A year and a half since the band’s previous album A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships – and almost a year since its intended release date – The 1975’s fourth record Notes on a Conditional Form is finally here. The monolithic record spans 22 tracks. For an album of that size we couldn’t simply give you one review- that and we couldn’t agree on which one of us should write it – so our music editors Dom and Joe have brought you their Notes on Notes…
“It is time to rebel.” Greta Thunberg’s poignant remark on the opener of The 1975’s Notes on a Conditional Form rings true not only as a sociopolitical commentary but also with respect to The 1975’s latest record.
Notes is stylistically diverse, with a strong sense of nostalgia underpinning it throughout
The 1975 are a band who welcome change wholeheartedly. Making a statement is part and parcel with their music and their message. However, revolution is always bloody and met with scorn. Notes on a Conditional Form is no different, having already polarised the mainstream media. The band’s ambition and daring creativity rather than being rewarded has been labelled “smug” and “self-indulgent”.
Spanning 22 tracks, Notes is an expansive album and takes a deep sonic dive in different directions. With a record of its size, it would have been easy for Notes to feel confused and inconsistent. However, the end result is far from it, as the band have arguably achieved their best work so far.
Notes is stylistically diverse, with a strong sense of nostalgia underpinning it throughout. Songs such as ‘Then Because She Goes’ and ‘Roadkill’ are a celebration of 90s alt rock, with sweeping melodic choruses. Meanwhile, the brash and unapologetic ‘People’ channels a punk energy which is just as relevant now as upon the release of the single.
On the flip side, the band have further experimented with the electronica that was potent on A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships. The single ‘Frail State of Mind’ sets the tone with its distorted vocals overlaying the acrobatic garage-style drums. This sound is also prevalent on ‘Yeah I Know’ and ‘I Think There’s Something You Should Know’ which are laced with pounding drums and subtle techno influences.
Matty’s vocals are lush and sumptuous, while the instrumentals are immaculately mixed throughout
It’s clear that the production has rested heavily on the shoulders of frontman Matty Healy and drummer-come-producer extraordinaire George Daniel. Matty’s vocals are lush and sumptuous, while the instrumentals are immaculately mixed throughout. ‘Nothing Revealed / Everything Denied’ channels DJ Shadow-esque instrumental hip-hop, while Healy’s vocals are married to a stunning choral backing. Meanwhile, ‘What Should I Say’, one of the more experimental tracks on the album but also one of the best, is an instant dancefloor classic with infectious synths and an undeniable groove.
Thematically, Notes is a reflective destruction of Healy’s famed ego, which is often blown out of proportion by the media. Healy’s outspoken nature has led to a difficult relationship with the mainstream press, who are all too quick to quash stars with a tendency for social commentary. However, Matty has taken a wrecking ball to his own persona, which is clear to see over all 22 tracks. Tracks like ‘Me and You Together Song’ and ‘Tonight (I Wish I Was Your Boy) show a compassionate soul desperate for love, while the acoustic ‘Playing On My Mind’ has a shy openness which presents a fresh perspective on anxiety.
Notes on a Conditional Form is undoubtedly the story of The 1975
Notes’ brand of catchy electronica arguably reaches its peak on ‘If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know), which was debuted on their UK tour. The song is one of the defining moments on the record, with its distinctly New Wave vibe paired with an irresistible chorus. ‘If You’re Too Shy’ is instrumentally stunning with subtle hints of electronica and a killer Saxophone solo.
I always like to think that an album should be like a great work of literature. We immerse ourselves in the world of another, living their lives and following their journey. Notes on a Conditional Form is undoubtedly the story of The 1975. Brash, unapologetic and loud but underlayed with sensitivity and a powerful message. ‘Guys’, then, is the perfect closing chapter. With its stripped back sound, ‘Guys’ is one of the simpler and more understated songs on the record. However, its sentimental lyrics are an emotional tribute to Matty’s band members and tell a beautiful story. ‘Guys’ is a strikingly relatable ballad of friendship and is the perfect closer for Notes’ introspective tale. Notes on a Conditional Form may be the end of the Music For Cars era but its trailblazing artistry is the start of something very exciting indeed.
Dom’s already supplied you with an absolutely cracking review, so instead I’m going to supply you with my thoughts on Notes and what makes it so good.
After countless delays, Notes on a Conditional Form is with us. Arriving in the middle of a global pandemic. How incredibly 1975.
On my first listen, I hated it. The transitions, the order of the songs and the at first seemingly repetitive nature of the album’s instrumentals infuriated me. I was expecting the best album of their career, and after so many delays I thought they would have made it perfect. So, I grumbled for an hour or two feeling let down by one of my favourite bands. Then I decided, fuck it, I’ll give it another listen, and thank God I did.
It is a nostalgic celebration of the band
Written mainly on the road whilst the band were touring, and recorded in countless studios, Notes feels like a career-defining album, and that is saying something for a band who only really have career defining albums. It is a nostalgic celebration of the band and feels more open, more cooperative, and just full of love. It is clearly a passion project, but, in my eyes, that is what makes it so beautiful.
Following a new direction, the record sounds uniquely British, with electronic songs such as ‘Shiny Collarbone’ and ‘Frail State of Mind’ taking a clear influence from the works of Burial, and the wonderful ‘Me and You Together Song’ would slide in perfectly on a Busted record. It is this nostalgia. This lookback on British culture that makes this album so familiar. It’s a culmination of the band’s collective interests, both old and new, leading to the album feeling like a series of phases. Feeling like growing up. Outgrowing your Busted and McFly phase to instead focus on rock and then into electronic, before realising there is no shame in enjoying whatever music you want and amassing all your tastes into one chaotic bundle. By no means is Notes a chaotic mess like my old playlists, but rather an inadvertent celebration of UK culture.
Greta Thunberg acts as a powerful opener to the album and is the first of a few collaborators featuring on Notes. FKA Twigs sings the harmonic intro to ‘If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)’ and Phoebe Bridgers has a haunting feature on ‘Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America’ as well as providing backing vocals on three other tracks. It’s nice to see The 1975 collaborating more with other fantastic artists, with their only prior collab being with fellow dirty hit associate no rome. These collaborations only emphasise what I said earlier about this album feeling so much more open and creatively free compared to the band’s first three records.
Notes serves as a production masterclass from the incredible duo of frontman Matty Healy and drummer George Daniel. You can tell that each note of music has been painstakingly tweaked for hours on end so that it reaches its full potential. This delicate production is perhaps most effective on the stunning electronic instrumental ‘Having No Head’, which goes from Brian Eno-esque ambience to a beat heavy, layered thing of beauty across its six-minute run time.
I’ve been waiting for the banjo to be utilised to it’s full potential for a long time
For me, the tracks ‘What Should I Say’ and ‘The Birthday Party’ are the best on the album. The vocal effect on Matty’s voice on ‘What Should I Say’ does something to me. In the strangest way possible it sounds like a Diplo song, but with more care and effort put into it. I don’t like Diplo, but I do like this. As for ‘The Birthday Party’, the lead guitar is replaced by a lead banjo. Need I say more? I’ve been waiting for the banjo to be utilised to it’s full potential for a long time and Adam Hann plays it to perfection, with the instrument’s country twang becoming perhaps my favourite riff on the album.
The albums finisher, ‘Guys’ is Matty’s adorable ode to his bandmates and best mates. Reminiscing on all the memories they’ve shared together from the ‘moment we started a band’ to the ‘first time we went to Japan’. This feels like a fitting goodbye to this era of The 1975 and a gorgeous end to a wonderful record.
Although some songs are quite clearly stronger than others, The 1975 have outdone themselves with this record and have provided the perfect final album of the music for cars era. No ones quite sure what’s coming next. I doubt the band are and the fans certainly have no clue. Will they go back to their alt-rock roots and produce more music under the name Drive Like I Do? Or will The 1975 continue. Whatever happens, this album stands as a great final piece of this era and as an exciting starting point for whatever comes next. Till then, we will all be “missing the guys.”
Overall, a 4.5
Last modified: 25th May 2020