CLASSIX REVIEW: Tom T. Hall’s “In Search of a Song”

Hall would go on to an incredible career in country music, largely aided by the success of this album, but In Search of a Song remains as a testament to an era and a style that scarcely exists today.

Tom T. Hall is a country and bluegrass icon from Olive Hill, Kentucky. He debuted with two albums in 1969 and two more in 1970, all released on Mercury Records, who’m he’d work with all the way through the mid-90’s. He was known as “the Storyteller,” among fans because of his ability to weave narratives throughout each of his songs, and by the early 70’s, he was a staple in the country music world. 

He was also known for what he called “song hunting” trips, where he would travel through rural areas not unlike his small hometown. On these trips, he’d take notes and have conversations with locals in order to get a feel for the area he was visiting. Later, he’d reopen his notes and begin to write music, attempting to capture the spirit of the towns he’d just visited. This became a common practice in Hall’s music, certainly playing a role in the continually high quality of his output over his many years, but his skill as an author and story teller simply can’t be ignored. He would go on to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2008 and the Bluegrass Hall of Fame in late 2018, but before all of that, the year was 1971 when Tom T. Hall would release In Search of a Song. It’s the first full album to have resulted from one of his song-hunting trips and hailed as one of the best country and bluegrass records of all time, but is it all that good? Let’s discuss.

The album’s best quality comes in Hall’s lyricism, particularly when he’s telling a story. Tracks like “The Year That Clayton Delaney Died,” and “The Little Lady Preacher,” carry direct narratives, one of which is quite moving and the latter a bit comical. The ability to weave a storyline across verses is somewhat lost in modern country music, but Hall was one of the best to ever do it. His rhyme schemes are simple and his stories are remarkably descriptive, not to mention inthralling.

While the traditional narrative structures are interesting, he also has a talent for what I would call descriptive narrative. On tracks like my favorite on the album, “Trip to Hyden,” “A Million Miles to the City,” or “Kentucky, February 27, 1971,” Hall uses storylines to provide description of and commentary on the area he writes about. The story becomes cursory to the experience, and thanks to the fantastically visual writing, listeners are able to experience the towns and people first themselves.

In addition to these two styles, each track is decorated with Tom’s unique sense of humor. The most obvious and well known example of this comes on “Who’s Gonna Feed Them Hogs,” but tracks like “Ramona’s Revenge,” and “Tulsa Telephone Book,” are colored with subtle jokes and comedy throughout. His real skill as a lyricist shows in the way his humor and personality permeate every aspect of every track. Hall is always able to use himself as a sympathetic main character, or at least narrator, thanks to the many jokes and relatable thoughts he expresses throughout.

On top of all this, the instrumentation is fantastic. From the howling harmonica on “It Sure Can Get Cold in Des Moines,” to the sweet guitar on “Second Hand Flowers,” and even the surprising rock influences on “L.A. Blues,” each track is perfectly played by a talented cast of musicians, many of whom are Nashville legends in their own right and fellow members of the Country Music Hall of Fame. It’s a veritable who’s who of 70’s Nashville studio musicians and each of them does fantastic work on In Search of a Song.

Ultimately, In Search of a Song is one of the best country/bluegrass records of all time. Thanks to talented instrumentalists and an uncanny talent for lyricism, Tom T. Hall was able to craft a truly unique piece of country music that is still hailed to this day for it’s storytelling qualities.

Hall would go on to an incredible career in country music, largely aided by the success of this album, but In Search of a Song remains as a testament to an era and a style that scarcely exists today.

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Maggie Rogers Debuts With Creative LP

While her sound could certainly stand some fine tuning in a few key areas, Maggie Rogers has established herself as an exciting force in the modern pop landscape.

Maggie Rogers is a pop/folk singer and producer form Easton, Maryland. She found some fame when she was featured on Parrell Williams’ masterclass from New York University. She presented the track “Alaska,” which would go on to feature on this album, to Williams who was blown away and called it “singular.” Thanks to the viral explosion of the clip, Rogers was courted by several record labels in a way that is somewhat rare today. In the end, she signed with Capitol records and dropped a debut EP, Now That The Light is Fading, in 2017.

Her sound is quite unique, as Pharrell Williams pointed out. Raised in a rural area, Rogers  has strong folk influences and even played more straightforward form of folk music earlier in her life. Today, however, the folk roots remain, but filtered through very genuine dance and synth-pop lenses for an extremely unique sound. Excitement was high for her major label debut, and Rogers certainly didn’t disappoint.

Perhaps her most important talent is obvious immediately, that being a special knack for crafting vocal melodies. Particularly in her verses, each line is extremely singable. Tracks like the opener, “Give a Little,” and “Retrograde,” showcase this quite well as I found myself humming the verses well after my first few listens and enjoying choruses even more.

Additionally, her lyricism is very impressive, and it may be where her folk sensibilities shine the brightest. Much of her writing is very visual and often draws on gimmicks while turning them on their head for interesting nuances. Tracks like “The Knife,” and the closer, “Overnight,” showcase her writing exceptionally well, but the album as a whole benefits from her consistency in tone and aesthetic while crafting unique lyrics for each track.

Above all, Heard It In A Past Life is made infinitely better thanks to Rogers’ fantastic production abilities, particularly in terms of designing beats. Tracks like “Say It,” and “On + Off,” have obvious hip-hop influences, especially in their drums. On the other hand, tracks like the aforementioned “Alaska,” and “Burning,” have more natural pallets and utilize harmonies extremely well to build very unique and yet accessible songs.

On the other hand, her mixing abilities are a bit more questionable. While harmonies are extremely tight and well mixed, plenty of tracks seem to bury the vocals quite a bit, and the tracks overall could do with some brightening up. Some of this is a bit understandable as a strong focus is meant to be placed on the admittedly exceptional beats, but this synth-pop sound still draws a listener’s ears to the lead vocal and burying it just comes off as frustrating all too often.

Additionally, her voice itself is something of a mixed bag. While she gives incredible, powerhouse performances on tracks like “Fallingwater,” and the closer, “Back In My Body,” she falls short in two key ways on other cuts. Firstly, she simply doesn’t have the voice to command the more traditional, top 40 sound of a track like “Light On.” A more pervasive problem, however, is her strange pronunciation on long vowels and seeming refusal to open her mouth on a few tracks, the most egregious of which is “Past Life.”

Overall, there’s a lot to like about Heard It In A Past Life. Maggie Rogers has meticulously built an extremely distinct and exciting major label debut. Her production skills along with her more traditional folk background have fused in a way that has me extremely excited for the future.

While her sound could certainly stand some fine tuning in a few key areas, Maggie Rogers has established herself as an exciting force in the modern pop landscape.

6/10

HEAR HEARD IT IN A PAST LIFE: https://open.spotify.com/album/5AHWNPo3gllDmixgAoFru4

The 10 Worst Albums of 2018!!

Thought I’d take some time and have some fun talking about the albums I really didn’t like this year! Let me know what you think in the comments.

10. Kanye WestYe

Including this record was a difficult decision for me for a few reasons. Firstly, it hasn’t garnered near the universal distaste that has followed many of my entries on this list and I seem to be in the minority in my dislike. Secondly, it is leaps and bounds better than the majority of this list. However, considering Kanye’s long career of gigantic, meticulously crafted masterpieces, Ye is heartbreakingly aimless and meandering. At the end of a runtime that barely clears half an hour, listeners are left with nothing by way of answers for Ye’s recent antics or even an enjoyable piece of art to justify them. Instead, we have to stew with the fact that, after 8 breathtaking and diverse albums, Ye has finally let us down for the first time.

9. Sun Kil Moon This is My Dinner

Following one of the best releases in his very long career in last year’s Common as Light and Love Are Red Valleys of Blood, Sun Kil Moon made a quick turn around and seemed poised for an impressive follow up. Unfortunately, This is My Dinner fails fantastically. While the dreamy instrumentals and wide pallet are quite nice, they constantly marred as the man himself seems determined to mumble over them constantly while saying exactly nothing. When it comes to a Sun Kil Moon record, we don’t ask for active vocal melodies or catchy hooks, but we do ask for great lyricism, and when that is lacking, the project is almost unlistenable.

8. Kevin GatesLuca Brasi 3

Another entry in this list which received some sporadic, critical praise, Luca Brasi 3 is by no means unlistenable. In fact, if I’d never heard trap music before, I may even enjoy it. But after more than a decade of trap’s position at the top of popular music, the fatigue effects this album worse than most. This is because Kevin Gates does virtually nothing to differentiate his project from the tsunami of average, dime-a-dozen trap albums which is washing over the music industry at the moment. Snarky, braggadocios lyrics, trap cymbals, extended flows, we’ve heard it all a million times.

7. Nicki MinajQueen

Few feelings compare in intensity to the dread I felt when sitting down to a 70 minute Nicki Minaj album. Shockingly, it was slightly less offensive than expected, though it still lands here. While the instrumentals are, mercifully, more than mind numbing trap beats, they are nevertheless extremely puzzling, featuring strange pianos and the odd latin influence. Nicki’s trademark voices and accents are as grating as ever, though there’s a noticeable lack of her classic, high-pitched squeal, which is progress of a kind. Queen is just an overall unenjoyable experience which can at least be ignored, which is an improvement over previous work.

6. Lil DurkSigned to the Streets 3

There was a time when a new Lil Durk mixtape, particularly a continuation of the Signed to the Streets series, some of the best albums to come out of the drill scene, would’ve been massive news. It would’ve dropped to massive acclaim on Spinrilla and boast hard hitting bars and excellent underground features. Instead, it dropped on Spotify to virtual radio silence and featured the likes of Future and Lil Skies. In most cases, I wouldn’t even include this album on this list, and I’ve largely ignored the majority of Durk’s recent work, but Signed 3 is a disappointing conclusion on par with the likes of Godfather III, and I couldn’t help but mention it on this list.

5. Panic! At the DiscoPray for the Wicked

Speaking of artists that have aged poorly, Panic’s recent release is the sixth and worst in their discography. 2016’s Death of a Bachelor was the first time we heard Panic as a Brendon Urie solo project and though the absence of the other members was felt, there were enough unique ideas and Urie’s vocal was good enough to muscle the album up to a bearable level. Pray for the Wicked, on the other hand, is lacks all semblance of fun. Each track is a predictable, synth-heavy slog that feels almost obligatory at this point. There are no exciting vocal moments, no catchy hooks, just one uninspired attempt at a radio hit after another. It seems blatantly obvious now that Urie has outgrown the Panic moniker and the limitations that come with it.

4. Imagine DragonsOrigins

It seemed after last year’s Evolve, that Imagine Dragons’ career had run its course and possibly even overstayed their welcome. A year and another album later, this is the case tenfold. Origins makes some effort at interesting or heartfelt songwriting, but it’s so horribly stifled by the band’s need to write catchy hits for whoever listens to their watered down, EDM influenced pop, that these efforts are thwarted at every turn. The production is atrocious, zapping nearly all of the character from the lead vocals which are the record’s only prayer of an interesting quality. The worst offense, however, is the constant lyrical fixation on being an outsider and fighting the system, this coming from a band who’s debut album went double platinum and who’s music has flooded radio stations since their inception, chiefly because of their willingness to take underground influences like EDM and hip-hop and repackage them for mainstream audiences. This album is about as rebellious as the droves of Harley Quinn costumes that filled halloween parties this year, and it’s extremely boring to boot.

3. Fall Out BoyM A N I A

In a similar vein to P!atD, Fall Out Boy has been cashing in the good faith from their two good albums in the mi- 2000’s for almost a decade now with one vapid, overproduced, emo-pop album after another. With M A N I A, it would appear that they’ve scraped the bottom of the barrel. Soulless production, and atrocious instrumental pallet, and often grating hooks are just the start. The lyrics sound like the scribblings of a 12 year old FOB fan, desperately attempting to sell the illusion of edginess. Additionally, Patrick Stump turns in his most unforgivable vocal work to date. This is just yet another gratuitous release from a band that is so far past their sell by date that it’s becoming depressing, especially considering the special place their earlier work holds in all of our memories.

2. Florida Georgia LineFlorida Georgia Line

Granted, this was only an EP, but it was so egregious that it simply couldn’t escape this list.  When you start this album, there’s a lag moment, where your brain struggles to parse out what it’s hearing. Next, your body instinctively recoils, trying to defend itself from what it’s hearing. By the time you’ve reached the “acceptance” step of hearing a Florida Georgia Line project, it’s nearly over. I use the hyperbole because it’s difficult to point to one problem that lead to this, mostly because the answer is all of it. Vocals are comically twangy, the instrumentation sounds like a stock, country music ringtone, the hip-hop influences are atrocious, and the lyrics could be written by a country mad-lib book. Imagine a man in cowboy boots, drinking Mike’s Hard Lemonade, and vaping. That’s this album’s target demographic. It is, however, mercifully short, which is so much more than I can say for my top choice on this list. 

1. Drake Scorpion

How did you feel when you heard that Drake’s new album would be 25 songs and 90 minutes long? Me too. Following a very publicized beef with Pusha T which Pusha ended with one of the most brutal diss tracks in rap history, Drake entered his album cycle, for the first time, with a massive blemish on his record. Scorpion could’ve been a long, stream-of-consciousness contemplation on Drake’s fame and the issues he’s faced. It could’ve been a hard-hitting push back against his detractors. Instead, it was musical wallpaper, much like every other Drake album, but this time with a larger budget and a 90-minute runtime. Scorpion is a giant tribute to the epidemic of meaningless, effortless albums flooding the industry today and because of that, Scorpion is the worst album of the year.

XXXTENTACION Realizes Much of His Potential on Posthumous Release

In the end, SKINS is an interesting album, at times unique and well performed, at times formulaic and boring. It is, however, X’s best project yet and one can only wish we’d had more time to see what an interesting artist he could’ve become.

     XXXTENTACION needs very little introduction. He rose to some prominence as a particularly successful star of fight videos from a Florida based account but reached a massive audience with the release of of his debut single “Look At Me!” Ever the controversial figure, X nevertheless became a staple of the growing Florida rap scene, which was especially brutal subset of Soundcloud rap. After a few singles and EP’s, he released his first studio album, 17 which is often credited with starting the recent trend of albums lasting less than half an hour. His follow up, ?, was slightly longer and released with Capitol records, peaking at number one on the billboard charts. Both albums went platinum. Unfortunately, X was shot and killed in June while in Florida.

   While his previous work was nothing if not intriguing, I generally found in lacking in key areas. The heavy metal and grunge influences where glaring, and even materialized in a few heavier cuts, some of the best in his discography. In many ways, he brought experimental techniques like lo-fi production, guitar based instrumentals, and screaming, distorted vocals to the mainstream and to a youth which had never listened to artists like Death Grips, who use these elements far more effectively. With Skins, his first posthumous release, I was unsure what to expect and if I should even review the record. After listening, though, I found a mixed bag full of interesting ideas that are well worth discussing.

   The album opens with an introduction that, while a bit corny, is far more interesting than the intro on a project like 17. There’s a tinge of tongue in the cheek here, which alleviates some of the cringing that followed X’s other intros.

   After the intro, we get a few tracks back to back that are some of the best in Tentacion’s entire catalog. “Guardian Angel,” maybe my favorite track, features a twisted sample of his earlier hit, “Jocelyn Flores,” under a hard hitting verse with an excellent flow. “Train Food,” follows, telling the story of a fictional narrator’s encounter with the personification of death, an eerie topic for obvious reasons. The final monologue from the perspective of a man tied to a train track is powerful and heartfelt with a flow that radiates with influences from artists like Eminem.

   After such a great start, though, we fall back into X’s most annoying tendency, making thoughtless vibe tracks with little input aside from singing an ignorable hook. This is especially true for “woah,” which honestly sounds like a beat waiting to be rapped over. This track would’ve been far better served as an instrumental on someone else’s album, crediting X as a feature. “BAD!” Is also guilty of this, though there are some lyrics, vapid and meaningless as they may be.

   After this slump, we get another high. “STARING AT THE SKY,” though a bit overly dramatic, taps into its emo-rock inspiration in an interesting way. The explosive and distorted chorus is a nice moment, bringing his earliest work full circle and realizing its goal. The same is true for “One Minute,” which features enough of a Kanye West influence that X is more of a feature, but an excellent feature at that. Both of these tracks stand as accomplishments, the first times that he has been able to adequately accomplish his goals of incorporating metal and hard rock in a genuine and interesting way.

   The “Difference” interlude is essentially a demo that was never able to be fully realized, though it holds quite a bit of promise. Unfortunately, it’s followed by “I don’t let go,” another vibe-heavy track with minimal and ultimately meaningless rapping, this time mixed very poorly and nearly inaudible. The closer, “what are you so afraid of,” is certainly listenable, featuring a heartfelt vocal over a sweetly played guitar. It’s not my favorite sound for X, but it’s done quite a bit better than others like it.

   In the end, SKINS is an interesting album, at times unique and well performed, at times formulaic and boring. It is, however, X’s best project yet and one can only wish we’d had more time to see what an interesting artist he could’ve become.

5/10

HEAR SKINS:      https://open.spotify.com/album/1qsQOC4Jn0fnaUZLAbs4dz

Earl Sweatshirt Drops Unique and Enjoyable 3rd Album

Some Rap Songs will likely be adored by true fans, but may not connect with the uninitiated.

     Earl Sweatshirt is a rapper and producer from Los Angeles, California. He’s best known as a member of the rap super group, Odd Future along with Tyler the Creator and Frank Ocean among others. While his fellow OF members have reached much success in recent years and stepped out from the shadow of the group, Sweatshirt has struck up more of an underground path to fame. After a few self-released mixtapes, he made his major label debut on Columbia in 2013 with Doris. The album was mildly successful, in fact more so than it’s 2015 follow up, I Don’t Like Sh*t, I Don’t Go Outside. The latter, however, became a massive cult hit, slowly building a small but dedicated fan base.

   His flow is heavily inspired by his Odd Future counterparts, particularly Tyler the Creator, who’s early work is remarkably similar to that of Sweatshirt. The fanbase, though, was far more drawn to his lyricism, which is quite impressive. He writes with brutal cynicism and focusses heavily on dark topics. His storytelling is excellent and, especially on his second record, he has an excellent ability to paint a picture. After seeing the strange cover and title for Strange Rap Songs, I knew I was in for a unique experience, and Earl didn’t disappoint.

   The first thing you’ll notice about this record is extremely short runtimes and long tracklist. The longest and perhaps best tracks the album are the opener, “Shattered Dreams,” and “The Mint,” each clocking in under three minutes. These actually feel like complete ideas, though they’re essentially just long verses, as Earl lets the beats shine a bit longer and the latter features a fantastic soundbite. The rest of the album is somewhat woven together.

   Because of the quick changes, we’re given one fantastic beat after another. The closer, “Riot!” is completely instrumental and utilizes a catchy, well played horn passage near the end while tracks like “The Bends,” and “Veins,” are built around well cut vocal samples which are used to set tone as well as rhythm. Earl shows versatility around every turn as the music simply refuses to sit still for more than a moment.

   His flow is also quite listenable. “December 24,” and “Cold Summers,” feature the kind of classic, Earl Sweatshirt flow we know and love, as do “Red Water,” and “Onmyway!” Here, he’s unrelenting and with the slight tinge of violence and intensity. On the other hand, tracks like “Nowhere2go,” and “Eclipse,” display a sleeper, more laid back form of the same sound.

   Overall, the record shows a reckless disregard for tradition. “Loosie,” and “Azucar,” find Earl barely clinging to the beat of minimalistic instrumentation with a bizarre transition between the two. Furthermore, several tracks mix the beats louder than Earl’s vocals and his vocal constantly fades between vocal effects.

   Not every risk pays off though. “Playing Possum,” is the only moment on this very short project which I would truly call boring as it is devoid of rapping and instead built around selections from speeches by two women over a relatively weak beat. “Peanut,” seems to never quite find its rhythmic footing, and though I have respect for the experimental nature, it ultimately misses wide of the mark.

   In total, Some Rap Songs is a unique listening experience which really must be taken in in one sitting to be appreciated. When Earl stays in his wheelhouse he is quite effective, but the branching out yields a bit of a mixed bag of results.

   Some Rap Songs will likely be adored by true fans, but offers little for the uninitiated. 

5/10

HEAR SOME RAP SONGShttps://open.spotify.com/album/66at85wgO2pu5CccvqUF6i

Montana of 300 Finally Realizes His Potential

A Gun In The Teacher’s Desk is a return to form for one of drill’s most promising early artists which keeps many of the qualities that drill fans have come to love, while improving on the genre’s faults in a mature and creative way.

     Montana of 300 is a drill rapper from Chicago. He built a name for himself with several mixtape releases on the popular streaming service, Spinrilla, but his debut LP came in 2014 with Cursed With a Blessing. The album was one of the best of the year, sporting better instrumentals than most of his counterparts and elevated highly by Montana’s hard-hitting flow and daring lyricism. Nevertheless, the LP was seemingly lost in the sea of drill releases coming out of Chicago at the time and he became something of a second tier drill star, lacking the crossover name recognition of artists like Lil Durk and Chief Kief.  Since then, he’s dropped four albums, beginning with 2015’s Gunz n Roses, which was widely criticized for sanding off the rough edges of the drill sound to find a wider audience.

   This was a shame because Montana’s sound on Cursed was the perfect, distilled essence of what made drill what it was. He wrote boldly and delivered his lyrics with an explosive flow. All this over hectic tracks which, while they did abuse the electronic cymbals, weren’t infected with the bass heavy mixing style of trap. Gunz n’ Roses was a major turnoff for me as a fan, adding rock instrumentation poorly and watering down his writing. Thankfully, A Gun In The Teacher’s Desk is something of a return to form.

   The truer drill influences are clear from the first moments of the opener, “Favorite Teacher,” as well as the later track, “Art Class.” Here, the abrasive instrumentals and lo-fi production are perfect throwbacks to the golden days of Chicago rap, which has now been mostly taken over by trap beats. The latter even features a few excellent drop outs, a veritable staple of the genre, which are timed very well.

   The flows on this album are absolutely bombastic. “Been A Beast,” follows the opener and simply refuses to quit. “Good Luck,” is another excellent example of 300’s strong flow. Both see him dropping one meaningful bar after another and dance over the beat with an unpredictable rhyme schemes. Over the tinnie instrumentals, these vocal performance drive each track along, as not one drags, even for a moment.

   Beyond the flow, he also seems to have quite the affinity for writing hooks. “Long Way,” is perhaps the most obvious example of this, sporting an excellent, autotuned hook, but “What’s Wrong With Me,” slips comfortably into the latter half of the track list despite a catchy chorus, good message, and well-sampled guitar.

   Above all, though, it’s the lyricism that sets Montana of 300 apart from his drill counterparts, as it always has. The fantastic closer, “Bloodsport,” showcases his ability to address serious topics like his mother’s drug addiction, his desire to leave his dangerous neighborhood, and one of his favorite topics, organized religion. The latter is particularly unique within the genre.

   There are two underwhelming cuts on this project as well. “FGE Cypher Pt. 8,” while fun, certainly doesn’t fit in with the rest of the album. In addition, none of the features live up to the standard which Montana set’s throughout the rest of the record and several lean on an overdone, triplet flow, causing the track to fall a bit flat.

   The only truly bad song on the album is “Dip-N-Sauce.” This is the only cut that I likely won’t revisit again after this review as the strange flute melody and annoying reggae influences feel like a strange entry from the depths of left field. It’s also, mercifully, the shortest song on the album and as a function it feels a bit underdeveloped. 

   I would be lying if I said I didn’t have a few general, structural complaints about A Gun In The Teacher’s Desk, but I can overlook most all of them for two reasons. Firstly, this album does a lot of things, namely pacing, cohesiveness, lyricism, and production, which are generally considered absent from the drill genre as a whole. Each song clocks in between four and five minutes and that runtime is used well to develop ideas and write full choruses. This is incredibly rare in one of rap’s most anarchic subgenres. The second of these is quite simple:

   A Gun In The Teacher’s Desk is a return to form for one of drill’s most promising early artists which keeps many of the qualities that drill fans have come to love, while improving on the genre’s faults in a mature and creative way.

6/10

HEAR A GUN IN THE TEACHER’S DESKhttps://open.spotify.com/album/2o5kWHEh53gIQZwZxKDfqr

The 1975 Capture Millennial Apathy With Third LP

A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships is a balanced blend of gallows humor and and youthful dissociation with glittering britpop and bright instrumentation which very well expresses the apathy and sensory overload of today’s youth.

     The 1975 is a britpop/pop-rock act from Manchester, UK. They debuted in 2013 with a self-titled LP which received mild critical praise but very quickly built a rabid cult following that rocketed the band to superstardom in the US. This was followed by their 2016 which sported this cringeworthy title: I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It. Despite the title, the record debuted at number one, perhaps helped by their signing to Interscope, and became The 1975’s second straight platinum album.

   Despite the commercial success and strong base, however, the band has received rather middling reviews over the years and developed something of an image problem, being seen as a quintessential hipster band. Mainly, they’re criticized for their thoughtful, experimental aesthetic being absent in their actual music, which is mostly glossy britpop with psuedo-intellectual lyricism and a unique 1980’s influence. Personally, I’d found their previous efforts bloated and lacking in substance, but not devoid of enjoyable moments. However, with A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, the band seems to have matured quite a bit, finally bringing much of their potential to fruition.

   The record opens, as does every 1975 album, with a short interlude baring the band’s name as a title. This one interesting, borrowing the hectic, chorusing effect which was notable used by Bon Iver in his track, “CREEKS.” It’s used slightly less effectively here, but the track is still enjoyable. It doesn’t hold a candle, though, to the albums other interlude, “The Man Who Married a Robot/A Love Theme,” a cynical dark comedy which both laments the apathy and dissociation of our generation and perfectly incapsulates Matt Healy’s authorial tone on this album.

   Lyrically, Healy writes sardonically, comedically, and with a strong dedication to the project’s general aesthetic. The seamless blend of genuineness with black comedy on tracks like “Give Yourself a Try,” is unique and engaging, and it contrasts with “Inside Your Mind,” which mock’s it’s own roots in pop power balladry by following a man who loves a woman so much he wants to split her head open to see her inner thoughts. Even beyond this, the album’s highlight “Love It If We Made It,” gorgeously satirizes the modern would with a level of desperation that taps into that of The 1975’s very young demographic, making the song’s “modernity has failed us,” hook ring especially poignant.

   Sonically, the album covers a wide rage, most of which is quite enjoyable. They’re certainly at their best on tracks like “TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME,” “I Like America, America Likes Me,” or “It’s Not Living.” The glitzy, gloss pop instrumentals and the shimmering production is perfectly juxtaposed against the songs’ dark subject matter, that being infidelity, gun violence, and heroin addiction respectively. 

   Even a few of their more genre bending tracks work well. “I Couldn’t Be More in Love,” is a George Michael-esque, power-soul ballad, complete with chimes and what Healy called “a real key change.” On the other hand “Mine,” is a lounging jazz tune which, despite weaker lyrics, is infinitely listenable and features an amazing saxophone solo. This is also very well done on the closer, “I Always Wanna Die,” which would’ve felt right at home in the early 2000’s, among the likes of Oasis. Here, the band wears their influences, unashamedly, on their sleeve and craft loving tributes to these inspirations.

   However, a few of these experiments fall short. “Sincerity is Scary,” is at least respectable in it’s attempt to dip a toe in the waters of groovy soul music, though it feels a bit awkward and doesn’t really fit in the tracklist. This is more than I can say for tracks like “Be My Mistake,” or “Surrounded by Heads and Bodies,” two stripped down, folksy tunes which feel like bland left-overs from the previous two records, and who’s heartfelt lyrics seem to be mocked by the rest of the album’s irreverent cynicism. The worst of all these tracks is “How To Draw/Petrichor,” which feels like an aimless, Planet Earth sound track which relegates the previously used chorus effect to near novelty status.

   As the near 60 minute runtime draws to a close, my mind is drawn to The 1975’s previous efforts, both of which are roughly as long. Where they felt like psuedo-thoughtful slogs, Brief Inquiry feels like a genuine commentary on modern times. It isn’t perfect, but the infusion of punk attitude and black humor has brought The 1975 to a truly respectable stage in their development.

   A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships is a balanced blend of gallows humor and and youthful dissociation with glittering britpop and bright instrumentation which very well expresses the apathy and sensory overload of today’s youth.

8/10

HEAR A BRIEF INQUIRY INTO ONLINE RELATIONSHIPShttps://open.spotify.com/album/6PWXKiakqhI17mTYM4y6oY