like Neon Love. That album was one of the first things I put on my first iPod, and I started liking it a whole lot more immediately afterward. Whenever a Bright Like Neon Love track came up on shuffle — wherever I was, whatever I was doing, whatever mood I was in — I was happy to hear it. Back then, there was something novel in the idea of a band who fused dance-music sonics to indie-pop warmth, and who had Trapper Keeper-style portraits of Giorgio Moroder and Guided By Voices in their liner notes. That’s gone now that everyone listens to everything and a good 30% of what gets played on top-40 radio is both vaguely dancey and vaguely indie. But four albums in, and Cut Copy still have yet to write a bad song. That might not make them the most exciting or boundary-pushing group out there, but on it’s own level, that’s amazing.
That’s not to say that every Cut Copy album sounds the same, though god knows they’re similar. On 2008’s In Ghost Colours, they sharpened their edges and came out with a handful of glittering pop anthems, songs that stood out from the contours of the sound they’d shaped. On 2011’s Zonoscope, they expanded their range, toying around with slick-but-quirky ’80s-pop textures and ending it with a 15-minute house-music monolith. Free Your Mind isn’t exactly a linear evolution from either of those albums, and maybe it’s not the stunner that the last two were, though it’s close. This album finds the band entering their spaced-out spiritual psychedelic age, taking notes from the era where British rock bands started taking pills and going to raves. But the hooks still soar, the keyboards still swirl, Dan Whitford’s voice still works as a lovably gawky white-guy honk, and the drums still kick in right on time. And if the primary influence this time is more Happy Mondays than New Order, they’re still keeping it in the Factory Records family.
Lyrically, Free Your Mind remains rooted firmly in love-everybody zone, and Whitford can sound a bit silly singing flower-child plaudits about how he’s walking in the sky or how we’ll defeat darkness if we act as one. But Whitford has always sounded silly; sounding silly is just what he does. And, after all, nobody listens to Cut Copy for the lyrics. Instead, we listen for the way they build their tracks into towering festival wreckers, and in that respect, Cut Copy remain absolute professionals. Again and again, the band leans hard on early-’90s house-music pianos, and they always sounds ecstatic and warm and liberating in these guys’ hands. The title track has house-diva wails and ravey lazer-bass and conga drums stuck on overdrive. “Footsteps” sounds like a 1989 extended club edit of itself. The climax of “Take Me Higher,” where the ambient effects build up and the snares kick in and the beat drops and the euphoric yeah-yeah-yeah backing vocals chime in, is one of the most purely and physically satisfying moments any band has come up with in 2013.
An album like Primal Scream’s Screamadelica is a clear influence here, but Cut Copy never sound like sleazily stoned scuzzballs like those guys. They aren’t swaggering barfly rockers who stumbled into a rave late one night and had their minds blown. They’ve grown up with these sounds, and there’s an businesslike office-functionary cleanliness to the way they knock out all these hooks. But it would be silly to hold that against Cut Copy, to judge them by what they’re not as opposed to what they are. They’re not headlong desparados, and there’s not that thrill of invention in everything they do. But they’re ridiculously good at working within already-established parameters, at taking old sounds and doing them better than anyone else is currently doing them. In the months ahead, I expect to encounter the songs on Free Your Mind again and again in random places: In car commercials, maybe, or at festivals, or playing in the background of YouTube videos of puppies dancing. They’re songs that are built like that, songs that dissolve into the atmosphere and just exist there. And I have to imagine that I’ll always be happy to hear these songs when they show up.
Free Your Mind is out now on Modular.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Eminem’s puerile, tedious, toxic regression The Marshall Mathers LP 2.
• M.I.A.’s messy, cluttered, exhilarating comeback Matangi.
• Swearin”s buoyant, fuzzed-out sophomore joint Surfing Strange.
• Midlake’s bucolic, frontman-free return Antiphon.
• Ejecta’s sensuously seasick pop debut Dominae.
• Luscious Jackson’s reunion effort Magic Hour.
• Melvins’ reliably grimy Tres Cabrones.
• Groundbreaking underground rap duo Latyrx’s long-awaited follow-up The Second Album.
• The Kronos Quartet’s Bryce Dessner-composed Aheym.
• Black Flag’s reawakening What The….
• David Bowie’s expanded three-disc edition of The Next Day.
• Yo La Tengo’s expanded edition of Fade.
• Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s Blue Record EP.
• Nguzunguzu’s Skycell EP.
• Tennis’s Small Sound EP.
• No Joy’s Pastel And Pass Out EP.