Album Review: The 1975, I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It

Music

Calling the 1975 a boy band is accurate but a bit insulting. They meet the criteria, for sure: a charismatic frontman, a self-imposed bad boy image and a cult following out of Tumblr-obsessed teenage girls. But when the Manchester foursome released their self-titled debut album in 2014, we didn’t get a string of formulaic love songs like One Direction’s corny “What Makes You Beautiful” or 5 Seconds of Summer’s god-awful “She Looks So Perfect.” Instead, we got a bizarre yet intoxicating concoction of pop rock, funk, R&B and melodic synths topped with animated ramblings about drugs, ragers and sex.

The 1975 are an alternative rock band that revels in debauchery. And at its center is Matthew Healy, the hypersexual, metrosexual lead singer and lyricist with chopstick legs and thick black curls.

A pair of catchy dance tracks, “Chocolate” and “Sex,” transported the band from grimy London bars into the O2 Academy, Terminal 5 and, in a few months, the Barclays Center. Witty, up-tempo songs may have made the 1975 alt rock’s hottest commodity, but the album’s standout tracks are the stoner jams that carry a dreamy, cinematic quality. “You’re a liar, at least all your friends are,” Healy sings on “You.” “So am I, just typically drowned in your car.” Blending affecting verses into a sea of ambient electronics, those ballads exhibit an artistry rarely seen in today’s pop music.

The 1975 get good when they get real. Which is why it’s a surprise that their dreamy, cinematic new record feels so underwhelming.

After a two-year hiatus, the leather-clad glam rockers rang in 2016 with an emotionally- charged, ridiculously-titled sophomore album, I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It. Ten days after its release, it knocked off Adele at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. If they were on the cusp of superstardom, they’ve surely
crossed it now.

The 17-track compilation is equal parts flamboyance and feel, marrying house 80s dance pop with atmospheric house. But while the band’s debut album extracts influences from other artists (from Michael Jackson to M83) to build a distinct sound, I Like it When You Sleep feels derivative and lazy as a body of work. Marked by heavy, head-bobbing synths, the chillwave production of “UGH!” could have been plucked straight from a Neon Indian record; “Lostmyhead” sounds like a disposed Brian Eno mix; and one of the best tracks, “The Sound,” feels like a sequel to the underrated “M.O.N.E.Y” from The 1975–an improved sequel, yes, but still a sequel.

That said, the album’s highs are dizzying, glorious highs. The infectious lead single, “Love Me,” puts a funky spin on a throwback disco jam, meshing groovy guitar riffs with frenzied pop-rock vocals. “She’s American” weaves synthpop hooks with witty wordplay to poke fun at the cultural difference between the U.K and the U.S. “The Sound” contains some of the band’s most creative and beautiful lyrics to date. “Somebody Else” and “A Change of Heart,” two atmospheric ballads, dive into the desolation and anguish that The 1975 only hints at, showing Healy at his most vulnerable: “I can’t give you my soul,” he laments, “cause we’re never alone.”

The record is most compelling when Matt Healy takes the reins and lets his vocals fluctuate violently in both pitch and tone, from loving whisper to piercing falsetto, from adoration to disdain. “You’re so conceited,” he sneers in “The Sound,” voice dripping with contempt. “I said, “I love you.” What does it matter if I lie to you?” A verse later, he backtracks and rambles, “It’s not about reciprocation, it’s just all about me: a sycophantic, prophetic, Socratic junkie wannabe.” By the chorus, he swallows his pride and confesses, chanting like a broken record: “I know when you’re around cause I know the sound, I know the sound of your heart.”

But for the most part, Healy’s lyrical prowess and animated vocals are tragically underused. Instead of building beats around his voice, the producers bury Healy under layers upon layers of fluttering synths and dreamlike harps. Though enchanting, none of the album’s slower tracks captures the regret and yearning the way “You” does. Healy drifts absentmindedly from “Nana,” a heartfelt yet sleepy ode to his grandmother, to “Paris,” a safe and unforgettable pop ballad, to “Please Be Naked,” a wordless track with instrumentals so bland that it feels utterly pointless. As alluring and affecting as his lower register can be, Healy’s charm rests primarily in his primal howls and wild inflections, and it’s a shame that we barely get that to hear that side of his voice on this record.

As with its predecessor, I Like The Way You Sleep is plagued by oversaturation and overproduction. From the neon-lit album art to glossy music videos and an Instagram account full of black and white portraits, the 1975 try way too hard to market themselves as the artsy trendsetters in fashion and music. And a 17-track record is a behemoth by today’s standards, especially if half of its content can be discarded. The album has a handful of excellent songs that would have made for an excellent compilation, but now they’re outliers that make a below average record above average.

Thematically and sonically, I Like the Way You Sleep is more cohesive than The 1975, but the band’s appeal revolves around its messiness, frankness and willingness to flicker from one sound to another. The combination of rawness and bravado is what sets the 1975 apart from both mainstream boy bands like One Direction and indie rock royalty like the Arctic Monkeys and Vampire Weekend. And that’s what they should continue doing: bask in decadence, experiment with unusual sounds, and drop the sleepy ballads.

Uninspired, but at peace

My Awesome Life, Uncategorized, Writing

I’m on the cusp of a profound transition, arguably the most significant one in modern life: crossing the threshold from 20 to 21.

My grand initiation into the 21 Club is scheduled on Pi Day, which may be more than 50 days away, but I thought I might as well reflect on and immortalize in writing the bizarre and uninspiring person I’ve grown into over the last two decades.

The first 20 years of my life have been a collage of confused decisions, abandoned resolutions, disillusioned attempts down various career paths, and random epiphanies about both myself and the world around me.

My teenage years revolved around an emotional pendulum rooted at equilibrium, refusing to even flirt with either extreme. I’ve been frustrated and lost, hovering in a purgatory of mediocrity and indifference for the better part of the last four years. I’ve been sad but never heartbroken, I’ve been happy but never ecstatic, and I’ve dated but never in love. At times I feel like I’m incapable of feeling anything to the fullest extent, like anything I experience will only be a dimmer version of what others have already felt. I love writing–always will–but I’ve never felt that scorching thirst to sew my dreams into narratives, never been inspired enough to write for hours on end until the sun bled into the horizon and hours bled into days. Can I ever feel as passionate about anything as professional athletes do about winning a damn trophy, or as actors do about, well, acting? Can I ever commit to anything?

My state of mind is the Jamie xx album, “In Color”—not any particular track but snippets of the entire album. In electronic music, we anticipate drops. We dig bangers that take us on pulsating mind trips and emotional roller coaster rides. The spectacular is what expect from life, too, and if we don’t get it, we lash out: “I didn’t deserve this. I just thought there’d be more.” When the going gets tough, we tell ourselves to hang in there, push through the pain and wait for eminent arrival of better days. I think that’s been my attitude for the majority of my adolescent years: You haven’t seen shit. Just wait for the bass to drop.

The bass never drops in “In Color.” It’s just an impressionistic painting of intelligent beat-making and ethereal atmospherics, delicate but brimming with wonder. Some tracks (“Far Nearer,” “Loud Places”) bottle a fountain of youthful emotions–optimism, desire, dread, yearning–into a quiet and exquisite world of gentle, fluttering synth sequences and stirring vocals. “Gosh” builds up to a two-minute climax of lush keyboard soundscapes that douse you with euphoria and hope. On the other side of the spectrum, “Stranger In a Room” envelops you in spellbinding warmth using minimal percussion beats against deep baselines, hinting that life can be okay without staggering achievements or life-changing revelations.

Electronic music is an enormous and expanding world of countless sub-genres that defy categorization. Bangers comprise a recognizable but very small part of that world; extraordinary milestones comprise but a small part of ours. I’ve been so lost and frustrated that my youth–the most exciting years of my life–has so far been defined by a maddening indifference, and that I couldn’t find the motivation to reach my full potential to make my parents proud.

But maybe I’ve been asking too much. The way we package our emotions determines the way we experience them. I’ve never been euphoric about anything, but I’ve been happy about plenty: getting into college, road-tripping with mom, feeding my dog, hanging out with friends. I just need to believe that happiness can give me the same satisfaction as euphoria. I’ve never been obsessed with writing, but I want to write and I’ll continue doing so, inspired or not. What if you don’t need to live life to the fullest to be at peace with it? I’m not in love with life, but I feel lucky to be alive and to live this life.

I doubt much will change about my appearance or attitude 12 months from now. Maybe I’ll be single and jobless at 25; maybe I’ll be profiling Leonardo DiCaprio for Vanity Fair. I can’t see either happening, but I have always been dreadful at predicting the trajectory of my life. And I’m still young. I want to believe that one day I will fall in love with life.

 

Craving Something I Can Feel

Music

Album Review: James Bay, Chaos and the Calm

Teenage Wasteland. Wild Youth. Roaring 20s. Our coming-of-age years have been romanticized to such an extent that destruction has become synonymous with desire, stability with stagnancy. You haven’t lived if you haven’t fucked up big at least a few times over. But the ugly truth is that the twenties isn’t such a glorious time. Those supposedly exotic years are more like a blissful purgatory, like a boat floating on a serene creek separating optimism from disillusionment. Your dreams have amassed too much force for the life you knew, and the life you will know hasn’t yet shattered your lofty expectations.

Navigating through the emotional traps of youth is like walking a tightrope. As long as you stare intently only at your feet, you’ll stay in that blissful purgatory and take life as it goes. But my eyes are always wandering, behind my shoulder down memory lane and up, way up ahead, into stormy skies and distant stars that spell nothing but disaster.

That’s why I can’t stop listening to Chaos and the Calm, the debut studio album by English singer-songwriter James Bay. It’s a twelve-track album bursting with desire, courage, excitement, loneliness, heartbreak, and love, the emotion more powerful and prevalent than any other during those complicated years. It’s an homage to all the joys and pitfalls of growing up. It’s an unfiltered, intimate portrait of a changing mind – confronting the uncertainty of the near future (Move Together) and the pain of separation (Scars); reflecting on relationships gone awry (Let it Go) and the claustrophobic frustration of being ensnared in a hometown he had outgrown (Craving).

James Bay isn’t a household name, but he’s soaring to superstardom faster than Stay With Me hit number 1. A year ago he was busking at Brighton, playing at open mics, and opening for Hozier. Now he’s selling out arenas across the world and opening for Taylor Swift in front of 50k fans. It won’t be all that surprising if he follows the same Grammy-sweeping path as Sam Smith.

An acoustic powerhouse who blends bluesy riffs with confessional lyrics and plaintive vocals, Bay effortlessly weaves soul, blues, and indie rock in an album full of heart. Nowhere is his composite style more evident than in Hold Back the River, the gem of the album and the highly anticipated closer at concerts. The preachy, uplifting single is highlighted by progressive tempo and seamless transitions from a smoother lower register to rougher aching falsettos.

Just as compelling as its preachy chorus is the tinge of nostalgia prevalent throughout the album: “Once upon a different life/We rode our bikes into the sky/But now we’re caught against the tide/Those distant days all flashing by.” It’s echoed in the sense of yearning from Let it Go: “Trying to fit your hand inside of mine / When we know it just don’t belong/There’s no force on earth/Could me feel right.”

You leave a past you’re sick of to pursue the future of your dreams. What if you get lost chasing those dreams? What if the road gets too tough and all you want to do is return to the home you escaped? Maybe feeling lost and confused is what we twenty-somethings have in common.

Maybe we’re all just craving something we can feel.

NEW YORK!!!

My Awesome Life

Sooo I’m finally back. After eight months. And it’s 37 degrees, which is 37 degrees colder than So Cal. Wonderful. No really, it’s great to be back in the Big Apple again. I don’t know exactly how I feel right now…definitely excited, but also nervous as hell. Part of me is convinced that while I’ve been hibernating at home, my brain cells have been starving and dying at an alarming rate. So although I’m more than thrilled to be using my brain again after such a long hiatus, I don’t know if it’s up to the challenge. What if I flunk all my effing classes?? What if all the adults were actually right for the millionth time and I really should have taken another semester off?? No no no, that would have pushed me over the edge. Idk, I’m just rambling and freaking out right now, which I suppose is normal whenever some big new change is about to take place. We’ll see how it goes.

I’ll be updating soon. If I don’t freeze to death, that is.

Here’s the song I played about ten times over on the plane because I left my effing Kindle at home:

Franz Ferdinand is the shit.

Saturday Jukebox: Time

Saturday Jukebox

And you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again
The sun is the same in a relative way, but you’re older
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death

Maybe my favorite Pink Floyd song.

Skip to 2.13 for lyrics.

You know, that long ass intro does kind of throw you off…especially if you’re stoned. You get wrapped up in that trippy clock ticking sound and lose track of time, almost falling asleep, then all of a sudden the vocals come on and you jerk awake thinking, “Oh fuck, when did this happen and how long has it been?” Which, if you think about it, is basically what the song’s all about.

 

Saturday Jukebox: Nostalgic Indie

Saturday Jukebox

Indie tracks often have a tinge nostalgia in both lyrics and tune. It’s one of the most compelling qualities about this genre of music. With Christmas and all the festivities winding down, I’m feeling a bit beat and bittersweet. Another season, another year. Maybe we’re just growing up too fast.

1. Cigarette Daydreams – Cage the Elephant

2. Fluorescent Adolescent – Arctic Monkeys

Saturday Jukebox (One Day Late): Coffeehouse Favorites

Saturday Jukebox

I guess I should jump on the bandwagon and start sharing Christmas songs, but I don’t listen to jolly music so here goes another indie/acoustic playlist. Happy Sunday, everyone.

1. Paint – The Paper Kites

2. Lost Stars – Adam Levine

This one is more soft rock than coffeehouse, but the lyrics are so beautiful that I just had to share it.

3. Till the Morning – Bahamas

Saturday Jukebox: Blower’s Daughter

Saturday Jukebox

It’s not quite Saturday yet, but oh well. I only have one song this week. Been playing it nonstop while I’m confined to my hospital bed. Actually, just check out anything by Damien Rice if you ever feel like dying or something. You’ll feel a hundred times more depressed but it’s the sweetest depression you’ll ever experience.