BY JORDAN WALSH
“America, watch this!”
Dead in the center of The 1975’s Saturday Night Live performance of “Love Me,” frontman Matthew Healey announces to the country a new spectacle. The sheer personality of the UK band is undeniable and somewhat special in today’s landscape of popular music. In-between energetic bursts of wigging out in his leather pants and jacket, no shirt underneath, Healey projects the image of a straight-up rock star circa 40 years ago. He’s got black nails and a flamboyant manner of performing these immaculately constructed pop tunes. It’s jubilant and immersive—the style mirrors the art and vice-versa. Generally speaking, it either pisses people off or wins them over entirely.
The same can be said for The 1975’s sophomore record, the grandiosely titled I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it. Alright, let’s not beat around the bush any longer: the 17-track, 74-minute behemoth I like it when you sleep is an incredible piece of work. The record embodies the notion of a pop band going for it and absolutely hitting the mark. Like the band itself, it demands attention; whether it be positive or negative is largely irrelevant.
While the band’s 2013 self-titled debut worked to concisely define the essence of the band—one that melds ‘80s pop stylings with a markedly unique and forward-thinking sound—I like it when you sleep expands and refines that definition in every possible way. The introductory track, a re-imagination of the debut’s opener “The 1975,” asserts this goal of re-definition in a short 83 seconds. Whereas the original was a dark, moody cityscape of a track, the new “The 1975” is bright and choral. It sounds like a rocket leaving the earth as it collides with the funky intro riff to first single “Love Me.”
One of the reasons The 1975 is so fascinating is the band’s self-awareness. The group’s choices are very well-calculated; from the consistent aesthetics of their artwork (the cover of this album is just a pink-ified version of their black-and-white debut) to their stage presence to their music, The 1975 knows what it’s doing. “Love Me” is a perfect encapsulation of this awareness, connecting a critique of the cultural icon with the full awareness that Healey and the band have taken on the role of that exposed public figure. The song is filled with shots aimed at entertainment icons—“We’ve just come to represent/ A decline in the standards of what we accept.” It’s mostly sarcastic, but there’s something earnest about the refrain of “love me!” throughout the song, making its partner line (“if that’s what you wanna do”) seem like a footnote in comparison. The band understands its contradictory nature and thrives within that space.
Somehow uniform and utterly eclectic, I like it when you sleep twists and turns in such a natural manner that it’s difficult to wrap one’s head around it at the end. While “Love Me” is an in-your-face pop tune, this is not an indication of what to expect from the album as a whole. In fact, one of the best things about this album is that there is no single song that will give an indication of what to expect. Every song is very different from the next, and “Love Me” moves into “UGH!,” an electro-R&B track that lets Healy show off a little soulful raspiness in his vocals. No one mood or style sticks around—“Please Be Naked” is a swelling ambient instrumental; “She’s American” is a bombastic modernization of ‘90s pop; “Lostmyhead” is practically post-rock in its big and loud climax.
The further from The 1975’s previously established wheelhouse that I like it when you sleep gets, the more amazing it seems as a whole. “If I Believe You” flips the traditional gospel tune on its head, an atheist pondering on christianity in a six-minute masterpiece of a song.
“If I Believe You” shows off another one of The 1975’s greatest strengths—toward the end of the emotional and weighty track, most of the elements of the song clear away to allow for a melancholic flugelhorn solo. It’s wordless and heartbreaking in the wake of the song’s personal crisis, an example of the band’s ability to absolutely nail a moment. It’s a result of every element of this record being finely tuned and so meticulously arranged—whether it’s a deep, warm bass tone by Ross MacDonald (“If I Believe You”), a deliberately timed, celebratory guitar solo by Adam Hann (“The Sound”), or some energizing and unique percussion courtesy of George Daniel (“She’s American”).
I like it when you sleep is an album that attempts to expand any preconceived notions of how pop music should sound. Don’t be fooled, this is undeniably a pop album (“The Sound” is fighting for catchiest song of 2016), but it takes that genre and stretches it out as far as it can go, creating something relentlessly interesting and downright dizzying. Take “The Ballad of Me and My Brain,” a song that subverts the traditional pop verse-chorus-verse-bridge-chorus structure in favor of a line-by-line kind of catchy. “Ballad” is also sonically compelling, a strange choral sample colliding with a bursting beat and a nearly screaming vocal performance from Healy.
The 1975 also succeeds in landing emotional moments in very different ways throughout the course of the album. “Somebody Else” is an electro-pop ballad that delivers one of the most vulnerable moments of the record, a lamentation of failed love through a thick electronic soundscape. Meanwhile, the album’s closing trio—“Paris,” “Nana” and “She Lays Down”—sees the band slowly stripping away the many elements of its sound until there’s nothing left but an acoustic guitar and Healy’s voice in closer “She Lays Down.”
The power of this song partly in its delivery of an extremely intimate topic: a mother’s post-birth depression from the perspective of her child. While the lyrics are stark throughout, Healy makes lines like “She’s appalled/ oh, she doesn’t love me at all” sound warm and loving, all through the sweetness of his vocal performance and the bright sound of the acoustic guitar. The other power of this song is comparative: placed at the very end of the record, the song forces the listener to reflect on the vast world of sounds they’ve heard over the course of I like it when you sleep. It’s to the band’s credit that they’re able to pull off something so full and lively like the title track on the same record where they nail a bare and organic acoustic song.
I like it when you sleep is a dense record, one that takes risks left and right and thrives on the notion that it will likely piss some people off. The record takes more than one listen to understand entirely…hell, it probably will take more than one year to wrap my head around it. But that’s what makes it so special, and so intensely enjoyable from start to finish. It’s a thing to get lost in, to dance and sing and cry to. But, more than anything, it’s The 1975. It’s something to keep your eyes on; they’re bound to be headed somewhere interesting.
Jordan Walsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org