Saturday 19 March 2016

the 1975 are more important than you think: new wave, new beginnings

whilst watching the bbc documentary five years about the late (and great) david bowie's career last night, it brought to my attention the similarities between some of his early work and the 1975's new album, and finally motivated me to write this post. it's clear that matt healy and co. took inspiration from bowie's early work, picking and choosing the bits they liked best, from the funk-inspired riffs of golden years to the slick synthesisers of low (see: a new career in a new town and the speed of life). when the latter was released, many found it surprising that the album was half instrumental, but bowie clearly revelled in the unexpected, as do the 1975. everything about this album, from its fairly lengthy title, i like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it, to the genre-spanning sound will have come as a shock to devoted fans of the band, me included. it's certainly not easy listening, that's for sure. 

part of the reason why i put off writing this post for so long is because my opinion of this album has changed so drastically since i first heard it nearly a month ago, and if i'd written a review back then it would have been incredibly different, and overall pretty negative as upon first listen, i just didn't love it as much as their first release. it's weird now to look back at this NME interview the band did prior to the release of the album, and how some of the tracks mentioned have gone from being abstract concepts to some of my most favourite songs that i'm now playing on repeat endlessly. my ever-changing opinion of this album is really quite irrelevant because one thing is for sure; the 1975 have made the album they were always capable of, despite the hoards of self-doubt harboured by matt healy

it's endearing though, because his desire to be liked and fear of being seen as "retrogressive" shows how much he genuinely cares. the band's video for the sound is a perfect example of this. his vulnerability is unlike anything else we've seen during the rise (and subsequent fall) of the indie music scene during the early 00s. it was all about masculinity, bravado, questionable haircuts and above all, a sense of just not giving a shit, something that irks healy. "i hate that indie band bullshit of acting like you don't care so you don't get judged about being shit. that's what indie is now. that fey sense of 'we don't care'. well, don't do it then. fuck off and do something else," he said in another NME interview. in it, he also stated that "the world needs our new album", a statement that would sound arrogant coming from the mouth of say, pete doherty and the like, but given healy's insecurities, only shows his willingness to put his heart on the line. 

clearly, healy is not the most masculine of front-men, as seen by his penchant for make up and women's clothing, which he discusses in this MTV interview. breaking boundaries is something he seems adamant on doing with the rebirth of his band after they deleted all social media. his shunning of anything masculine and the vulnerability emanating from him is a far cry from the pretentious scenesters of days gone by, and i am all for it. the band are also adamant on creating a sound that completely transcends genres that have gone before, again something healy discusses in the interview. “i want to be representative of this generation. the non-linear consumption of music everybody picks from all over the place… i just want to be truly modern", he told NME

highfalutin statements aside, does their sophomore release pack the punch it needs to back them up?

my mind was made up when i saw the band live last week at the o2 academy in brixton. it was their fifth and final night of a series of gigs played at the venue, and that could certainly be felt in the atmosphere that night. after a brief moment of panic trying to pick up my tickets at the box office (my original ones got lost in the post, something that would only happen to me) and queueing to buy (incredibly overpriced) drinks (that i wasn't even drinking as i actually wanted to remember the night), we finally made it in, only slightly late, to see the support act. 

having quickly become one of my favourite bands since i heard last year that they were supporting the 1975 on tour, i was incredibly excited to see the japanese house. if there's one thing i live for, it's that moment when a song stops becoming an insular experience and is transformed into a tangible memory that never fully leaves you. it was intense, hearing tracks like teeth and still live after listening to them on repeat in bed night after night while trying to fall asleep, the hum of traffic outside my window making it ten times harder (definitely something i'm not missing while home from uni for a couple of days), but amazing all the same. 

i was sceptical as to whether their blend of minimal dreamy pop would be enough to captivate the audience and fill the quite frankly massive venue, but i needn't have worried, as amber bain and her band filled it to the brim. a stand-out was their closing track, sister, which starts out slow and builds to a spectacular crescendo. though the lyrics are hard to make out beneath the heavy vocoder effects, they're actually pretty beautiful. she feels like hell and i know cause i've been, goes the pre-chorus. 

another highlight was cleani've been obsessed with and haven't stopped listening to post-gig. the 1975 themselves have dabbled in production, helping out label-mate bain with the aforementioned track, and their influence can clearly be heard. the lyrics in this one hit me me hard; i'm cooling in the clay / i've always been moulded this way, goes the bridge, and i think of all the times i've tried to change, for better and worse. the song definitely has a cleansing aspect to it though, due mainly to its simplistic production. i don't say it often, but in this case, less is most definitely more.

following the emotional high of their set, we faced a seemingly endless wait for the 1975 to take the stage, but they most certainly didn't disappoint. they opened their set with love me, their boisterously bold commentary on social media and our celebrity-obsessed culture, which got the whole crowd jumping. up next was another crowd favourite, ugh! which details matty's complicated relationship with cocaine. the setlist leaned much more towards the older songs, which surprised me given that the tour is in support of their new album. however, i get the feeling that their new release hasn't been quite as well-received as their first, and they felt that fans would prefer to hear the slightly more accessible, and decidedly less avant-garde songs from their self-titled d├ębut. i went into it hoping that this would be the defining moment at which my opinions of their second album would change drastically, but as they didn't play a lot of new material, apart from the accessible crowd-pleasers (if that's what you're into, she's american and the dreamy a change of heart will be right up your street), that opportunity didn't really present itself to me. 

die-hard fans of the band will have been pleased though, as they played a couple of older songs that even i didn't recognise, but after having another listen at home i now know to be fallingforyou, so far (it's alright), anobrain and menswear. during those songs i had some time to reflect on my surroundings, which consisted mostly of teenage girls and drunk people, and it occurred to me that this gig, nay, this band and its entire ethos as a whole, is all about, and dedicated to, said teenage girls. matty said it himself when he told NME, “i have 450,000 young women [followers on twitter] and i genuinely believe the empowerment of young women is the most important thing in the world and will lead to the destruction of injustice. so what do i do with that? i try to guide them.”

i thought about them all way up at the front, crammed shoulder-to-shoulder next to each other at the barrier, feet aching as they spent the entire day queuing to be at the front, to see their idol up close. it hurt my heart because that was me all those years ago, freezing to death outside various venues across manchester, desperate to prove my love and dedication to all these bands that had saved my life without even knowing. as i stood there taking it all in, miles from home in the centre of london, i wanted to believe that things have changed, that i'm a totally different person, but deep down inside i still feel like that scared, lonely 14 year old putting all their faith in someone else because they had none in themselves. 

this was only intensified when the band played me, a track which lyrically hits hard, and i had to fight back tears when matty sang the line i was thinkin' 'bout killing myself, don't you mind? it's the way he says it, so matter of factly, and for people with depression it really is such a mundane thought. just how most people spend their time thinking about what to have for tea or what to watch on TV tonight, these suicidal thoughts come and go in a similar vein. 

they picked up the pace with one of my favourite tracks from the new album, somebody else. it all came full circle for me, having first seen a not-so-great-quality live video of this song on youtube, then obsessing over the studio version and finally getting to hear it live myself, and it certainly didn't disappoint. the crowd went wild when they played robbers straight after, including me and my friend. emotions ran high yet again as they followed it with you, one of my favourites from their first album. this one was pretty intense too, going from playing it to death in my bedroom to watching them sing it live in front of me. 

next was a new track, loving someone, that i've since come to love and haven't stopped playing as i'm desperate to nail matty's half-rapped lyrics (i think i'm nearly there). as far as lyrics go, they're pretty damn powerful, with matty again discussing the state of our society and the effect its having on this generation of teenagers - it's better if we keep them perplexed / it's better if we make them want the opposite sex - and includes one of my favourite lines, i'm the greek economy of cashing intellectual cheques. matty's insecurity comes out to play again - it's clear he might not be as clever as he'd like people to think, but at least he's honest about it. there's also a clear conflict between his disdain for celebrity culture and his own meteoric rise to fame. clearly he doesn't want to become the antithesis of everything he hates, but with his head screwed firmly on his shoulders, he shouldn't have anything to worry about. 

most unexpectedly, my highlight of the show was actually when they played another new track, entitled if i believe you. i wasn't overly familiar with it before the show, but hearing it live totally stopped me in my tracks. it breaks my heart every time i listen to it, which is unfortunate because i've had it on repeat for days now. in it, matty grapples with his religious beliefs, or lack thereof. i'm broken and bleeding / and begging for help / and i'm asking you jesus, show yourself goes the chorus, and i feel his pain, how he envies those who believe in a higher power as it gives their life a structure, a reason to get up every day. if i'm lost, then how can i find myself? he muses during the outro, perfectly encapsulating how every 20-something feels as we struggle to find our own direction in life. me? it feels like i'm being pulled in about fifteen different ones at the moment, worrying that i'm never going to find my place in the world, wherever that might be. 

the band ended their set with chocolate and sex, which was another emotional moment as i could feel the passion radiating from them as the crowd went wild around me. it was one of those perfect moments where it feels like anything can happen, and i was weightless, limitless and time was endless. alas, we did have to come back down to earth eventually, but i definitely left the venue on a high. the gig certainly changed my opinion on the new album, and it's possible that hearing the similarities between their music and bowie's early work has made me love it more and put it into context ever so slightly. i'm still lamenting the fact that they didn't play this must be my dream, a beautiful song from their second album that culminates in a glorious saxophone solo, and also the euphoric, uplifting lostmyhead, which makes me want to walk off into the sunset feeling that everything is going to be okay, but if i give it a few more listens i might just start to believe it.

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