A BRIEF INQUIRY INTO ONLINE RELATIONSHIPS

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After about 7 months of anticipatory white-knuckling, the opportunity to review the 3rd effort from one of my favorite musical acts of the decade has presented itself.

The album A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships marks the first phase of the bands self decreed era dubbed Music For Cars. This is after the band embarked on a neon pink odyssey to the heart of pop music via their precariously titled sophomore album I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It.

The fantastic intimacy of I Like It was striking, and it not only propelled the album into commercial success, but also made it a personal favorite of mine. I hold it so dear to my heart that it chronicles a time in my life with superb detail.

This in combination with a rather brawny and tumultuous marketing campaign for A Brief Inquiry, including a brand new album cover, really galvanized my expectations, and the bands abandonment of their signature album cover motif isn’t the only thing that shows the bands departure from lateral artistic movement.

The bands third variation of their eponymous opening number wakes you up better than any coffee you will ever drink. The slow subtle piano notes and Healy’s croon give way to a hive mind of robotic voices.

The following track titled Give Yourself A Try capitalizes on Adam Hahn’s optimistic sun baked overdriven guitar, looping it into the base of the song. The song is rife with commentary about growing old in the modern age of social media, a common theme that lends itself to other songs on the album. This track has grown on me quite a bit since it premiered on BBC Radio 1 some months ago.


Track 3, TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME, plays out to be a cool off point, as it is far more sonically temperate. This song is perhaps the most indulgent track the band has ever performed, and at the same time it sets a new gold standard for modern pop music with its slippery melodies and balmy synth pads. TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME in my mind functions like the cocktail the band makes themselves after realizing that they have gotten this far. Healy states in an interview that the song was written as an ode to pop music, further saying that “songs can be about frivolity itself—if it’s a good song about frivolity.”

The album also wades into new musical territory with the introduction of a vocoder.

Healy channels his voice into a incredibly monolithic and spacious instrument with the skill and swiftness of a magician. How to Draw and I Like America And America Likes Me as well as The 1975 are energized spectacularly, robotic flourishes fleshing out the transhumanist tone of the album.

This is not to say that acoustic instruments are left to bite the dust. Plenty of tracks put acoustic guitar or an arid piano center stage, coloring the album equal parts sobering and tranquil. This duality between synthetic and acoustic is executed well most of the time.

Sincerity is Scary, another lead single, is the album’s first real venture into jazz territory, the next being Mine. Roy Hargrove’s spiraling horns accent a lofty chord progression carried by a freeform rhythm. Heally’s lyrics tackle the role that sarcasm plays in one’s perception of the self, and how relationships are impacted by irony.

It is at this point in the record that the weight of the whole thing really reveals itself. Healy’s lyrics, while commonly known to be quite solipsistic, became intoxicatingly self referential on this record, and if they would have become even more so, we would most likely be left with a lyrical supermassive black hole, and hopelessly broken 4th wall. This record as well as I Like It place a huge emphasis on commentating on mankind’s increasingly symbiotic relationship with the cell phone and fame, though I Like It really just got all of it out of its system with the lead single, Love Me, and even then it was talked about through the point of view of a rockstar.

This is followed by I Like America And America Likes Me, The 1975’s first trap number. Yeah that says trap. This song shows that the band did more than bury themselves in their own process, it shows that the album is as culturally aware as it is arduous. The bombastic percussion rife with high hat triplets and hefty autotune shakes off the ruministic tone of the album prior to the song. The beat and mood of the song oddly compliment the existential lyrics.

Though that is not to say that the bands signature jest if fully washed away. Songs like It’s Not Living If It’s Not With You and TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME are just as exotic as anything from I Like It.

Cut 11, It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You), is a sonic colossus. It would be an act of treason to play it in another place besides a stadium. The guitars blare into your soul with gargantuan reverb, painting it a brilliant pink in the process.

I Couldn’t Be More In Love Is favorite track of mine. If it emulated Wham! any more the band would be forced to rename themselves The 1985. The Super Mario 64 wurlitzer lead ebbs and flows over orchestral arrangements ranging from mark trees to a chamber-esque choir. The guitar solo at the tail end of the song nods to the soul of legendary players like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Clapton with Healy’s yodeling guitar riffage intact.

I can’t help but feel like the transhumanist social commentary of the album not only comes off as occasionally underwhelming, especially given it’s integral role in the albums promotional campaign, but also that sometimes it’s just slapped on top of an album full of love songs and alternative sizzles. The ovoure The Man Who Married A Robot / Love Theme, while effectively functioning as the albums conceptual backbone, is slated in between I Like America And America Likes Me and Inside Your Mind, two songs that are relatively topically unrelated.

Heally comes off as much more fatalistic on A Brief Inquiry, singing like a forlorn street preacher forecasting the terror of the singularity, periodically leaving his pyre to grace his audience with escapist pop numbers.

This lyrical topic paired with the albums esoteric tonality, routinely hopping between jazzy acoustics and driving, lucid electronics, makes for the most authentically 2018 piece of music I’ve heard in 2018. Those saying that this is the millennial Ok Computer, I believe, have hit the nail on the head, and I habitually scoff at myself as I type this because of the fact that I did not draw that analogy first.

A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships snatches 2018 by pushing social awareness from the fringes to the forefront of the bands artistic purpose in the most beautiful way it can muster.

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A BRIEF INQUIRY INTO ONLINE RELATIONSHIPS