REVIEW: The 1975 experiment with new sounds on “Notes On A Conditional Form”

When asked what genre British band The 1975 is in an interview with GQ, frontman Matty Healy simply responded  “yes.” 

Not only does the obscure answer fit in general, it perfectly encapsulates the group’s fourth album “Notes On A Conditional Form.” 

Healy, drummer George Daniel, bassist Ross MacDonald and guitarist Adam Hann – with occasional appearances by keyboardist Jamie Squire and saxophonist John Waugh – truly outdid themselves once again. 

Originally slated for a February 2020 release, the group pushed back its release date several times since they were attempting to tour while finishing the record. Doubling up on touring and producing wasn’t a new feat for the group, but “Notes” is a massive 22-track album that was worth the wait.

Without a doubt, it’s the most experimental record the Manchester-based band has put out in their nearly two-decade-long career.  

Some critics say it’s messy — but I’d argue the almost chaotic blend of sounds works.  

They’ve never been a group to conform to traditional standards of the industry — especially when it comes to criticisms about their “punch-your-tv obnoxious” tunes with “unconvincing emo lyrics.” Instead, they ignore it – consistently switching up their sound to experiment with their creativity using the sounds they grew up with.  

As always, the album begins with the titular “The 1975” track. This time, Greta Thunberg takes the mic from Healy to address the dire issue of climate change — a message of activism the band attempted to further with a nearly entirely environmentally sustainable Finsbury Park show this summer that has since been rescheduled to July 2021. 

The first track, and single released ahead of the album, “People” frames the record with a sound reminiscent of when the group went by Drive Like I Do – making heavy punk fit for DIY shows. However, it becomes quickly apparent to expect the unexpected as the instrumental filler “The End (Music For Cars)” introduces the techno “Frail State of Mind.” 

When the other singles followed “People” leading up to the May 22 release of the album, I was admittedly worried about the seeming lack of cohesiveness of each sound – and almost disappointed that it wouldn’t be a more punk album. 

But, as usual, The 1975 not only met my expectations but exceeded them completely. 

“Streaming,” another instrumental filler track, follows immediately after. There’s nothing too special about this one, but its transition into “The Birthday Party” is immaculate. Healy says “The Birthday Party” was his “ode to country music” – but the twangy tune permeating “Roadkill” is straight out of the genre. 

If you had told me in 2014 that I’d be writing The 1975 and country in the same sentence, I would’ve called you crazy. But somehow, I don’t hate it. 

When the tracklist dropped, fans speculated “Having No Head” would mirror “Lostmyhead,” given the title. Instead, it’s an instrumental powerhouse similar to “I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it” in sound and length.

“Yeah I Know,” “Shiny Collarbone” and “What Should I Say” are the culmination of the experimental approach to this album. At the same time, the electronic sound of these tracks isn’t entirely new.

Before settling on The 1975, the band went through a series of name (and genre) changes. They’re mainly known for their Drive Like I Do era, but unbeknownst to many, the group briefly explored EDM when they went by the name Talkhouse.    

“Playing On My Mind” and “Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America” are two of the most beautiful songs, especially since they feature Phoebe Bridgers’ angelic vocals. She complements Healy’s voice so well that the result is something almost ethereal. While the emotional depth of the band’s lyrics are unparalleled in general, these two tracks reflect almost a maturity in their songwriting, which I didn’t think was possible.  

“Me & You Together Song” and “Then Because She Goes” are straight out of early 2000s coming-of-age movies. Simply put, they make you want to fall in love – even if you’re like me and don’t believe in it. While they’re contenders for best on the album, two other tracks undoubtedly tie for the title.

“If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)” is arguably one of the best songs in the group’s discography. FKA Twigs harmonizes at the start as the song slowly builds into an ‘80s powerhouse anthem. Waugh kills it with his sax solo at the end – as usual. Everything about this one is just perfect.  

But then there’s “Nothing Revealed/Everything Denied.” Alluding to past lyrics is nothing new for The 1975, but “Sex,” “Love It If We Made It” and “Heart Out” are directly referenced while the backup vocals from “If I Believe You” support the chorus.  It was so nostalgia-inducing it legitimately made me feel like I was back in my childhood home with their self-titled album playing on vinyl as I scrolled through Tumblr reblogging pictures of Healy and Harry Styles. 

“Notes” ends on an emotional high. “Don’t Worry” was written by Healy’s father Tim, who also sings alongside his son. The album wraps up with “Guys,” an ode to the band from themselves. I can’t think of a more perfect track to mark the end of the album – or the Music For Cars era. In a way, these two tracks are the band telling fans that no matter what happens in the future, their music will always be with them.

Regardless of what the group does next, whether it be a Drive Like I Do reboot or if this really is “the end,” they’ve defined a generation with the music they’ve put out. And nothing will ever change that.