The 1975 break into the stratosphere on ‘A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships’

The 1975 are provocative and genius (if a bit pretentious) or overrated, maddening and straight-up wanky, depending on who you ask. One thing that everyone should admit, even those who can’t stand the sight of Matty Healy before he even opens his mouth, is that there’s no band quite like The 1975 in music today.

They released their underwhelming self-titled debut in 2013 and were essentially written off critically – yet this didn’t stop them amassing a huge fanbase. However, rather than giving the critics the middle finger and continuing down the same path, they released their sprawling, near 75-minute sophomore record i like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful, yet so unaware of it in 2016, a record where bubble-gum pop anthems rubbed shoulders with 6-minute instrumentals.

i like it when you sleep… remarkably won over some of the critics who had so vehemently trashed their debut, and by the end of that record’s touring cycle – The 1975, still one of the most divisive bands in music, had sold out the O2 Arena, Madison Square Garden and headlined Latitude Festival.

This meant that, in a weird way, the pressure was off when it came to making A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships. If they were to look at it cynically, as long as there are radio hits (which The 1975 churn out for fun – just look at highlight It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You) ), this album will send them into the stratosphere – as they proved on their first record, they don’t need critical acclaim, and already have a huge legion of fans who worship the ground they walk on.

But, rather than playing it safe, Healy and his bandmates (drummer/producer George Daniel, bassist Ross MacDonald and lead guitarist Adam Hann) revel in this, and make A Brief Inquiry…their boldest (and best) album yet. How To Draw / Petrichor is the best possible evidence – a reworked B-side from i like it…, the track’s first half is lullaby-esque – with gorgeously glittery piano and xylophone floating in and out of the mix, before Matty’svocals come in, absolutely buried in vocoder. However, then you have the second half – a production masterclass from Healy and George Daniel, an industrial dance beat with skittish beats that genuinely sound like an Aphex Twin track. Seriously, who would have predicted after The 1975’s debut that they would be drawing Aphex Twin comparisons on just their third album?

This Aphex comparison is a segue into a main point of discussion for this record. Matty is a huge LCD Soundsystem fan and in a manner similar to James Murphy’s LCD records, A Brief Inquiry…wears its influences very prominently on its sleeve – the intro track The 1975 – which has appeared in a different iteration on all 3 records – is a perfect example of this. A Brief Inquiry’s version hears Matty singing through a vocoder which sounds like a swarm of Matty robots, in a way that more than pays homage to Bon Iver’s 715 – CR∑∑KS.

Elsewhere on the record, the infectious single TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME sounds exactly like a dancehall Drake track, with breezy surface-level lyrics about infidelity. It’s undoubtedly generic and is the kind of track that those who love to hate The 1975 will latch onto, but somehow it’s irresistibly catchy and infectious.

There’s more Bon Iver influence on I Like America & America Likes Me (more like I Like Bon Iver and Bon Iver likes me, eh lads? Eh? Anyone?) where Healy’s voice is once again drenched in vocoder akin to 22, A Million. However, Matty is clever here – he knows he doesn’t have Vernon’s subtlety so substitutes this for his trademark brashness – America is carried by a massive trap beat and Healy’s lyricism is scatterbrain and manic, addressing the gun crisis in the USA (“kids don’t want rifles / they want Supreme”), but the unhinged and rapid-fire delivery and lyricism seems to suggest that Healy is using this rant as a way to deflect from his heroin addiction which saw him go to rehab during the making of this record – particularly as he howls “I’m scared of dying / its fiiiiiiine!” America is unhinged, wild and deranged – but it’s one of the best tracks this band has ever made.

While the rest of The 1975 are perfectly capable musicians, and George Daniel is a production wizard behind many of this record’s best moments. A Brief Inquiry…is dominated by the ever-fascinating Healy. This is especially evident on massive closer I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes), which sounds at some points like a Nickelback track and at other points like an Oasis track – Matty himself even called it “a gritty, English ‘I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing’” – it teeters right on the edge of being unbearably cheesy, but Healy’s earnestness manages to pull it off and then some – the bridge’s mantra of “if you can’t survive; just try”is genuinely tear-jerking and inspiring.

However, when discussing Matty, even the most loyal fans of his work will admit that he is prone to talking absolute shite from time to time, and if A Brief Inquiry…is a reflection of his personality, then it reflects this too. Lead single Give Yourself a Try is good but not great, and the idol worship elsewhere on the album is taken too far here as the guitar riff is a rip-off of Joy Division’s Disorder. Elsewhere, Surrounded By Heads and Bodies is entertainingly titled after the first sentence of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest (“Because nobody reads it all the way!”) but that is unfortunately the most interesting thing about the track, as it is a forgettable acoustic track.

These are only small missteps in the album’s near-impeccable 59-minute runtime, and these are more than overshadowed by the band’s best song yet – the monumental Love If If We Made It. Released as a single before the album, the lyrics were released in advance of the track, and with lines as brash as “fucking in a car / shooting heroin” and “poison me, daddy”, even the most devout fans found themselves cringing. However, when the track was properly released it dumbfounded almost everyone who heard it.

It’s been called a millennial ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’, as it simply lists the biggest news headlines and social events of the tumultuous past few years (“a beach of drowning 3 year olds / rest in peace Lil Peep”), Matty doesn’t give an opinion on any of these events and simply states the headlines, but his passion is evident. Particularly on the track’s incredibly moving bridge, where he quotes Trump twice, including the strangest pop lyric of the year “thank you Kanye, very cool!”

What brings this cultural melting point of a track together is the powerfully simple chorus when Matty declares “modernity has failed us, but I’d love it if we made it”; it’s an admission that our world is a mess, but what comes through in Matty’s impassioned delivery is a true desire and a plea for humanity and kindness. It’s a protest song of sorts, but as only The 1975, and only Matty Healy could pull off. As unlikely as it may have seemed in 2013, A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships makes a very strong case for The 1975 as the band that the world needs in 2018. – andrew barr (@weeandreww)

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EP Review: Belle and Sebastian – How to Solve Our Human Problems (Part 2)

by Kieran Cannon (@kiercannon)rating 7

In their younger days, Belle & Sebastian were famously recluse and shrouded in mystery, developing almost to the point of a cult of personality. Interaction with the press was a rarity and their lyrics – sharp-witted, erudite and often self-depreciating – proved even more complex than the persona they propagated (intentionally or not). In the clutches of middle age, however, they’ve been undergoing something of a change in approach. In many ways they’re now more accessible than ever; whether this is a reaction to or a consequence of the changing landscape of music consumption remains unclear.

To Stuart Murdoch et al., the EP is an artform in its own right. Instead of stuffing such releases with studio outtakes and B-sides, they devote the same amount of love and attention as they would to a full-length album. Following in the footsteps of their late ’90s EP bonanza (Dog On Wheels, Lazy Line Painter Jane, and 3.. 6.. 9 Seconds Of Light), B&S have committed to another trio of releases under the banner How to Solve Our Human Problems.

As they move onto the second installment of the trilogy, the purpose of this format is ostensibly to divide the tracks into three distinct acts or chapters in order to deliver a certain impact on each outing. On this occasion, their nonchalant demeanor seems to be a coping mechanism for the relentless negativity of the world we live in. Instead of fighting fire with fire, they’ve taken a conciliatory approach. “So let’s consider not being angry”, suggests Murdoch.

Tracks like Show Me The Sun embody this free-spirited attitude, a sort of reckless abandon which is a rarity in the B&S canon. It doesn’t indulge in any unnecessary navel-gazing; instead, it comes flying out the traps with a chorus of ‘na na nas’ before descending into cheery question-and-answer vocals and psychedelic guitars. Cornflakes, too, is nothing short of a riot – crashing cymbals and spacey synths.

The EP’s live and let live philosophy has undoubtedly been a consequence, at least in part, of parenthood. On lead single I’ll Be Your Pilot, Murdoch speaks with an unmistakable paternal tone as he implores his young boy Denny to enjoy his adolescent days while he can. “It’s tough to become a grown-up / Put it off while you can“, he urges. The dialogue plays out like a reassuring chat between father and son; a promise to look out for him, keep him safe. The sentiment is warm and loving, although there is a sense of foreboding when he alludes to the treacherous state of the world, “I tell you that when / You land in the world / It’s like quicksand“.

Part 2 constitutes a solid step forward in the How to Solve Our Human Problems trilogy and, as it happens, represents one of their strongest records in recent times. Despite the lack of characteristic catchy hooks abundant in their earlier material, all five tracks are charming and memorable in their own right. There’s no mistaking their ability to change with the times, though. 22 years on since the release of their debut Tigermilk, they show no signs of running out of ideas yet.

Album Review- The Drums – Abysmal Thoughts

By Nicola Roy (@circaslaves)

What was once a four-piece surf-rock outfit from New York, is now essentially a solo project from front-man Jonny Pierce – although what it lacks in former members, it more than makes up for in raw and gritty song-writing talent. Abysmal Thoughts is the fourth studio album from The Drums, the follow-up to Encyclopedia of 2014. To many people, mention of The Drums brings to mind nostalgic summer staple tracks such as Let’s Go Surfing, which raises the question- why would fans of those kind of feel-good vibes want to approach an album with such a name as Abysmal Thoughts? The trick is to not let the title put you off: yes, the songwriting in this album covers many difficult topics such as sexuality and despair, but with a quirky edge similar to that of Joy Division and The Smiths, it’s not only easy to listen to but extremely thought-provoking as well.

Opening track Mirror is smooth and echoey to start with, but after the chorus kicks in (accompanied by ethereal female backing vocals), a steady-building drum beat builds up and leads to a manic drop with synths flying around in the background. Ending as minimalistic as it began, the final synths blend in seamlessly with the following track, I’ll Fight For Your Life – an upbeat track with lyrics that illustrate the carefree and reckless side of love: ‘We barely made it out alive / and now we’re on a train tonight / a different city, a different life / will it ever feel right?

However, not every track about love is an uplifting one. Head of the Horse is arguably one of the most poignant and memorable tracks on the album, as it is here that Pierce tells the story of his difficulties growing up gay, which, with pastors for parents, was obviously not the easiest. Although it has a chilled-out beat and smooth falsetto vocals, lyrically it’s heartbreaking: ‘Your sister got married fourteen times / But if you fall in love, son; that’s a crime / Well, I fell in love and told him I was happy / My dad hugged me and said this would be the last hug‘. It’s difficult to turn such a sad topic into a happy-sounding song, but Pierce has the ability to turn previous pain into something meaningful and great.

More highlights of this album include Blood Under My Belt, the lead single- at first listen, clear Joy Division influences can be heard, especially with a beat almost identical to Disorder. This, combined with short and desperate lyrics about death and love, makes it also comparable to the likes of The Smiths, but with The Drums’ own breezy spin put on it. Pierce’s signature falsetto vocals in Heart Basel are also reminiscent of Morrissey’s, and his style of telling tales of heartbreak layered over an otherwise happy-sounding track is extremely clever and makes each listen different to the last.

Although this album was mainly based off unfortunate events, The Drums has crafted a well-put-together collection of stories: granted, not all of them happy, but this will make for a perfect summer album nonetheless.

7/10


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EP Review: Broad-Shouldered Baby – I Must Be Tired

By Liam Menzies (@blnkclyr

It would probably surprise you to hear that despite the abundance of music projects available on the internet, only a hand few seem to ever reference this in some shape or form. What wouldn’t surprise you is that out of those artists that have, Tom Fraser can raise his hand and say he has. To those that know Fraser, or happen to follow him on his twitter, his wit and humour is one of the first features of his that will pop to mind: after all, we’re talking about the man whose twitter name is an infusion of a Channel 4 presenting duo and the person responsible for the death of Jesus Christ.

Fraser is not a one trick pony though, currently playing in Codist as a drummer and backing vocalist, two contributions that helped their debut LP Nuclear Family to be one of the best records of last year. Now the spotlight is finally upon him as he has a stab at the big bad music world with his project Broad-Shouldered Boy, dropping the first EP under this moniker I Must Be Tired (see, that intro wasn’t a waste after all!). 

While it could be easy to let the pressure topple Fraser over, his solo efforts stand firmly on their own, embedding his own unique quirkiness into the staple bedroom pop/rock template that makes for one of the most refreshing listens of the year so far. An essential example of this would be the second track Trunk, a song that focuses more on a giant grey elephant than the boot of a car. Stomping along at a steady pace with its bellowing drums, Fraser’s silky vocals adorned with a Scottish tinge lead as he sings about insecurities and paranoia, outright mentioning the EP’s title to touch upon the exhaustion these feelings have caused.

It reaches its peak as Trunk approaches its climax, Fraser naturally warping his voice into this deep narration to detail this metaphor for this anxiety (The elephant is in the room, has its trunk around my neck), a moment that highlights Fraser’s knack for making emotions that countless artists talk about into something truly special.

It really is Fraser’s vocals and lyrics that make I Must Be Tired such an essential listen though that’s not to say the instrumentals are drab or dull by any means. Following on from the aforementioned track featuring a large grey mammal, Cake is a far slower number that features layer upon layer though is juxtaposingly sombre in tone, reaching a turbulent conclusion which includes a spine chilling piano feature alongside a timid projection of Fraser’s vocals. This mixing pot of wit, lyricism and an undeniable talent helps Broad Shouldered Boy to stand out in a scene that feels over-saturated quite frequently. 

Finishing off with that staple acoustic number, there’s a real feeling of The Hotelier with the running inclusion of a simplistic lyric and the different sound it evokes as seen on Goodness (I see the moon, the moon sees me) . Broad Shouldered Boy is a dangerous project due to it traversing the fine line of bedroom pop, a genre that is traditionally very safe: using that appealing sound and infusing it with many of the traits Fraser embodies, I Must Be Tired comes off as one of 2017’s strongest EPs. The future is looking bright for Fraser’s venture though he could do with a rest – he must be tired. 

8.5/10


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Vistas – Medicine EP REVIEW

By Liam Menzies (@blinkclyro)

This year sure has flown by, hasn’t it? It seems like only yesterday I was heaping praise on Edinburgh indie rock/pop outfit Vistas for their single Sign Language, a track that wasn’t afraid to embrace some poppier elements to result in a captivating hook that’s resulted in the chorus being permanently embedded in my brain for the most part of 2016. The passion fueling the band was clear to see, well hear, which put them firmly on my radar.

Flash forward to now and it looks like Vistas haven’t been standing idly by as they’ve decided to hit out with an EP, just in case you were needing another few tracks to have on loop. The opening track Medicine, for which the EP is named after, starts off with opening chords that feel familiar but delightfully inviting, followed up by three plus minutes of venue filling anthems: it’s aptly scary that the band have released very little material yet are so capable of making music that would lead you to believe that they’ve been doing this all their lives. Succeeding this is Americana that, while full of the same catchiness that Medicine showcases, incorporates a lot more of what made Sign Language such a hit such as the opening guitars which are as alluring as ever. Peultimate tune Hot Love is exactly what you expect it to be about, accompanying lines about romance, or the lack thereof, (I got your hot love here in the day time/ And your cold calls keeping me warm) with some palpitating drum rhythms to bang that love adorned message home.

It’s no surprise that the artwork for this EP, credit to Sam Williams, manages to sum up the sounds and quality of the release: pills to symbolise not only the name of it but the energy that radiates from Vistas and a heart to touch on the passion of the band as well as some of the more heartfelt lyrics. The sun, while being a nod to Americana, manages to tie up a point I made about the band earlier this year which is still true now: the future’s still looking bright for Vistas.

8/10

Medicine EP drops on November 11th with a launch night taking place the following week on the 19th at The Electric Circus. You can find more info as well as links to buying tickets on the band’s facebook page here.

~

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TRACK REVIEW: Vistas – Sign Language

Talk about a band living up to their name, eh? Edinburgh act Vistas have stumbled upon something special when making Sign Language, a single that’s like a time capsule from noughties indie rock with a captivating hook that will be difficult to banish from your mind. The band seem to be going in a bit of a rock heavier direction as opposed to staying solely in the realm of indie pop and a purely instrumental segment in the final third of the track is a nod to this.

Could this mean that the band could be following in the steps of fellow Scottish rockers like Biffy Clyro by combining heavy guitars and other staples of rock with unforgettably epic choruses? Time will tell but you can’t help but consider the possibility that Vistas are onto something big here with some valuable experience behind them as well as the all important passion. The horizon is looking bright and pleasant for these boys.

You can buy Sign Language here on iTunes as well as find it on Apple Music.

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Mystery Jets – Curve Of The Earth ALBUM REVIEW

Staples of indie rock Mystery Jets return with a new psychedelic heavy sound but is it any good?

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