Album Review: A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships by The 1975
By Sinead Li
I had approached this album — the third act of The 1975 — with caution. Their sophomore work I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It was as pretentious as the name sounds. Although the sounds were beautifully crafted, it felt disingenuine.
This album does not have that problem. It bleeds sincerity in every note.
The first track The 1975 sets the mood of the album. The vocal modifications alongside the isolated piano use the juxtaposition of light and heavy to create an altered, yet still meditative state of mind. Later, you’ll hear this paralleled in the final notes of their last track I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes). There’s both a harmony and a dissonance in the silence.
On the other hand, Won’t You Give Yourself A Try, more or less the anthem of the album, presents itself as the antithesis of this silence. Amidst intense electronic strumming, it is a testament to the confusion of youth: “And getting STDs at 27 really isn’t the vibe / Jane took her own life at 16,” Matty, their lead singer, wails. These striking narrative elements are not exclusive to this track; the 1975 further explores these themes of insecurity and disorder and indecisiveness by pairing amusing honesty, like “The smell of your hair / Reminds me of her feet” in Be My Mistake, with deep introspection, like “For some reason, I can’t just say ‘I do’” in Mine. When you sing along, both taste of truth.
Technically speaking, the rhythms and rhymes of the lyrics are beautifully flexible, curling and winding between Matty’s teeth, as best exemplified by Sincerity is Scary:
It’s just a self-referential way that stops you having to be human / I’m assuming you’ll balloon when you remove the dirty spoon / And start consuming like a human, that’s what I am assuming.
Furthermore, Sincerity is Scary is loud: not in a not-quiet way, but rather in a I-have-things-to-say-way. The song is like a shrieking statement: it doesn’t plead you to listen, it orders you to understand. Similarly, in an absurd intermission, The Man Who Married A Robot / Love Theme is a reflection on what it means to live in the digital age. Typically, I am less than impressed with storytelling breaks — it usually reeks of ‘look how artsy I am’, rather than furthering the album’s meaning. However, this track feels genuine. It feels correct. The 1975 has things to say, and they’re not going to wait for you to listen.
When it comes to production, this album diverges from the heavier instrumentals, and instead focues on bouncy percussion, floating synths, and minimalism. This production mixes the buoyancy of Grimes’ Eastern pop-influence, the electronic gymnastics of Charli XCX’s Pop 2 mixtape, the swing patterns of Boyz II Men, and the traditional garage band sound best demonstrated by the earlier work of The Strokes. There is certainly the same drum that is characteristic of The 1975, but it’s the melodies in the background that truly shine, whether it be the wind chimes of How to Draw / Petrichor or the crescendoing sirens in Love It If We Made It. There’s a sparkling quality to it, that’s both optimistic yet melancholy — The feeling of touching your dreams, but having to let someone go in the process.
TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME is definitely the most pop-like of all the tracks, and perhaps, albeit the catchiest, the worst of the album. It’s not terrible, per se, but the in-your-face-ness of pop is not their forte; the 1975 thrives in the spaces in between the screams, finding a home in the stunning subtleties of the intersection between acoustics and electronics. As such, Inside Your Mind is The 1975 at their most. I see this track as the perfected version of their previous sound, borrowing the techniques employed in their hit Somebody Else — the slow groove, the pondering vocals, the static of the acoustic –, yet in a way that’s not only beautiful but also hard-hitting.
Their album ends like a slow-burn romance novel. I consider It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You) the peak, like maybe when the protagonist realizes that she loves him. And then Mine could be the slow dance at their wedding, and I Couldn’t Be More In Love the end credits when the whole cast coos as she is serenaded. It’s not cheesy, it’s comfortable — This is what was meant to happen, it’s fate. That’s what the ending feels like: fate.
All in all, this album has confidence yet acute self-awareness, as well as a penchant for delightful experimentation with other genres, both of which are unique in the indie scene. Rather than just relying on style, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships succeeds in its substance. The 1975 deconstructs themselves for the listener’s pleasure, folding themselves into musical form, eager to lay out all of the intricacies within their psyches for anyone to decipher. They are truthful in a way that their last album isn’t, in a way that their indie pop genre isn’t, in a way that this century isn’t.
“I’m not scared of anything,” Matty said in an interview with Pitchfork. “And I’m not hiding anything.”