Album Review: The 1975 – Notes On A Conditional Form

English pop-rock band The 1975 are releasing their fourth album Notes On A Conditional Form on the 22nd of May (tomorrow as we draft and publish this!). Formed in 2002, The 1975 began as four teenagers playing music together. According to vocalist Matt Healy, the band spent their formative years covering punk-rock songs in a local club but began writing their own music at the age of 15. Since their beginning, the line-up of the band has changed slightly. Healy moved from drums to vocals after the initial singer left, and George Daniel was brought on as the new drummer to complete their ensemble. Between Autumn 2012 and Spring 2013, the band released four EPs leading up to their debut album. Their first EP, named Facedown, landed them their first UK airplay on national radio. Since then, they have continued to climb to the top, and have headlined festivals all over the world.

The upcoming album was announced last year. Since the announcement, the album’s release date has been pushed back a few times. In January 2020, it was announced that it would be released in April. Then, in March, the release date was pushed back again to the 22nd of May. Despite the complications, fans across the world have been eagerly waiting for the new music, and tomorrow they will finally be able to buy the album for themselves.

Notes On A Conditional Form is the follow up to their previous LP A Brief Enquiry To Online Relationships, and adds to the Music For Cars era of music that they have created.

The album has 22 tracks, out of which several have already been shown to the public. The album opens on the self-titled “The 1975” and the sound of echoing notes being played quietly in the background, the voice of climate activist Greta Thunberg speaking her mind on climate change: “we are right now in the beginning of a climate and ecological crisis.” In a time where teenagers are taking part in climate strikes and protests, it’s clear that The 1975 will be the un-filtered voice of the concerned youth on this album. The entire track is comprised of a low, haunting tune playing in the background of Greta’s talking.

The album then pulls a complete 180 in “People” and throws you into a beat being set out by Daniel on the drums. From the get-go, this song is, musically, more dramatic and more intense, and seems to set the tone for the rest of the album. When Healy is introduced into the song, his voice is distorted as he shouts “wake up” to the audience. “People” is, to its core, a call for young people to rally against the political systems designed to take advantage of them. When it was released last year, it immediately grabbed the attention of young people looking to make a change in the world.

Despite “People” having an intense start and finish, the next song (“The End”) opens on a more ethereal note. The violins and pianos create a very tranquil sound as it swells and rises- it feels dreamlike, almost. Like most orchestral pieces, elements are added briefly and taken away in the blink of an eye. As beautiful as it is, the switch between the two sounds could give you whiplash. Regardless, “The End” does feed nicely into “Frail State of Mind,” the fourth track on the album. The song fades in, and it feels like a lo-fi track. The multitude of elements and the quick beat created by them creates this relaxing and smooth effect. When the vocals are introduced, it’s a stark juxtaposition to how he sounded in “People”. His voice is melodic and feels softer. Gone is the shouting and distortion, replaced by a sweeter sound.

After this, there is an almost continuous combination of genres. Dance, synth-pop, pop-rock, etc. I think it would be accurate to say that the entire album is a juxtaposition. The vast majority of the songs are higher, lighter, and feel almost happy in nature. However, the essence of the lyrics isn’t on the same level. There are themes of heartbreak, loss, and feeling lost. For example, in the thirteenth track “Nothing Revealed/Everything Denied”, Healy sings “is there anybody out there”.

I must admit, this was a hard review to write. This is a massive album – 22 tracks that shift through a multitude of genres. And, individually, each song is beautiful in its own way. “People” is an emotional outburst of anger and frustration, “Nothing Revealed/Everything Denied” is a soothing, and tentative song detailing the experience of feeling lost in life. The album is extremely eclectic and features a kaleidoscope of sounds. It certainly feels like they’re pulling pieces of different aspects of youth culture to create an album that is the perfect voice for their fans. However, put it all together, and the punchy effect of these themes is almost lost in the overall sound.

Listening to the album for the first time, I found it hard to stay focussed on everything that was happening. The many genres, the switches in sounds… it felt quite overwhelming at first. However, the more I listened to it, the more I began to like it for what it is: an artistic experience, and a look into the complex mind of Matt Healy. Notes On A Conditional Form is full of beauty, and it’s an album that grows on you.

Header image by Mara Palena

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