Life changed dramatically for Australian indie dance-pop quartet Cut Copy after their 2004 debut Bright Like Neon Love. It wasn't immediate, but by the time they'd begun working on their breakthrough 2008 album, In Ghost Colours, they'd toured the world supporting Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party, and Daft Punk.
Everything after that was pretty much a blur for leader Dan Whitford until the band took some time off from touring and recording last year. The downtime allowed Whitford to get out and reconnect with Melbourne's dance-music scene, which had a profound impact on Cut Copy's latest album, Free Your Mind.
"It really felt like the first chance we had to kind of take stock of what was going on back home," says Whitford from Canada last Tuesday where they were playing a show. "People had taken off from where we had sort of left, and there were a whole new generation of artists and bands and producers. It's a very underground grassroots scene that has sort of developed with a really, sort of fervent following."
Whitford compares the Melbourne scene to the late '80s U.K. scene that produced bands like Happy Mondays and Primal Scream, whose bubbly dance-floor psych is a touchstone for the new album.
"It has an echo of early dance music culture and rave culture — a lot of the events that happen in Melbourne these days with sort of rave and bands are not heavily advertised but are happening at weird one-off warehouse spaces, and it will be a word-of-mouth thing," Whitford says. "It was for me as exciting as going to New York or London or these places that have amazing dance scenes, but it was local, and it had been happening under our noses in some respect. But it really got me excited about dance music again, and I guess the new album reflects that."
For a band that made their bones on shimmery keyboards and breezy indie-pop strum over percolating rhythms, their fourth album represents a significant departure. While those earlier elements remain, they're absorbed on Free Your Mind by tribal, pulsing rhythms that propel the songs like waves of water through a flume ride. The songs are majestically psychedelic, swelling expansively into a woozily tuneful headspace.
It's a dramatically different approach compared to the more conventional dance-pop of tracks like the Beach Boys-tinged "Where I'm Going" or the icy six-minute new wave of "Need You Now" off 2011's Zonoscope. Free Your Mind contains the slinky six-minute trance-rock of "Let Me Show You Love" and the disco-fied indie-pop of "Meet Me in a House of Love." Another key to the album's trippier sound is their decision to collaborate with producer Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips, MGMT).
"We wanted someone that understood the left-field experimental aspect but also wasn't afraid of crossing over and doing something that was commercially successful. Really the one name that came up between all of us is Dave Friedmann," Whitford says. "We contacted him, and he said he actually wanted to work with us for some time. So it was sort of a mutually exciting experience, and at the end of the process he jokingly said it was the best dance music records he had ever worked on."
They went to Fridmann's studio in the woods of upstate New York, where they ate communal meals and worked ceaselessly on the mixes. They had recorded everything prior to leaving Australia; what they were looking for from Fridmann was to bring his special touch to the mixing.
"There are so many layers to our music that doing the mix really has the capacity to change the tracks, and some of them along the way really went in a different direction," says Whitford.
He offers the dreamy swirling of "Walking in the Sky" as a good example of Fridmann's contributions. "When we first recorded it, there were barely any drums on the track whatsoever," he recalls. "Then we flipped it on its head and made the drums the loudest thing on the track, way louder than drums should be really, technically speaking. But it was kind of a Phil Spector, wall-of-sound approach, and he put the whole mix through this crazy distortion, and it came out the other end sounding like something completely different."
Free Your Mind is without a doubt Cut Copy's most adventurous album. "It helps if you've got an established set of fans and people that you know are going to take the time to get into your music no matter what you do," says Whitford. "That's a fortunate position to be in. There's a confidence that goes with that; you can push things in different directions and follow that out of your comfort zone, and they'll follow you if it's out of their comfort zone."