The 1975-A Brief Inquiry to Online Relationships

The dream of emo is alive in The 1975.  No, they’re not a band that makes music rooted in the 80’s DC hardcore scene, rather in the vein of Morrissey or Rainer Maria, the band wants to appreciate the beauty of the world and the glee of youth, but can’t bring themselves too.  They’re happy and sad at the same time.  They’re idealists who call their new love interest a few too many times on “TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME,” then cry over a sappy guitar ballad.  They use the internet enough to know what “Thank you Kanye, Very cool” means, but they’re also paranoid about what a dead man’s facebook means to him and the world.

“A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships” is a ridiculous mess.  It features a tantrum of fake soundcloud rap, Roy Hargrove’s (RIP) signature horn counterpoints alongside a gospel choir, and the dramatic drawling vocal delivery of Devon Welsh, but that’s what the internet is innit.  Everything is a joke, but we’re all too anxious to talk to people outside.  Everyone wants their hot takes to be taken seriously, but we also gave birth to poptimism.

Certainly a band that’s going to take an approach in this vein runs the risk of drowning in its own concept and forgetting about craft, so let’s set a few things straight.  Matt Healy is a magnetic vocalist with range to cover a slew of different emotions all without losing his bolstering melodic style.  There’s the desperate yelp of “Love it if We Made It,” the schmaltzy coo of “Mine,” and the pop punk bliss of “Give Yourself a Try.”

The band delves into a lot of different genres and they don’t take themselves super seriously, but they’re not doing gentrified styles that sound fake in the vein of Sublime or 21 Pilots. In other words, “Sincerity is Scary” isn’t showing up at church like they belong there a la Nick Jonas, rather it fits more into the lineage of respectful collaboration a la
Bowie or Talking Heads.

The other thing is the context of the album, the band is very into the “highest of highs vs. lowest of lows” dichotomy as tempos bounce between blazing and sluggish and moods dot the line between “can’t get out of bed” and “riding a roller-coaster.” “It’s Not Living if it’s not with you” is a pretty stark shift in gears that really bursts when you get there in the work–not to mention the fact that it’s about heroine addiction (“collapse my veins with the things that you do”).  So, the band is able to maintain a specific aesthetic lens even though it might at first seem a bit overly scattershot.

Outside of “livin,'” the lyricism is hamfisted usually to a funny degree, but with a good amount of faceplants.  There’s textbook type of stuff like “you make me hard/but she makes me weak” and more nuanced propositions like “Take something and then make it brand new/Try and do anything fourteen times.” “I found a gray hair one of these days/like context in a modern debate I just took it out” will maybe conjure some eye-rolls, but it’s harmlessly fun.  “Inside Your Mind,” on the other hand, is more actively harmful.  The lyric: “The back of your head is at the front of my mind/Soon I’ll crack it open just to see what’s inside your mind,” being firmly on the creepy side.

In terms of my listening experience, I feel like the songs are all well fleshed out and rife with emotion that I relate to, which is a change from their second album, which was overly ambitious, taking away from the power of singles like “She’s American.”  There’s certainly a lot to them worth dissecting critically, however.

It’s an issue in music that so often we stake our support behind acts already on the fence of problematic–especially in the archetype of the white-male genius, but we’ve certainly seen critically-lauded acts like The 1975 before.  Kanye’s biggest hit 10 years ago had the lyric “You can be my black Kate Moss tonight,” and now, 21 Grammys deep, we’re mad that his biggest single of the year was an absurdly gross horn-dog anthem, which we probably should have seen coming.  Neutral Milk Hotel never came out with another album obviously, but maybe if the project was explored a little further we would’ve had to come to terms with the fact that one of the most famous cult albums ever is entirely comprised of borderline creepy notes to Anne Frank.

I’m not going to use the word genius and I’m not going to say that their artistic values aren’t flawed in a way that may lead to missteps in the future, but for now The 1975 are pretty damn good at speaking to millenials in a self aware way.

-Donovan Burtan



Miwon-Jigsawtooth: Album Review

After a nine-year hiatus, the return of Berlin’s Miwon sees a sensible addition to his catalogue with more bright ambient landscapes and techno sensibilities.  True to the nature of N5MD records, the album continuously emphasizes melody with each 4-5 minute tune having a great deal of replay value while also expertly navigating open sonic terrain.

The album somewhat loses the rhythmic directness of 2008’s A to B and perhaps strikes a less emotionally moving tone.  Save the late-album dives into darkness, these songs are breezy and light. Still, the project keeps the listener engaged with spot-on songwriting with each passing track.

The beginning of the album serves as a decent representation of much of the project.  Opener “Fuzzy Words” builds swells above the active rhythmic foundation before the simple, but infectious melody comes in gently over the top.  This track doesn’t dig too deep as it sort of stagnates forward, but it works great as an introduction to Miwon’s particular aesthetic.

“Wolkengedoens” and “Shutter” are a bit more of the meat of the work.  Here, Miwon works in more drastic developments by continuously pilling on layers and emphasizing new melodic ideas. “Wolkengedoens,” for instance brings in a high synth melody towards the last 30 seconds of the tune to give a new splash of color that contrasts the slightly melancholy melodic centerpiece of the song.  “Shutter” is sluggish in tempo, opening the space for a blissful, wandering melody that gradually gets surrounded by more and more rhythmic activity, making for a natural, unpredictable development.

“Mondharke”—track 7—serves as the first full-fledged look at violence and darkness.  The crackling industrial sounds put the song on edge with pulsing low-end synths adding to the drama.  “Cool Your Jets” doesn’t necessarily read as violent, but it maintains the dark, smoldering nature of the previous track with an especially bouncy melody over brooding chords and low-end rhythmic sounds.

Although these two tracks contrast the sonic pallet of the beginning of the project, the exploration of this territory comes a bit late into the work.  Without these additions, the album would’ve been a bit one-dimensional, but it doesn’t feel all that well integrated into the project.  If Miwon had issued one of his more violent songs sooner into the track listing and then let that sound influence the tracks that followed the tug and pull between smoldering darkness and bright ambient sounds would’ve been more constant.

There’s no shortage of great songwriting and it’s great to hear a long-anticipated work that bites like “Jigsawtooth,” but it might have been a bit more impactful had Miwon dabbled into the violent, smoldering side of his sound aesthetic more often in the work.

-Donovan Burtan


Too Significant to Ignore AJ Cornell+Tim Darcy

We’ve always known Tim Darcy had a way with words.  Last year he stunned us with the line “I’m no longer afraid to die cause that is all that I have left” from the song “Beautiful Blue Sky” on Ought’sSun Coming Down.  The band’s first album More than Any Other Dayalso had its brilliant lyrical moments; “today, more than any other day, I am prepared to make a decision between 2% and whole milk” said Darcy in a particularly ironic discussion of his grocery shopping.  With the help of electronic musician AJ Cornell, Darcy’s lyrical talent and vocal delivery have been put in a vacuum.  Gone are the erratic rhythms and bass lines he’s usually featured beside.  Gone is Darcy’s guitar centered songwriting style and vocal hooks.  Replacing the usual Ought set-up is AJ Cornell’s eerie avant-garde electronic backdrop, which has brought a whole new personality out of Darcy resulting in the album Too Significant To Ignore.

AJ Cornell makes music an experience.  On her song Vertige Suspendu, droning synths are periodically met with textural sounds, enveloping the listener in a brooding aesthetic.  Another song of hers,InonouonInoutonin, Acra, is based more on pops, clicks, and vocal sampling.  Throughout her discography, she has developed a brilliant knack for capturing listeners without the sing-able choruses and melodies indicative of Darcy’s past.  It is clear that Darcy respects this talent as he leaves huge chunks of time for Cornell to work her magic.  The last minute or so of Cosmetic Sadness bleeds into Automatic Ecstasy where Cornell is left alone for an entire piece.  Her contrasting bass lines gain momentum into more distorted territory with static frequencies creeping into the picture.  A wall of sound is slowly amassed around the simple start with new sounds pulsating left and right like waves.  On “This Café,” Cornell’s urgent keyboard part is met with electronic snapping.  The second half of the album begins with the rhythmic bass line of “The Space Between Everything,” which is contrasted by the panning, high-frequency keyboard sounds.  The album ends with “Phosphere.”  Air blowing in the distance transitions into symphonic electronic sounds sustaining beautifully into oblivion.  Again Darcy is absent and again the listener is mesmerized.  The sonic design of the album is perfectly balanced with Cornell displaying many different technics culminating in a diverse, avant-garde musical pallet that never becomes stale or lingers on the insignificant.

Cornell’s sonic landscaping techniques run deeper than her performance.  For instance, Darcy’s vocal phrasing operates in a similar fashion to the sounds that surround him.  His voice remains relatively monotone gaining energy into the end of each piece.  The words on “Today, The body” begin methodically with Darcy uttering lines about the state of the body and mind.  The mind is then brought into question with more obscure lines about the absence of bacteria and Darcy’s tendency to “eat off the floor.”  The piece climaxes when Darcy brings up the term rapture, first ironically “not to be confused with drinking too much coffee” then packing a bit more punch “like throwing a slack line of rope with a loop tied in the end of it and dragging whatever it is back towards you.”  As each line is said the energy builds, electronic sounds crackle and screech as Darcy’s words pick up pace, echoing into both sides of the speaker.  Just as Cornell makes her music interesting with the absence of beats and scale, Darcy is confined to spoken word.  Having more experience with this type of artistic limitation, Cornell takes the lead with Darcy vocalizing her concept of musical energy.

The abstract nature of Cornell’s sonic effort is also reflected by Darcy’s lyrical ideas.  The words never deliver a cohesive story or singular idea.  Rather, Darcy values emotional affect and thought provoking themes in his poetic language.  On “This Café (Is Not Anonymous Enough)” Darcy puts himself in a Café where a man yells “Give me those headphones I want to hear god,” a rattling assertion that matches the shocking sound elements.  Alone this line provides a slight criticism of modern day society where people are walking around constantly ignoring the world with their earbuds.  Also, a connection is drawn here to an earlier part of the song where Darcy vividly describes two men in a guided museum tour “looking up at… an image of Christ…hearing all about it wearing headphones.”  The headphones are used to “hear” god by describing the significance of the work of art.  Darcy alludes to a juxtaposition of mundane, everyday objects against the significance of god.  He also may be suggesting that the way people blindly followed god and religion in the past is similar to the mind numbing effect of laptops, headphones, and cafés in modern day cities.  These lines can be drawn into the first song with Darcy’s line about rapture and coffee.  Darcy has to specify that the joy of god is not the same thing as drinking a bit too much caffeine, which ties into his analysis of modern day vices and brainwashing.  By emphasizing themes in this non-linear storyline fashion, Darcy has embodied the abstract nature of the sounds that surround him.

I just love this album.  It’s perfectly unique in its achievement of spoken word and avant-garde, electronic sound art.  The lyrics find humor and thought provoking analysis of modern day life.  The sounds bring you in with their subtlety then shock your ears with their explosive tendencies.  Perhaps most important is the natural feel of the album.  Neither artist is forcing anything, almost like a Pollok painting.  Pollock’s paint spills on the page not tied down to any sense of realism yet there’s something incredible about it, something pure in the emotional impact the work has.  AJ Cornell and Tim Darcy make a perfect team naturally navigating a 40 minute album with a Pollock level of natural artistic talent making for a truly incredible experience.

-Donovan Burtan

originally published here on March 24th, 2016