The chaos of connection isn’t hard to talk about in 2020. Endless threads of millennial internet chaos make it easy to empathize with word-for-word documentations of millennial burnout and think-pieces about war with Baby Boomers. It’s not a hot take to acknowledge the link between these constant anxieties and the internet.
Now this isn’t new news, but The 1975 has had a front-row seat to this transformation. The band came of age with an inaugural class of rock bands who made it big in this contemporary chaos. We can bicker all we want about how valuable the “internet apocalypse” discourse is, but the impact of this reality on how music is created and consumed is unmistakably real. The 1975 have centered themselves in both the apocalyptic and music conversations throughout their career.
Notes on a Conditional Form reminds us how The 1975 indulges listeners who have embraced the idea of doing everything and being everywhere. The band captures this energy throughout the record, reacting to the freedom that allows music to exist beyond genre or definition in this era.
The 1975 have defined a unique moment in how we classify music. Fans embrace eccentricity at its face value. When a SoundCloud rapper and Hannah Montana’s dad join forces to destroy the country establishment, we anoint them both as kings who deserve their riches. Carly Rae Jepsen’s unabashed pop style has helped her thrive as an indie darling instead of coping as a pop one-hit wonder. This standard of crossover appeal has driven legendary alternative rock station KROQ to drop some of their classic hits in favor of the scene’s new guard, which ranges from Tame Impala to 24kGoldn and Post Malone.
Genres and scenes helped us curate our music intake to help us understand what records to buy and what stations to keep on preset. We’ve surrendered any desire to limit our information and music intake. We love to have almost any recorded song available at our fingertips. Gatekeepers and selling out be damned, if the song slaps, we don’t really care. We can call it a post-genre moment, where our tastes are as dynamic as the places where we access new music.
The sprawling scope of Notes on a Conditional Form embraces a post-genre reality. Medleys of guitar tracks are sandwiched between forays into industrial punk, instrumental house, and variations of trip-hop with horns. Perhaps they could have tailored a record to focus on its strongest threads of ideas, but the band staying restrained would directly conflict with the essence of eccentricity that they’re playing to.
The record’s rock songs are matter-of-fact moments to romanticize how we connect to music and the internet. “People” uses Healy’s punk chops to urgently rattle off reminders of the Obama era, legal weed, and crises that young people will spend the next generation addressing. It is as direct as the band can get without incorporating Greta Thunberg, throwing the listener back into the information overload that that their phones constantly remind them of.
The stop-and-start shoegaze of “Then Because She Goes” embraces love in its simple lyrics and bright, crunchy guitars that don’t let up all. All the while, Healy singing “I love this, I love you, love you, love you, love you” in the chorus leaves little to the imagination. Moments like these show the band with nothing to hide, holding true to the musical and lyrical cues of a heart-on-a-sleeve rockstar.
The record’s range acknowledges how using guitars to wear love on a sleeve is antiquated in some ways. Connecting with others virtually has allowed our virtual lives to exist independent of our own. Our virtual relationships exist in a separate reality that hides itself through layers of digital haze that guitars and normal rock songs are less adept at illustrating.
The band tackles this gap between physical and digital reality directly on their electronic forays. “Nothing Revealed/Everything Denied” bluntly expresses how Healy’s celebrity gives him room to hide his true self. This Yeezus/Life of Pablo concept isn’t new, but it captures how all of us can be little celebrities behind our screens.
The gothic synthpop of “What Should I Say” illustrates how the internet is constantly “calling out [our] name,” forcing us to prepare a well-filtered response to the song’s title question. These house-inspired threads force the transparency of the rock moments to stand out, further obscuring the digital cloudiness that they illustrate.
“Tonight (I Wish I Was Your Boy)” directly captures the romantic thread of this divide. The song uses a Kanye-inspired Temptations sample to create a thread with a timeless tale of romantic daydreams. Healy’s processed popstar vocals create distance from the desire he describes. He recognizes how these doubts have come to light “far too many times” before and has plagued his dreams to run away with the lover he sings to.
Ultimately, he acknowledges that he “fucked up royally” and won’t be able to run away with the romantic dream he yearned for. The sunny horns and hide this reality behind its trippy beat, letting Healy sneak in his reality like a long Finsta post reserved for a select group.
Notes on a Conditional Form shows The 1975 leading a post-genre moment in rock music. Not only does the band succeed in their ambition, but their fans have embraced an 80-minute record as a complete unit in an era where mainstream albums can easily play second fiddle to the singles that they contain. The band trusts its listeners to embrace eccentricity and disregard the need for a single creative thread. These powers are extraordinary and define a band at peak creative and commercial power.
1997 was last time a Manchester band of The 1975’s caliber defined a worldwide rock moment. Oasis spent the ’90s as one of the biggest bands in the world. Oasis and Blur co-led the optimistic Britpop movement against the moodier American grunge tide. After dominating the scene with two iconic records (the one with “Wonderwall” and the one without it), 1997’s Be Here Now was the band’s attempt to carry the Britpop renaissance into the Tony Blair era.
Be Here Now carried the weight of Britpop on its shoulders. Its seven-minute singles and horn interludes blew up the band’s sound to what one magazine called “cocaine set to music.” The record sold almost 700,000 copies in its first week, and earned heaps of praise from critics.
The record’s critical praise was a last hurrah in Britpop’s cultural staying power before its death. Be Here Now went from selling 700,000 copies in days to being massively sold off to used record stores. 1997 was the last moment in the sun for Oasis and the Britpop moment.
The difference between Oasis and The 1975 comes in the unique moment that Notes on a Conditional Form embraces. The post-genre moment has no rigid rules or regulations other than having no real rules. The challenges of piecemealing a cohesive record across genres, collaborators and studios is exhausting in most senses.
For The 1975, that chaos mirrors how most normal people spend their time and engage with their music. Memes, FOMO-inducing pictures of friends, and constant reminders of climate change co-exist in our virtual universe, and our confusion over how to reckon with our virtual universe has stretched into our musical taste.
Notes on a Conditional Form embeds purpose in the band’s restless exploration of musical ideas. The band exploits our apathy towards neatly curated genres in a way that only a rock band of their stature can. The record uses its stylistic range to contrast the candid transparency of rock music with the emotional haziness that electronic and house music allow for. These approaches mimic our own physical and digital lives, blurring the lines between us and celebrities like the musicians we look up to.
Matty Healy will be the first one to say that Notes on a Conditional Form is the “most ‘not give a fuck’ record” the band has made. It’s hard to say whether the band’s willingness to address existential millennial challenges will age well. Maybe The 1975 is just embracing the extra-long pop album for Spotify clout. No matter the cause, none of this is a radical departure for the band. Instead, Notes on a Conditional Form is a well-built illustration of how we’ve grown to love The 1975, and how we choose to consume music in 2020.