Saturday, December 1, 2018

A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships | The 1975



Since the band’s inception, The 1975 have agreed to operate on a evolutionary and progressive definition of a rock band, even if that meant they would be perceived as four blokes with guitars who existed only to appeal to counterculture teenagers on the Internet... at first, at least. Atop a basis of guitars and the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll lifestyle, the band’s sound is a frantic fever dream. Their sophomore record, I love it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful but so unaware of it, is unstructured, but it listens like a glorious ‘80s titan – strong melodies, hazy vocal production, and analog synths galore. A much more adventurous endeavor than the band’s debut, I like it when you sleep is the record that forced critics to merge into The 1975’s lane and ride along at the band’s speed.

A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, the band’s third full-length and second hugely-titled record, doesn’t change a thing for the band while they continue to change everything. The 1975 are still disjointed and indecisive, jumping between jazz, rock, pop, and dance across 15 tracks. But they lean into every whim, very much committed to seeing each one through its four-or-so minutes of run time before abandoning it for the next. And now, they make music knowing damn well the time and place in which they exist, recreating what it means to be an Internet era band – a label that unflattering and not to be taken seriously, until its maiden acts like The 1975 and Lana Del Rey released material strong enough to validate it.

In an era of absolute absurdity, The 1975 examine Millennial culture and the web's effects on modern society's existence. The record's mission statement, "The Man Who Married a Robot / Love Theme," takes humanity out of the equation altogether. The integral interlude contains a Siri-narrated narrative about SnowflakeSmasher86, a lonely man who fell in love with the internet, as if it was his only friend. When he dies, his life is summed up in one sentence: "You can look at his Facebook." The robo-poem acts as the antithesis to the record's lead single; "Give Yourself a Try" rears against the web-obsessed youth that brought the band to fame as Healy mutters, "The only apparatus required for happiness is your pain and fucking going outside." A frenetic guitar buzzes behind him, and oftentimes, it overpowers him to a point of listeners' despair.

Healy takes only one moment to have some fun, on the infectious, Auto-Tuned dance cut "TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME." Aside from it, he is consumed with culture, youth, and his own recovery. "Love It If We Made It" opens with a blunt shout: "We're fucking in a car, shooting heroin, saying controversial things just for the hell of it." The track is built upon a sarcastic foundation, but it expands into further shouts of this sensationalist society's harsh realities, each one capped with the same ending: "Modernity has failed us." And on SoundCloud rap ode "I Like America & America Likes Me," an Auto-Tuned Healy cries, "Would you please listen?" The outsider's perspective to American culture is just as potent as an insider's plea against gun culture, even if it is rooted in a sound that is currently wreaking havoc on popular music in America.

Frontman Matty Healy’s drug addiction has always been a thematic cornerstone for the band: “Chocolate” is a façade for weed smoking, and “UGH!” is a cocaine confessional on its face. But not until this album cycle had the big H come up: In interviews for A Brief Inquiry, his use of heroin is a cornerstone but his current status of sobriety is relatively mute. "It's Not Living (If It's Not With You)," the track Healy described to Billboard as "the big heroin one," is just that: Packed with a glossy guitar, a children's choir, and an effortless melody, the love letter to the drug is an instant essential in the band's discography. It exudes a strange feeling of sentiment in hindsight, knowing Healy is, in fact, clean from heroin as of the album's release.

A smaller heroin one can be found in "Surrounded by Heads and Bodies," an acoustic track about a woman whom Healy met in rehab. It can found in the album's soppy, nostalgic back-half, when jazz and vintage rock take the album to an ambient dirge. The soft keys and slick vocal belts of "I Couldn't Be More In Love" transport the album back three or four decades, before closer "I Always Want to Die (Sometimes)" digs its heels directly into '90s adult contemporary rock music – known to younger members of the Millennial generation as dad music. Guitars sweep away the incredibly huge track, which is a close cousin to tracks from the Goo Goo Dolls and Oasis, two bands that have been named-dropped in reference to "I Always Want to Die."

There isn't a band more qualified than The 1975, a band born, raised, and sustained on social media platforms, to make a record like A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships. The band sets out to prove that those of us 20-somethings who don't remember life without even a primal version of the computer – who now find friends and partners, work, and communicate primarily through wireless technologies – have grown old enough to understand the consequences of the technology we've grown up alongside. Today, we live in a society into which older generations had to be retrofitted: Generation X, issued a smartphone but without the instruction to operate it, and the Baby Boomers and beyond, generally considered defunct and left to maintain what was left of their normalcy.

Tech giants have shaped our individual realities much more than older generations realize; data mining, election meddling, and news radicalizing are happening below Generation X's radar as they fumble through Facebook to share a weird combination of false political propaganda, family photographs, and crock pot recipes. It's overwhelming to be aware that history is being rewritten at the hands of technology on which daily functions are held hostage, and A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships has been a towering lightning pole for Healy's anxiousness, surely amplified without the crutch of his addiction to numb it, to strike every few moments over the past two years.

The record is lopsided from every angle, and because many of the somber tracks listen like stopgaps between the record's bigger moments, the record's best cuts tower high over its worst. But at the very least, it has sparked grander conversation about technology, the generational knowledge gap, self-esteem, addiction, culture, and stability, to name a few. There's something to be said about a band that has become critical of the very platform that sustains it – and a band that can act as sophisticated champions of a generation that is used to being stomped on. As A Brief Inquiry explores, there are weaknesses in this generation, and there are probably plenty more to discover as we age. But more importantly, the record proves there's more hope and power than weakness to be found in the future.

A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships is available now under Dirty Hit and Interscope Records.

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Maira Gall