If there was one thing the loud, punk anthem, People, should have clued us about, it was that Notes on a Conditional Form would be nothing like The 1975’s usual sound.
Granted, this album is the follow up effort to 2018’s A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships, both of which form the singular “Music for Cars” era and thus bear notable similarities to each other topically.
Yet, at the same time, Notes feels so much like a sonic departure worlds away from their discography—it’s confusing at best on a cursory listen, but reveals more to unpack with each repeated play.
The months preceding the release of this oft-delayed project gave us eight album cuts, including the disjointed, anxiety-themed track, Frail State of Mind and the stripped-down acoustic Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America.
With all those singles out, Notes still runs nearly 80 minutes over 22 songs. It’s a slow-burn after the introductory, five-minute long Greta Thunberg sound piece and Matty screaming in our ears on People.
Then we’re straight into two instrumentals—a magical, Disney-esque tune that is The End (Music for Cars), followed by Streaming. The latter warrants little to talk about, apart from having it lead into the subdued, lazy groove of the next album cut, The Birthday Party, a “digital detox” soundtrack with a slight country twang. It’s dreamy and ethereal in both its tune and accompanying visual, with a whole bunch of memes peppered throughout the video, but the lyrics are anything but.
Where the album finally picks up, and where I find myself the most immersed is when references to their older works are being sprinkled throughout the new material. Roadkill takes us back to the hallmark track of their opus: 2013’s Robbers, off their eponymous debut project (“If you don’t eat, then you’ll never grow / If you don’t shoot, then you’ll never know”). Nothing Revealed / Everything Denied, bears the stylisation of How To Draw / Petrichor, and clarifies lyrics from Love It if We Made It (that Matty never f*cked in a car, I was lying), both from A Brief Inquiry. I’d position this particular one as the album’s standout track, with a gospel choir as backup in the chorus, distorted vocals (whose voice is that on the bridge?), and the interpolation of subtle hip-hop beats. On paper, it spells nothing but confusion in terms of its arrangement and elements, yet it has quickly become a fan-favourite, and rightfully so. This one’s my personal pick of the bunch, no surprise there.
Not far off from the album’s crown jewel, we have Tonight (I Wish I Was Your Boy). It’s an easy listen over a steady, relaxed beat. Shiny Collarbone incorporates dancehall elements, Playing On My Mind seems like it would fit right into the dream-like trance of I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It, and Having No Head is a 6 minute long half-and-half of piano instrumental and mellowed out bass.
Closing the album are tracks Don’t Worry and Guys, and they are worth every ounce of sap. The former is written and performed by Matty’s dad, Tim Healy, and oddly enough the heavy autotune on this one works. The latter is an ode to friendship and an absolute tearjerker, ending off the lengthy project with Matty paying homage to his three main men (“The moment that we started a band / Was the best thing that ever happened”).
Notes was definitely a journey to get through, and at certain points came close to feeling a tad bit protracted with the melding of genres, experimentation and lengthy instrumentals. Unlike their last three albums, a lack of overall cohesiveness was what was missing. But make no mistake about it, at no point did the songs feel boring at all. I’m going to be cradling this collection closely for the months to come, and for what it’s worth, no one likes predictability anyway.