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The 1975 - 'Notes On A Conditional Form' Album Review


1. The 1975 (NOACF)

2. People

3. The End (Music For Cars)

4. Frail State Of Mind

5. Streaming

6. The Birthday Party

7. Yeah I Know

8. Then Because She Goes

9. Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America

10. Roadkill

11. Me & You Together Song

12. I Think There's Something You Should Know

13. Nothing Revealed / Everything Denied

14. Tonight (I Wish I Was Your Boy)

15. Shiny Collarbone

16. If You're Too Shy (Let Me Know)

17. Playing On My Mind

18. Having No Head

19. What Should I Say

20. Bagsy Not In Net

21. Don't Worry

22. Guys

'Notes On A Conditional Form': The soundtrack for the end of the world?

Too dramatic, and cliché. But there's no denying we're at a new juncture in life and if there was an album that worked as an excellent full stop for the before and during, you could do worse than 'Notes On A Conditional Form'. The current critical landscape sees this album as; polarising. But as an Art Object (and let's be real here, everything this band does aspires to straddle that boundary line between Art and Pop/Pulp/whatever, you could view that as pretentious or commendable, I'll let you figure out where I stand on that one)

As The 1975 releases albums they become increasingly more varied examples of front-thing Matt Healy's assertions that they are a modern band born of a generation that experiences music in a completely non-linear scattershot way, album sequencing be damned. You can tell because even though I'm sure a lot of effort goes into the sequencing on these albums they always feel a bit like you have shuffle turned on whether you're going vinyl or MP3. During their last press cycle Healy described his/our attention deficit attitude as “I watch something on Netflix and it’s like, ‘That was the greatest thing I’ve ever seen. Next?’" and for a band that loves taking cues from the situationists and David Lynch as much as D'Angelo and Peter Gabriel this multitasking attitude riddles the album. 'A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships' was relatively concise compared to its forebears but this album returns to the (over)stuffed approach. Yet another aspect that might turn away some but personally I love it, these four throw several kitchen sinks at the canvas at every opportunity and take Healy's generally hyper motor brainflow as a badge of honor. Yes, there are three tracks on here that lean more towards the transitional scale of things but one of them is their perennial self-titled and it features a powerful speech from Greta Thunberg that represents what one can only hope is a Radiohead-esque devotion to the relationship between environmental disaster and the personal realm. And speaking of Oxfordshire's greatest, lots of comparisons to OK Computer haunted this albums precursor (for better or worse) and in that regard this one does feel a bit more like an Amnesiac. If I'm going to nitpick here, another comparison that could be made is the decreasing presence of an ace guitarist as time goes by. While Adam Hann isn't quite the visionary that Greenwood is, his ability to bring unique and impressive lead playing to this band is an element that shouldn't be taken for granted.

Pre-release description (this album finally saw the light of day over a year after it's initial set for release and presumably underwent more than a few artistic changes) saw the album as being inspired by nighttime drives on the M25 in the early/mid 00's. And there is definitely an element of The Streets or Burial here, 'Frail State Of Mind's' glitchy ode to social anxiety, 'Yeah I Know' riding nocturnal garage waves. But while a large portion of the album does lend itself to a more introspective tone, we've got to take a moment to address 'People' as utterly bafflingly different than pretty much anything the 1975 has done to this point (maaaybe hearkening back to pre-fame 'Drive Like I Do'.) Released as a lead-in to their Reading performance 'People' is a super aggro (for them) cry for release from the ever clutching hands of whoever the titular folks are supposed to be, a generational reminder that we might already be doomed but also there's at least someone who wants them to “stop fucking with the kids.” But that one starts us with such a bang that every other track feels largely sedate by comparison. It's quite the ballsy move and I'm honestly still not sure how I feel about it.

Luckily, there are plenty of different strengths propping up the songs on display here. The 1975's greatest strength is essentially the dynamic between Matt Healy's emotional heart-on-sleeve-stapled to his brain artistic approach and George Daniel's phenomenal production instincts. Doing my civic duty as an American to make baseball metaphors, Daniel hits every single ridiculous pitch Healy throws his way. 'The Birthday Party' has a loping banjo led Country-ish feel with choral touches and saxophones and his nearly ever present wispy touches of glitching twinkling noise and fascinating sounds from every band of the EQ. 'Then Because She Goes' pairs a 1975 favourite of classic Pop-tinged wall of sound Shoegazing with pitch corrected vocal interludes.

Actually, 'Me & You Together Song' lives in a similarly Shoegazing area, combining Ride like guitars with a more general Britpop approach, and we can safely say that the group are engaging in 1990's revivalism to match their previous 80's sounding fervor. In fact the only song on NOACF that sounds like what I guess we'll call “classic 1975” is 'If You're Too Shy Let Me Know', which naturally features Ross MacDonald's most prominent bass work, is firmly entrenched in that familiar sound of an idealized neon eighties that never really happened (and it's a very strong Pop song that I'm sure will be the best charting song on the album) but even that begins with hypnotic sonic experimentation. Another surefire highlight of this offering is the presence of two meteoric contributors in the form of Phoebe Bridgers and FKA Twigs. The former continues her impeccable trend of duetting with the great Sad Men of our era and it takes the form of the wonderfully titled 'Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America', that feels essentially like a Bridgers solo track with the 1975's flitting atmospheric production touches on top, which is an amazing combination and I can only hope there are more like it in the future. She also lends backing vocals to the similarly Americana scented 'Playing On My Mind'. Twigs' contribution is on the aforementioned 'Too Shy' and like Bridgers it takes the form of backing vocals, but her presence is always appreciated on any musical endeavor regardless of it's size.

The other, possibly more contentious, big strength of this group is Healy's lyricism. In an age where the latest Apple advert is the same grating phrase over and over and over again, and the Pop lexicon grows increasingly devoid of substance and ideas, confessional word vomit is totally welcome. Mental health is a constant current throughout the band's songs and the writer's ego and ID are almost always slathered across the page to a sometimes uncomfortable degree. The press and critics love this and make a field day of it, both positively and negatively. But Healy feels largely unafraid in telling us how he feels. Or rather, he knows that we're just as afraid in our lives as he is in his, regardless of whether or not we are mercurial megastars. The biggest change here is that he is increasingly self-editing and paring down in his writing. These songs feel like poetic diary entries that encapsulate the singer and his take on the world around him in equal measure but delve emotional depths on a starker level. 'Bagsy Not In Net' plumbs the depths of wanting to die at the same time as your partner, something that could easily come off maudlin and teenage but instead carries the requisite emotional weight with the music around it. “I'm reeling, I know that I'm appalling. This feeling, it could be our calling. Not dying, no, just lying. Seeing you here is the moment it's clear 'cause I'm crying. Do you want to leave at the same time?” Elsewhere the singer tackles his ever-present struggles in defining his own sexuality in a way that always feels painfully exploratory as opposed to queerbaiting. 'Guys' serves as a brilliant ode to the love between band mates, taking the phrasing of classically romantic songs and applying it to one of the deepest bonds there is. If you, like me, have had the pleasure of being in a band with longstanding friends you might find it hard to keep your eyes dry at the sentiment. 'Don't Worry' is the only song featuring lyrics not written by Matt, but instead a musical reaction to father Tim Healy's take on his wife's postnatal depression, and is a touching duet between father and son.

So at the end of this 22 track album we're left grappling with a bundle of artistic impulses that flail a bit but largely end up where they were aimed for. A confident whirl of anxiety and existential worry distilled into nocturnal electronic beats and pitched down assertions of mental misfortune, many written from the point of view of someone scared of going outside. Chiming tones ringing from worried walls that remind us that love is in fact attainable, and worth it, but getting there is always messy. The sound of millennial figureheads who readily admit that they are as angry and confused as the rest of us, out of touch superstars who cannot escape their generational gravitational pull and are actually just as connected as anyone else. Conditional forms are used to imagine events, and even though this one was written before this version of our world existed, it soundtracks it messily and beautifully.

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Review - Julian Hepworth

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