“Notes on a Conditional Form” review
The 1975’s drops their latest album “NOACF”
Released on May 22, “Notes on a Conditional Form” (NOACF) sits as The 1975’s fourth studio album. “Notes ...” did more than I had initially anticipated. The 1975 built a lot of hype around the release of the album, with pre-releases over live streams and shows, to a trippy virtual site “Mindshower.ai” where they unpack the work behind NAOCF and their last tour. The album’s cover and artwork maintain a clean, simplistic look with black text over a tan background, but the music is so much more complex.
With 22 songs on the record, NOACF includes pre-released singles like “Guys,” “If You’re Too Shy,” “Frail State of Mind” and many more. Although they pre-released eight of the 22 songs and the entire album was leaked earlier this week, its structure makes the first and 15th listen equally pleasant, yet simultaneously, a task for your mind.
At first glance, the songs seem to be nowhere near sonically cohesive, but the tracklist blends together as you listen to the songs chronologically. That’s what The 1975 is good at — whether it’s with their music or their fanbase, they know how to be inclusive and embrace difference to make abstract artwork beyond its first listen. Their albums aren’t written or organized as a linear story to follow, but rather consist of pockets of opinions, memories and emotions you can debate yourself. What’s most attractive about their music is the intense and malleable listening experience, and translating that into a live-concert setting is the reason I’ve paid to see them three times now. The 1975’s ability to be so unique, outspoken and odd makes anything they create just work.
They start the album with the recognizable title “The 1975” — though it has the same title as the first songs of all their past albums, it is striking in its feature of Greta Thunberg speaking on climate change with the usual ambient instrumental backing. Leaving out the regularity of frontman Matty Healy’s usual vocals and layered backing vocals, the first track brings something new and timely. This change of tradition makes for a good intro to what the rest of the album accomplished — it’s a totally new sound from the band.
Finally, let’s dig into what this album has to offer by looking at tracks that really stand out. Coming in as the second track and the first single released for this album last year, “People” is a hard-punk sound that’s a blood-rushing introduction to the album. Hearing this live back in December helped make sense of what this song accomplishes. The rebellious 90s tone makes the transition from Greta’s message of her crying out to climate change in the first song into the third song, “The End (Music for cars),” very odd. This song’s message backed with the screaming Healy and heart-pounding electric guitar represents the band’s brilliance with their self-aware, boundaryless scope. “People” is classified as the most ambitious song The 1975 has gone for. The call to action for change, paired with such a rebellious tone, makes the song into a sarcastic spin on how the band is likely viewed outside its bubble of fans.
As their 10th track in the album, “Roadkill” is a shorter song for the album, sitting just short of 3 minutes. Within this track, the band produces an unprecedented country-esk burn blues sound that I have never heard from them before. It doesn’t sound forced and sways nicely between tracks. Listening closer to its lyrics, it sounds as if Healy is rambling on. He references an old title track “Robbers” with the lyrics “If you don’t eat, then you’ll never grow,” a clever Easter egg amongst the other lyrics about being self-aware and shitty. This song accomplishes a bright Nashville sound with comedic lyrics that drives the album forward to “Me & You Together.”
“Tonight (I Wish I Was Your Boy)” resembles the content of their last album “A brief Enquiry ...“ with its upbeat backtrack and Healy’s auto-tuned harmonies. They even bring in the trombone and snaps from “Sincerity is Scary.” Its pleasant retro 90s-pop mix makes for a favorite off NOACF. The one-punch rhymes and beautify written chorus that sings “Tonight, I wish I was your boy / Tonight, I think I fucked it royally” connects more to the tone of their previous album. “Tonight ... “ stands out from the rest of the tracklist, as most of the songs that are similar to previous work fit closer with the slow-tempo of their second album “I Like It When ...”
“Shiny Collarbone” is sandwiched in between “Tonight” and “ If You’re Too Shy,” and represents what is both good and bad about the variety they serve in this album. “Shiny Collarbone” is one of those songs from them that are purely instrumental, which is always enjoyable during their live shows as the visuals from their stage LEDS and the showcasing of interments that the band plays are always soothing. However, this isn’t like any of their past music — they have never made “slow deep house music” or sampled electronica-funk sounds (I’ve been sitting here having trouble classifying what genre this even fits into) before. This song disrupts the album in the midst of the tracklist because it’s not introduced properly like the rest — it’s louder in a different way than “People” because it serves little meaning. The previous song, “Tonight” is very heavily instrumental-based, but is still able to retain The 1975’s identity. This track also fails to transition to its following song that is purely rock, which makes for this to be an obstacle to overcome as you listen through the album.
“Having No Head” encompasses the house genre of aforementioned purely instrumental songs, and demonstrates why this track fits into the album, unlike “Shiny Collarbone”. Alike to past tracks like “An Encounter” or “Lostmyhead” (maybe the similar titles are intentional here), it achieves the soft tone of the album and brings balance out of the other rock or funk tracks. This is the type of track I know will elicit melancholy and nostalgic vibes during their live shows, as they use these to transition through the setlist. The fuzzy instrumentals makes for this song to take you out of your psyche and let in rays of bright emotions. It is these interludes that let the band’s instrumental tracks stick out amongst the rest of the album, giving the listener room to think and feel without lyrics telling a story or yelling about social issues. Past this track, the last four songs continue this soft-acoustic balladry, bringing the album to a close with “Guys.”
This album is sincere, and more personal as the others have been. Their more acoustic-driven pieces from this album with “Playing on my Mind” resemble “Nana” and “She Lays Down” from their second studio album: calm and earnest. The lyrics pull back the curtain of the band’s experiences and lets the listener understand. Their 90’s rock sound makes a comeback with “Guys,” but still accomplishes this slow-tempo and honest feel without being purely acoustic like the songs listed previously. Earlier this year, they performed a handful of unreleased songs live — this was one that stood out with its visuals being a collage of old footage of the band and the lyrics being so openly personal like “She Lays Down.” The layers of drums, bass and Healy’s soft vocals singing about his bandmates creates a heartfelt love story of mates. Its airy sound brings this album to a close in the best way possible.
It seems as each album or track The 1975 releases, their sound evolves. Their first studio album “The 1975,” released in 2013, quickly grew in popularity in the Tumblr/alternative/edgy/emo-pop teenage scene, and their latest albums have moved toward a more mature but still unfiltered purpose, growing up with the band and the audience. The 1975 stepped away from being pure alternative-rock albums ago, but “Notes ...“ has mixed more genres of pop, punk, eclecticism, acoustics, jazz, rock and whatever other genre you can name. This is was made their last album “A Brief Inquiry ...” stand out and grab attention. This is the experimentalism most Western musicians fail to embrace.
NOACF is not for listeners who stick to one genre. It’s intimidating and controversial by touching on topics of climate change and the contradictions of modernism, and with the mixed bag of sounds they throw at the wall. In comparison to their past albums, this is not a recommended place to start in their discography. They go all-out with their interludes, lyrics, experimentalism and with the organization of the album. There are so many things happening within this experience that their first or second album may be easier to digest and understand. This album accomplishes the message the band spreads — be self-aware and honest. It’s flaws blend and work for those they make the music for. The Easter eggs and connections to past albums makes this album to be another peaceful sign-off to an interesting era for The 1975. Though it is not holding the place of being the best work The 1975 has done, it’s incredibly well produced and has brought back many dead genres that I hope other bands can pick up on.