Best of 2016: The 1975's "I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It"
By Matt Storto
I must confess, I was not a fan of The 1975, the British pop-rock band that has undoubtedly showed up on your Tumblr dash at least a billion times, until about a year ago when I stumbled upon the video for “UGH!” It was a nice single; one of the catchiest and danciest tunes I'd heard in awhile, with a nice neon soak in both the sound and video, but I didn't feel compelled to listen to the record. We've all heard the pop records that sound similar through and through, though consistent similarity is not necessarily equal to poor quality (see nearly any of The Beatles' early records). So, I listened to the song from time to time, danced my ass off every time, but thought very little otherwise.
Around this time, my dear friend Brooks Sutton came through town (bless his heart) and behold, the soundtrack to our late night smoke breaks from hookah lounges with friends and our cruising around on rainy days and nights was, predominantly, The 1975. He turned me onto their preceding single, “Love Me” as well as their self-titled debut. A slow but sharp hook pierced my ears, one that would not fully protrude until February 26th of this year.
Let me take a minute to embody my full pretension, if you will (or not, you can't stop me). The visual aesthetic of this record and its accompanying media is so damn pleasing as both eye candy and as companions to the songs. Designed by Samuel Burgess Johnson and David Drake, pink neon signs with each song's title were placed in various locations, including a church, a bedroom, and a storefront. The pictures, which dabble in 1970's nostalgia, are my favorite visual accompaniment of any album this year and serve to accentuate each song's environment, though a lack of the visuals certainly doesn't hurt the quality of the tracks.
The album, intentionally or not, seems divided into various chapters of aural and thematic relativity to one another that last between 3-6 tracks. The first portion begins with a redux of the band's self-titled track from their first record. Complete with a chorus, heavier yet smoother synth filling, and a crescendo that leads nowhere, “The 1975” is a brief yet powerful push through the cocaine curtain into the world this album presides over. Then, as soon you enter in, you get a kick straight to your teeth with the funky “Love Me,” a track that takes the superficiality of social media and fame hostage with a knife as sharp as Adam Hann's guitar licks. Transitioning via nearly identical tempo, “UGH!” takes the hype of “Love Me” and turns it into one of most slinky and sexy tracks about cocaine addiction. When singer Matt Healy yells “I'm not giving it up again” over the near mechanical efficiency of bassist Ross McDonald with his bandmates, the duality of a person confident in losing adds a topicality to the bedroom dance romp.
Slowing down but not letting up, “A Change of Heart” laments on the shift from romance to annoyance to the tune of a John Hughes credit sequence. The criticism of a girl posting a picture of her salad on Instagram creates a digital layer to the idea of falling out of love, considering the strategy of social media and how every move, no matter how small or inane, could be the encapsulation of emotion. Riding on the Hughes wave, “She's American” turns said wave into an energy propelled by George Daniel's striking and aurally demanding drum writing. Healy, Daniel, and Mike Crossey's production on this record is completely bonkers with this track being a prime example of its being put to good use.
Beginning the next chapter, “If I Believe You” introduces religion, specifically Christianity, into the record. While Healy's lyrics are a little lackluster at times, the high point of this track comes in the form of Roy Hargrove's heart-wrenching flugelhorn solo and the return of the choir in all of its presence filling up the track. With the low-key vibe of this section set, the instrumental “Please Be Naked” takes the basic landscape set up by “If I Believe You” and creates a lush world that invites your ears to dip in and enjoy the noise of vocal samples, easygoing synths, and a piano riff that guides you along into the next track, “Lostmyhead.” A continuation of their first EP's title track, “Facedown,” the ambient and swirly intro, though brief, keeps the energy flowing, culminating in a tornado of crunched up drums, a distorted mixture of guitar and bass, and the orchestral accompaniment flying in with them. Perhaps only through the discussion of mentality does “Lostmyhead” tie in with “The Ballad of Me and My Brain,” in which an anxious Healy yells in a growl “I think I've gone mad // Isn't that so sad? // And what a shame you've lost the brain that you never had.” As with the opening of this section, the closing lyrics don't bring a terrible amount to the table beyond the intense and personal theme of mental erosion while the syncopated rhythms of both the vocal samples and Daniel's drumming in conjunction with the huge tones of Hann and McDonald create an instrumental worth digging into.
Moving onto the next segment, a gradient from black to white is created in the instrumentation. “Somebody Else,” a millennially-poignant examination of a the narrator's past lover finding solace in another, evokes a sense of Arctic Monkeys' AM if it was written using only digital instruments, creating a dark and stormy city with our narrator being a drunken inhabitant yelling at anyone passing by. “Loving Someone” begins to lighten the instrumentation in quality, but certainly not in quantity. While Healy flips off acidic middle fingers at society and popular culture, the band is layered among various vocal samples, rising and falling keyboards, warbling bass, and sky high guitars. Where this song is grey, the mouthful of a title track, “I Like It When You Sleep for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It” is a nearly six and a half minutes that comprise two distinct parts. The first, with beeps, looping taps, an infectious bass riff, and airy keyboards throughout, culminates in Healy's emotionally charged but nonchalantly written, “Before you go (please don't go) // Turn the big light off” before moving into a space filled with shooting star-esque noises, disembodied voices saying “early,” “monogamy,” and “there isn't much,” that, though random, create a soundscape in and of themselves, and a quarter note bass drum that keeps your head grooving in a dense fog. Light is finally found with the fading of all sounds until sporadic keyboards are left to play with your ears until they, too, leave.
And with this light comes the next chapter, a sugar rush of sorts, beginning with, “The Sound,” a proclamation of innate knowledge of a person, no matter their social distance. The closest harkening to the band's first record, the sleek pop track plays like a personified high school journal of love and dismay. “This Must Be My Dream” is the one track throughout this sprawling record that I have never been sure if I loved or hated. Composition-wise, it's a little all over the place with no sense of unity throughout each segment of the song, even between the verses and chorus. However, each segment is so damn tasty, and John Waugh's saxophone solo, though blatantly nostalgic, is fantastic for, perhaps, that same reason. No matter its own merits, its messiness acts as a nice juxtaposition to “Paris,” a low-key and perfectly glued song that wouldn't seem out of place in Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive. An instrumental that melts into your ears with its arpeggios and muted, staccato guitars, raise up some of the best lyrics on the record, with one of my personal favorites being “Mr. Seratonin Man, lend me a gram // You call yourself a friend?” acting as a double entendre for either the narrator's depravity in trying to guilt trip his drug dealer or by criticizing a person for not providing the happiness they desire.
The final segment acts as the culmination of every theme presented on the record and as another juxtaposition of two instrumentally different tunes. Dealing with Healy's response to his grandmother's passing, “Nana” possesses an instrumentation that creates an almost heavenly atmosphere. Falling guitars, echoey drums, and a bridge ripped straight out of 10cc's “I'm Not In Love,” the lyrics range from the grief of familial loss, personal dismay of religion, and, in the most personal twist on the matter, the emptiness of fame. Despite writing this song and feeling that, with the energy of the crowd singing this song, that his Nana “never left”, he still feels a void in her passing that no amount of fans can hope to fill. With this depressing epiphany follows the album closer, “She Lays Down.” Healy's lyrics have a slight reputation for observing those he sees around him. To turn this magnifying glass on his mother, actress Denise Welch, signifies a deeply personal and blunt turn in his lyrics. With just Healy and a guitar on the recording, the emptiness and simplicity of it all shows the strengths of the band's songwriting is more than just its complexities, and as a slightly fucked up compare-and-contrast to “Love Me”, saying that, in her postpartum depression, “She's appalled oh she doesn't love me at all.” With a slightly cheeky “That was it,” the album ends plainly, a stark contrast to the complexity that populates it.
Now, let there be no misunderstanding, this record fucked me up. Where my approach to this record began as the sounds of winter bliss, it became the soundtrack to some of the most intense situations in my life. “Somebody Else” played as my heart was broken in February, and “UGH!” played as I met a girl who mended it in March, “Love Me” played before every university final to give the extra dose of braggadocio, and I listened to “Nana” as I rode to the hospital to say goodbye to my Grandma. Admittedly, there were records that I consider better than this record that were released this year. Beyoncé's Lemonade was a near masterpiece, Car Seat Headrest's Teens of Denial was a fuzzy foray into depression, and David Bowie gave everyone a darkly twinkling goodbye with Blackstar. For me, however, due to a personal relationship I hold with very few records and the lasting effect The 1975 have made with this record, I like it when you sleep for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it, in a move that 2015 me would have been horrified to hear, is my album of the year.