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Album Review: The 1975 - Notes On A Conditional Form

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Georgia Haskins Georgia Haskins
22-05-2020 12 mins read

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The 1975 are certainly no strangers to pushing the boundaries, centering their work upon their individual consensus of what ‘fits’; lathering each song with an immense personal touch. Whilst it has always been lingering in the background of their projects, the English band has only recently brought out its heavily experimental and non-conforming attitude to create jarring but illuminating tracks; songs that are soon-to-be anthems of our spiralling world. With an album that took longer than anticipated, holding a track list longer than anticipated, the 1975 have flexed their creative muscles once again with the release of ‘Notes on a Conditional Form’. With its 22 outspoken, claming, aggressive, unstable, comforting, confronting tracks, this body of work truly becomes an anthem for the non-conformist; a celebration of what music can be, and a reminder of the power we all have to branch out from the norm.

THE 1975 / PEOPLE
Perhaps the only traditionalist notion that looms with the 1975 is their recurring, self-named beginning track, offering a sombre welcome to the rest of the album. On NOACF, this track was led by Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg. Her jarring and sobering speech extends its platform to the initialisation of the album, creating a confronting first song to the 22-song tracklist. It’s real, raw and powerful- an opening only emphasised by its following track ‘People’. Greta’s gentle whispers are dramatically juxtaposed by Healy’s pleading screams, but the two work hand in hand, pleading for us to wake up to our surroundings. Personally, ‘People’ remains my favourite track from the album, shoving its distress, misery and suffering at you in every which angle. I think that is the beauty of such a track. Music is often such an escapism, it's difficult to reset to the jarring reality; this track makes sure your feet never leave the ground. Striking and unsettling, ‘The 1975’s progression into ‘People’ sets a realistic and jarring tone for the album, signalling our time to ‘wake up’.

THE END (MUSIC FOR CARS)
A powerful, fairy-tale like, orchestral instrumental- what better to settle you down from a 2 minute, 40 second long angst-induced rage anthem? Considering this is such an early on ‘interlude’, I took this as a signal of a new chapter, shifting gears from the conscious reality presented in the opening, allowing listeners to travel in the unconscious, or often just previously unvoiced, world of Notes.

FRAIL STATE OF MIND
This song encompasses a fragmentary backdrop as its only scaffolding. Beats drifting in and out place an emphasis on the true reality of this track- a persona dealing with their abrupt and anomalous thoughts, ones which are only fuelled by the ways of a degrading and judgemental society. The fragility of Healy’s vocals consolidate the thoughts of self-questioning, self-doubt, and a lack of answers to these internal questions and battles, making this song true to form and message. The frailty of ‘Frail State of Mind’ is no mere tonal wind-down from ‘People’, but a carefully constructed representation of their own internal struggle.

STREAMING
Yet another fastidious and dainty interlude. It adds a touch of whimsical to the album, tracing its hand ever so slightly toward the next track of the album.

THE BIRTHDAY PARTY
Collecting the baton from ‘Streaming’, ‘The Birthday Party’ opens delicately and smoothly. Contrasting to the still chaotic subject matter, the instrumental side of this track finds itself squeezing into the unrelenting, punishing world of the persona, masquerading and embodying the sense of calm they need. ‘The Birthday Party’s calming but chaotic aura is inescapable, and works its way into your mind and soul.

YEAH I KNOW
With a much more technologically driven backbone, this semi-interlude track takes a deep dive into the unconventional and staggered thoughts of the frontman. This album is slathered with a deeply observatory nature, becoming self-aware in even its most unsuspecting moments. ‘Yeah I know’ in particular places a self-reflective emphasis on the inevitable notions of time; “Time feels like it's changed, I don't feel the same”. Repeated in a flipped and reversed line, “Emas eht leef t'nod I, degnahc s'ti ekil sleef emiT”, the band makes a commentary upon their own growth, especially within the experimental and non-confomring style of this album. Personally, I take this as a dig at the critics and responders who continually comment regarding a “negative growth”. Through this track, the band are stressing they are evolving, changing, growing- and yeah, they know they are.

THEN BECAUSE SHE GOES
With a shuffling structure, the elements of this song are beautifully displaced, challenging the traditional conventions and production of a song. There is no build up nor introduction, but is quite simply the band presenting and putting forward their message, utilising every second to do so. If anything, I would have loved to hear more from this track. It’s uplifting tone but sombre messages were not only skillful, but charming and catchy.

JESUS CHRIST 2005 GOD BLESS AMERICA
Once again deviating from the expected content of this album, ‘Jesus Christ’ is a hymn for the existentialist. Diving between being just “a footprint in the snow” to holding feelings one “can never show”, The 1975 play with the notions of existentialism and never truly existing. If our actions are what truly define us, if we never act do we never truly exist? This track is a thought provoking ballad that only aims to feed into the already bottomless depths of some of the world's most critical thinking. The tone of the song can be as sarcastic as intended, but it can simply not escape the powerful and answerless questions it brings upon itself. Accompanied by Phoebe Bridgers, Matty is raw and vulnerable. ‘Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America’ is different but not unexpected, deep but not cliche, thought-provoking but not preaching.

ROADKILL
If it was not clear by now, this album conforms to no genres, and it is boundless in its sound. With lingering country vibes, this track is calm and folky. Providing a type of sway-along beat, it is hard to hate it (even if it holds a slight country vibe). This track completes the folk-like progression initiated within ‘Jesus Christ’, navigating it into this genre crushing indie, country hybrid tune. It’s different, it’s unexpected, it’s very ‘Notes’.

ME AND YOU TOGETHER SONG
Poppy and nostalgic, this track is very reminiscent of the early 2000’s- and that’s a beautiful thing. It really clams down the fear of never hearing something from that era again, because here it is, a new song from that era! All of that aside, this is a happy, cute song that removes itself from the self-doubt and existentialist thoughts of a distressed and unassured persona. It offers a refreshing touch that livens up the album, creating a beautiful juxtaposition of sound and production. I’ve “been in love with this one for ages”!

I THINK THERE’S SOMETHING YOU SHOULD KNOW
This track branches from the journey of ‘Notes’ to create its own journey, following the multiple stages of this multi-dimensional track. From a beginning of a toned down vocal verse, to a pronounced drum beat, a fragmented verse, to yet another amplified verse, this song provides a whirlwind of intertwining elements that make it unique and structureless. This creativity and nonconformity is nothing new, but it is especially endearing to see their confidence and ability in constructing something from almost nothing grow.

NOTHING REVEALED / EVERYTHING DENIED
The stylistic features of this song produce something truly unique, not only within this album, but within the catalogue of 1975 music. The orchestral and operatic choruses delicately placed against the almost spoken verses, with the added semi-rap inclusions, create something truly dynamic. There is no way all these elements should work together, but The 1975 seamlessly connect them, creating not only a flowing song, but an enjoyable track with perfection radiating from its tone, production and messages. This was truly a standout track for me, and I’m sure it will receive the same reception from others.

TONIGHT (I WISH I WAS YOUR BOY)
Another mellow but groovy track! The apparent but not overpowering instrumentals creates a vessel for these elaborate themes and messages to escape, which is a powerful tool for the band’s story-telling. Much like its counterparts, the fragility of tracks such as these evoke so much emotion, even if the subject matter does not reflect the struggles of your own life. It presents a hypnotic state of feeling, if you will.

SHINY COLLARBONE
This is perhaps one of the most apparent and deeply-constructed interludes to be found. Acting as a passage-way to the second half of the album, ‘Collarbone’ is a haphazard groove tune that sends you on a mesmerizing ride to track 16.

IF YOU’RE TOO SHY (LET ME KNOW)
Reminiscent of earlier 1975 creations, amped up with a jazzy nostalgic feel, ‘Too Shy’ is an exciting, sure-to-be fan favourite that comes as a homage to the band’s past. Once again retrieving the more positive and uplifting feelings from the persona, this song deviates from the seriousness for just a little while, creating a danceable, poppy, catchy tune. Much like the persona of this song, we are given our own escapism in the form of ‘Too Shy’ to be reminded of the little joys we can find- although what we find it in may differ.

PLAYING ON MY MIND
In a jarring way, this song immediately returns to the dark and familiar state of an individual crisis that is shared by the collective. This track is heavily self-reflective, and sees Matty scrambling for answers in a world of unknowns; “Will I live and die in a band?”, “Will I get divorced when I'm old?”. In a strong and inclusive way, this track grapples with the isolation of our own thoughts, extending this notion to the world around us. These questions are only answered when faced with the situation at hand, establishing distance between ourselves and our lives. ‘Playing on my Mind’ toys with the isolation felt within one’s own mind, showcasing it in a way for all to experience.

HAVING NO HEAD
Once again ditching the conventional methods of music production, this track standouts out for its 6 minute long duration. Its duration is filled with an interlude that jumbles from slow and solemn to fast-paced and dancy. Whilst this album is no stranger to interludes, it comes as a unique addition due to its dynamic nature in regards to form. Sure, it probably didn’t have to be that long, but it offers valuable time to process the prior sections of the album.

WHAT SHOULD I SAY
Stealing the similar tone from the end of the prior interlude, this track starts with a mysterious, technological introduction. Fading in and out of coherence, it becomes a greater representation of a reality falling between conscious living and unconscious dreaming. It is disembodied and obscure, but adds to the strangeness of the life of the persona- a concept that has been visited before on many occasions. I did indeed gravitate towards this song, particularly for its other-worldliness and obscurity; offering a sound not yet conceived by the band.

BAGSY NOT IN NET
Bagsy may not be in the net, but this interlude captures the remnants of the obscure and disembodied particles from the previous track.

DON’T WORRY
‘Don’t Worry’ is a cute and gentle track that collects the previous fragments of feeling and vulnerability into an acute moment. A beautiful way to encapsulate these emotions as the ending of the album lingers upon the horizon.

GUYS
We have had ‘Girls’, but now it’s ‘Guys’ turn. This last track once again destroys the boundaries of conformity, however not in terms of form, but in subject matter. In a world that glorifies lustful and ingenuine relationships, the band takes a moment to reflect on and articulate the joys found within the friendships they have created and endured. This is such an insanely beautiful moment, and a step towards normalising these conversations of admiration and thankfulness. The truth, vulnerability and fragility lies within each line, presenting itself as a personal note from the band themself. Marking the end of the album, ‘Guys’ signifies a time of hope; that through the loss of faith, existentialism, struggles and defeats, there will always be a glimmer of hope through the relationships we form.

Through its 22 tracks, ‘Notes on a Conditional Form’ utilises every waking minute to convey the personal experiences of the band. Further to this, it is evidently one of their most experimental albums to date, signifying their confidence in not only their sound, but their ideas and production. This self-assuredness reflects in the well constructed, seamless tracklist that flows effortlessly into a world that is not too far from our own. Although diving in and out of reality, there are some large takeaways from this album; some of which are jarring to our own reality. ‘Notes on a Conditional Form’ is an anthem for the non-conformist, a collection for the existentialist, and an album for the devoted.

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