Two records stand out as the most ambitious rock music releases of 2018.
One was the very good “Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino,” the Arctic Monkeys’ stunningly bold shift to crooning lounge music that was one of May’s best records.
The other came last week from The 1975, “A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships,” the pop band’s diverse, complex treatise on the state of society in 2018. And while “A Brief Inquiry” wasn’t the best record released in November, it was one of the best. One of the best of the year, in fact.
Before I write more about The 1975, let me say a few things about a couple of other fantastic records in November.
The best of the month was the debut from Los Angeles band The Tracks, “Treasured Memories.” The Tracks have a definite ’80s flavor to their alt-guitar rock, evoking the sounds of The Smiths, The Alarm and The Cult. It might be a Top 10 of 2018 record.
And there’s a band from Chicago you might want to check out. It’s called Tiny Bit of Giant’s Blood, and its glam/prog rock/metal debut EP “Dram A” is smart and rowdy. Also, my brother, Tony, is the band’s lead singer.
Finally, Laura Jane Grace, lead singer of Against Me!, put out a fun and frenetic debut record, “Bought to Rot,” with her band The Devouring Mothers.
Songs from those bands, and a whole lot more with November releases, are on a Spotify playlist you can access with this story on saukvalley.com.
Now, back to The 1975.
Critics have lauded “A Brief Inquiry” as a work of genius. I wouldn’t go that far, and I must admit to having to warm to the record. It’s not an easy listen.
It’s alternatively beautiful and ugly, uplifting and full of despair. Its topics aren’t easy, either. On “A Brief Inquiry,” The 1975 delve into matters of race, immigration, the environment, hate speech, social media, gun violence, drug addiction, and suicide.
Heck, Matt Healy’s vocals to the track, “I Couldn’t Be More In Love,” reportedly were recorded the day before he entered rehab last year for a heroin addiction.
There’s a lot to digest in the record’s messages, but also its music. “A Brief Inquiry” includes some of the best pop songs of the year. But it also ventures into R&B, electronica, gospel, soul, power ballads, smooth jazz and mumble rap. Yes, mumble rap. There are guitars, keyboards, strings, horns, and plenty of technically manipulated voices and instruments.
The 1975 is all over the place, and hard to define musically. Much like Radiohead. “A Brief Inquiry” even sounds like Radiohead in a few places (“Petrichor” and “Surrounded By Heads and Bodies”). I would go so far to say that if The 1975 has staying power, it can become the Radiohead of the next era.
Radiohead started as an alternative rock band. Then it recorded “OK Computer” and “Kid A,” wildly ambitious, iconic records that took Radiohead in a different, virtually undefinable direction. Has The 1975 done the same thing? Its self-titled debut album was mostly an alt pop record. In 2016, the band’s second release, “I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it,” was a wildly ambitious and direction-changing record, much like “A Brief Inquiry,” though a bit less successfully executed.
It will be interesting to see what The 1975 becomes.
OK, that’s a wrap on November. It’s time to start working the end-of-the-year best list.
Jeff Rogers is a former Editor for Sauk Valley Media and current director of the Illinois Press Foundation. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org