Midway through “A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships,” the 1975’s frequently dazzling exploration of life in the iOS era, frontman Matty Healy turns the mic over to — who else? — Siri.
Narrating a strangely touching fable about a man in love with the Internet, the bot contributes one of a great many moments on the album — the polymorphing Manchester quartet’s third after their glossy 2013 debut and thrillingly widescreen 2016 follow-up — that directly recall Radiohead’s “OK Computer” (somehow still the definitive sonic statement on our technological dystopia two decades later). This is by Healy’s design.
The outlet’s calm and frenzied Thom Yorke figure — and increasingly worthy of that vaulted comparison — Healy could never be accused of thinking small, and his ambitions have only scaled up with age. The first of two albums recorded in tandem (“Notes on a Conditional Form” arrives next year), “Brief Inquiry” contains enough lyrical concepts and genre experiments to fill at least four; it’s the band’s most fearless disc, equally informed by Healy’s decision to kick heroin last fall and his newfound determination to blow the 1975’s very soul out across the interwebs.
Addiction, confirmation bias, nihilism, geopolitics, Kanye — it’s all in there, Healy surging through subjects with giddy abandon; sonically, too, the band has never sounded more creatively unmoored. There’s infectious indietronica (“TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME”), Bon Iver-adjacent Auto-Tune (“I Like America & America Likes Me”), even a jazz standard (“Mine”). The 1975’s long-held reputation as music-industry magpies, gathering what glimmers, here parallels their artistic purpose: documenting today’s everything-at-once data deluge.
But where “OK Computer” portended doom and gloom for digital denizens, “Brief Inquiry” sees the wired generation in prismatic Technicolor; its vision of life in the information age is too textured, too lived-in, to indulge the same shallow sanctimony that’s hamstrung recent, analogous efforts by other artists (definitely expect Arcade Fire to log off this weekend).
Technological progress is accelerating exponentially, and the 1975 are smart enough to know there’s no going back for any of us; they’re willfully plugged into the dizzying absurdism of the times, alive to the everyday overstimulation of infinite content loops. The questions raised in this “Brief Inquiry” aren’t just for our benefit — they’re still trying to figure it out, too. “I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)” is as such a fitting note to end on, Healy’s gently devastating vocals rising on a wave of strings and through one humdinger of a key change before falling blissfully away to let a restless dream of cello inquire one thing more, to be answered in the new year: What’s next?
Isaac Feldberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @isaacfeldberg.