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Notes On A Conditional Form: The Sound of 2020, now and forever

Photo By Mara Palena

The long awaited release is finally upon the world; the fourth studio album from genre bending powerhouse, The 1975. Notes On A Conditional Form has been for me, and thousands of others, the most highly anticipated musical release of 2020. After the pushing back of the album to what seems like the middle of the year, we have it and so do you. It almost feels as though the universe knew we’d need something as magical as this record to happen for us during the worst crisis of the 21st century. So without any more delay or chit chat, let us dive into the world of Music For Cars part 2.

Iconically, the album begins with the new The 1975 introduction but with the most pleasant twist imaginable. If you were lucky enough to see The 1975 perform their first Leeds and Reading Festival headline slot last year you would’ve already heard it, but nonetheless, it still plucks my heartstrings. The unadulterated, powerful words of environmental activist Greta Thunberg take centre stage as her voice speaks of nothing but what we should be focusing our attention to. Matty [Healy, lead vocalist] and George’s [Daniel, drummer and producer] choice to use their platform to communicate to anyone and everyone listening that the world we know and love is dying is something that should not be brushed over. It sets the politically charged undertones that follow through some of the record and perfectly sets us up for People.

People crashes into our ears at full pelt and is an forgiving “F**K YOU” to the generations that love to perpetuate the false narrative that all young people are lazy and are overly sensitive. But this is very quickly reset with the sound of The End (Music for Cars) and Frail State Of Mind, which brings us into a calmer world and sees the garage/house influence that Healy has been talking about since before A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships was released at the back end of 2018. Frail State Of Mind allows listeners to peek into Matty’s mental health and how it’s altered his relationships which is, again, another element that has run through the entirety of the Music For Cars era.

This same theme of emotional honesty extends through the quaintness and the gentle instrumental that pulls the same sounds from ABIIOR, and then into The Birthday Party. Personally, I think Healy’s ability to write openly and almost in lyrical prose, as he does in The Birthday Party, is one of his most admirable, artistic skills as someone who’s also a writer. It’s one of his few ways of bringing in cultural and political issues into The 1975 without seeming like a preacher, and I for one think it's extremely clever.

However, following that, we’re shoved back into the garage inspired, night-time-drive sound that has been referenced to more times than I could count by endless interviewers when asking Matty where he thought the album was going sonically. Yeah I Know is very reminiscent of ABIIOR’s How To Draw / Petrichor but this track almost feels misplaced on the record as it’s followed by one of the record’s more upbeat songs Then Because She Goes. On the other hand though, they almost seem perfect together; they’re the fleeting moments of love and confusion we all have. The simple honesty of saying out loud that you love someone or that life is changing too much and too frequently for you to stay afloat; one could say they’re the most human of feelings despite how little it’s talked about.

This same feeling of looking at the simplicity of human connections comes through with Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America. It’s one of MFC’s few folk songs and it feels as though it should be on ABIIOR instead but it’s dialogue is what suits it to this record so much. The sentiment of wanting to find something to give yourself a purpose in a world with so much misdirection may seem niche but it’s not foreign ground in the lyrical world of The 1975. Matty has openly talked about his want to be able to connect with something other than the world around him and his struggle with atheism. As well as this, we hear guest vocals from Phoebe Bridgers, who crops up on the record several times. Now, if you’re a long time listener of The 1975, you’d be very aware that it’s almost unheard of for them to collaborate with anyone other than each other, but Matty has said himself that working with Bridgers has been incredibly easy and I think that shines through perfectly well.

Emotional honesty continues into the almost comical track Roadkill, which is about the band’s relationship with America. Roadkill in Healy’s words “ is one of the funniest songs” but in reality it’s content is about how the media and general public perceives him regardless of the success of the band. The country rock element of the song is, to me, the primary comedic element of it as well as the references to one of The 1975’s most iconic songs, Robbers, which feels as though it exists in a world away from the new music landscape they’ve built up around themselves now. Lyrically, it seems to bounce between the fear of public perception of himself, especially as a frontman, and a forlorning to the times when he could have a wilder sex life without it being a scrutinisable scandal.

Now, being at the album’s midpoint, it feels like we’ve almost been brought back in time. Me & You Together Song feels like I’ve gone to the pub to see an old friend that I haven’t seen in awhile but as soon as we get chatting its like nothing’s changed. The track’s bouncy bassline and distance guitars mixed with a simple drum pattern, paired with a relatable story of unrequited love feels so much like The 1975’s first EP’s and debut album. Now, although this song has been in the world for a few months already, hearing as part of the collective that is Notes makes it that much more special. It’s the kind of song that I’d put over a montage of my happiest memories if I were a character in an early 2000s teen flick. It’s upbeat sound and the encouragement of emotional honesty is so beautifully charismatic and makes me feel like I do whatever I want, in the best way.

Back to the night time garage vibe, I Think There’s Something You Should Know, opens up a commentary on the fear and fragility of mental illness and impostor syndrome. “I’d like to meet myself and swap clothes” holds that idea of feeling like you’re a stranger to yourself because you can’t understand why your brain works the way it does. As someone who tries to discuss my mental health issues as openly as possible, to see someone who I admire as a writer opening that dialogue in an easily digestible yet understandable way is something truly special. It also draws light onto the fact that communication as a mentally ill person can be so unforgivingly exhausting and dark sometimes; moments of happiness and stability are so fleeting and Matty demonstrates that perfectly.

Nothing Revealed / Everything Denied feels like the lovechild of I Like It When You Sleep..’s If I Believe You with the emotional storytelling mixed with hip hop of American rapper J Cole’s 2016 release 4 Your Eyez Only. Now, that may seem like an odd mix but the blend of lofi hip hop, which George Daniel often likes to play around with and incorporate into his production styles, with the almost jazz inspired piano and the iconic voices of the London Community Gospel Choir brings us to this track. Watching Matty breaking down his infamous persona that it seems as though he spent years building, seems to bring a reflective air to the song; almost as if it’s a call to anyone listening to prove that life has any essence of purity and truth. Or, that love is somewhere hidden, waiting to fall into his life and change the way he lives and conducts himself.

Now, this next track is what feels like the one thing I, as a self proclaimed long term fan of The 1975 never expected to hear from them. Tonight (I Wish I Was Your Boy) is almost a pastiche of 90s hip-hop inspired boy band classics mixed with a Jamaican pop element that works surprisingly well. It tells the tale of a love ending due to uncertainty surrounding commitment to each other but regretting the words exchanged, yet having to accept the way that a situation happened. Healy has said himself that this track is an anomaly and didn’t happen on purpose but it arose when the album was a much more relaxed record and didn't have as many upbeat elements as it does now, as we’re hearing it.

Shiny Collarbone is to me, an exact slice of George Daniel. Yes, it's the hazy house that the band has been continually referencing up to the release of the album, but it feels like George’s way of expressing himself and only him. This is another track that feels like a fleeting moment. It reminds me of driving home from a gig, sitting in the front seat of a car or being sat on a brightly lit train looking at the orange lights of a city that isn’t mine. It holds a sense of something that I can translate to words but feels so warm and familiar.

The same motion of back and forth throughout the album throws us back into the upbeat, happy sound with the already heard If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know). The dreamy glitchy intro that features vocals from FKA Twigs allows us to waltz into the heavy drum orientated track quite easily. The commentary of online relationships not having to be deep and romantic but can simply be sexual without any guilt holds onto the same idea through the lyrical landscape of the whole record, which is the idea that it’s okay to live how you want if you do it with truth. It’s, in Healy’s words, “the most 1975 song on the record” and that is exactly what it is; it almost feels like a lost track that should’ve been on I Like It When You Sleep For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It, which is probably why it’s already so loved.

Playing On My Mind is one of the other tracks on the album that Matty actually finds comedic due to its self-deprecating nature paired with the plainly spoken narrative. The entire song seems to be a review of the longevity of Matty’s status as a musician, the continued success of The 1975 and his relationships that are no longer. Healy’s ability to poke fun at the way he’s got into and conducted past relationships without much consideration of how it might work in his life is awkwardly funny; it’s cringeworthy but relatable as he’s able to see his foolishness. Sonically, the track holds the same folk-like sound that crops up throughout the Music For Cars era, and feels like it's inspired by the James Taylors and Bob Dylans of the musical world.

Having No Head is one of the few instrumental tracks on the record. It, again, is all the work of George Daniel. It’s a beautiful piece of music that draws the carefulness of twinkling piano into the harshness of electronic drums that feels familiar now in the universe of Music For Cars. Having No Head feels like you’re looking at this huge intricate painting that you’re sure you know everything about, but every time you go to it you’ll notice something new that almost feels unfamiliar but you still admire it. It builds up so wonderfully and that cascades back down before you know it.

What Should I Say feels like it should’ve been on A Brief Inquiry as it seems to be a dialogue on the easiness of miscommunication through the internet and social media. The distortion of Matty’s vocals plays into the idea that his own voice is manipulated and taken away from him before he even has the chance to say what he means. This entire idea is played over another hazy house piece but is always lifting to something else; paired with FKA Twigs vocalising over the top, it makes the entire track seem astral almost. As well as the mixed chatter that’s indisectable towards the end of the track, again propelling the idea of one’s voice being taken away.

Healy says that this next track, Bagsy Not In The Net, was written and put together after the album was already finished, which is why, to me, it accumulates everything the album is doing in one just over 2 minute track. From the spectral, lifting strings that draw a bridge from A Brief Inquiry to Notes to the lyrical theme of wanting to die at the same moment as your loved one because you can’t imagine a life without them - it’s candid and perfect.

Don’t Worry; in truth, the moment this song started the first time I heard it, all I did was cry. I can’t really say much more than that it really did strike a chord in my heart that can’t be explained. I think hearing such a beautiful song about mental illness that was written by Tim Healy [Matty Healy’s Dad] for his now ex-wife and Matty’s mum, and knowing that despite them no longer being together, the emotions behind it have never left for anyone of them. Hearing a father-son duet is something timeless and I know it’ll wiggle it’s way straight into people’s hearts.

As the album closes, we hear Guys. Matty has referred to this as his love song to the rest of the band (Adam Hann, George Daniel and Ross MacDonald) and how deeply grateful he is to have shared so much of his life with them. I think it’s the perfect ode to friendship and how it's the purest and most genuine form of love anyone could ever have and experience. As well as that, it makes me think about how long this band has been in my own life and how I absolutely refuse to believe I’d be the same person without them. It shows how devoted they are to each other and the music; they’re not here to be famous rockstars, they truly are just four friends who make music together.

And that’s it. Notes On a Conditional Form opened and closed, by me, for you. I do genuinely believe that this record is The 1975 at their most creative and most honest; two aspects of them that I greatly respect them for. My adoration for this band has changed me permanently; it’s not a secret that I love them for what they do, but I do really feel that this record is only going to reach out to more and more people. It reflects the pains, positives, laughs and labour of life so wondrously that it leads me to find it hard to see this as a record that is unlikable. The record may feel disjointed and messy at times, but that’s what life’s like.

Notes On a Conditional Form is available now - happy listening!

Article By Erin Harrison

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