Notes On A Conditional Form is a smorgasbord of vivid ideas that may have been better suited on two separate projects, but it’s yet another demonstration of why The 1975 are the country’s most divisive yet essential band. Matty Healy put it best himself on Frail State Of Mind: “what’s the vibe? I wouldn’t know”.
Whether you love or loathe them, one thing you cannot deny The 1975 is their willingness to expand their musical palette. It’s very rarely a dull experience when following the Manchester band’s movements in the industry, something that has never been more apparent than it is on their latest album ‘Notes On A Conditional Form’.
Before even hearing this album in its entirety, there was a personal sense of apprehension that I had never experienced with the lead up to a The 1975 album before. The fact it is 22 songs long, boasting titles including ‘Bagsy Not In Net’ and ‘Shiny Collarbone’, plus the fact that a whopping EIGHT singles were included in the build up, each one sounding completely different to the other, I had no idea what to expect.
So the verdict? It’s unbelievably scattered. It’s like a Jackson Pollock painting, an explosion of just about anything and everything Matty feels passionate about, all thrown together onto one project. That isn’t to say it is bad in any way, it’s an immersive experience that very few bands could manage. In a way, it’s the ideal demonstration of how Matty Healy’s inner psyche works; a thrill-seeking, potentially controversial, but always sincere outlook on the digital age we live in.
It’s all terribly cliche to say this, but locking this album down to one sound or motive is a redundant waste of time, the band lay it all bare on NOACF, no matter the genre.
Clocking in at a cool 80 minute run time, ‘Notes’ does things that not many albums released by British bands do, it dares to dream. It has social commentary from Greta Thunberg on climate change, punk rock middle fingers to the system (‘People’), eclectic synth patterns (‘I Think There’s Something You Should Know’) and acoustic moments of severe serenity (‘Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America’).
‘Yeah I Know’ and ‘Shiny Collarbone’ stood out to me immediately as soundscapes that will be part of this album’s legacy. Both have the archetypal lo-fi house production that was clearly a heavy influence on this album as a whole. The former is very simplistic in theory, with minimalistic wordplay and a constant backing beat, but that Kid A-era Radiohead style is executed wonderfully here. The latter boasts refrained vocals from Cutty Ranks and a very glitzy house music instrumental which Matty describes as “a fractured shard”.
The moments of woozy brilliance on this project come in the form of ‘The Birthday Party’ and the sublimely layered ‘Nothing Revealed / Everything Denied’. Both songs have such a sincere sound to them, using Matty’s sharp-tongued lyricism and angelic melodies to formulate some of the band’s best work to date.
That isn’t to say there isn’t the occasional moment of cringe, though. I was never the biggest fan of ‘Me & You Together Song’ or ‘Guys’ and listening to the whole album hasn’t done much to change my view on this. They are, to me, despite having wonderful sentiments, the two weakest spots on the album.
One other criticism I could maybe have of the album is that the cinematic aurora that surrounds it can sometimes come off as a bit vague. A track like ‘Bagsy Not In Net’, while sonically impressionable, feels as though it wouldn’t be missed in order to make the tracklist a bit tighter and more compact. That isn’t to take away from the manic instrumental hyperbole of the project, though; the organised chaos it demonstrates is admirable if not at times confusing.
My opinion may well change of this album, for better or for worse, that’s why I won’t rate it with a score as it’s far too early, but one thing is for certain from the first listen and beyond: The 1975 believe their hype and have every right to. When you’ve previously released three albums with as much versatility and vivacious life as they have, you kind of get a free license to do whatever the hell you want sonically; enter ‘Notes On A Conditional Form’.
Best Tracks: ‘People’, ‘Frail State Of Mind’, ‘The Birthday Party’, ‘Yeah I Know’, ‘Nothing Revealed / Everything Denied’, ‘Shiny Collarbone’, ‘If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)’, ‘Having No Head’
Worst Tracks: ‘Tonight (I Wish I Was Your Boy)’, ‘Me & You Together Song’, ‘Guys’