Let’s get something out of the way: The 1975 are not just some up-and-coming group. The British pop-rockers’ self-titled debut from 2013 has since been certified platinum, and its follow-up — the try-saying-this-one-three-times-fast I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It — debuted at the top of the Billboard 200 upon release. Their concerts are full of screaming fans, more than a handful of music critics adore them, and their third album, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships (which sees release this Friday), is undoubtedly the most anticipated rock album of this year (from a band that doesn’t even sound like rock music that much no less).
And yet! It feels like front man Matty Healy and his compatriots are having a real-deal moment this year, off the strength of a whopping five singles — especially the cathartic, “We Didn’t Start the Fire”–for–millennials “Love It If We Made It” — that have brought even more listeners onto their at-times highly divisive and extroverted wavelength. There are undoubtedly people who are just hopping on the 1975 train in 2018, and those people are likely wondering what these guys are about and how to navigate their already-kind-of-overwhelming catalogue.
That’s where we come in. What follows is a highly subjective but helpful pre–Brief Inquiry primer on some of the highlights in the 1975’s more-extensive-than-you-think career thus far. Going through these ten songs (all of which are currently available on streaming services), you’ll find a mix of deep cuts, tracks that help suss out the band’s surprisingly self-referential mythology, and a few of their biggest, boldest singles that anyone should familiarize themselves with before diving into Brief Inquiry. And, bonus: if you like at least half of these songs, you’ll likely be more than rewarded by diving deeper into their catalog, too.
Two qualities that the 1975 have constantly adhered to throughout their career thus far: ambience-swirling intro tracks that kick off their releases, and a self-reflexive referentiality that draws from melodies and lyrics in the band’s catalogue. (To wit: Every single LP thus far has opened with a variation on the song “The 1975,” a different musical approach accompanying the melody with every iteration.) This title track to the band’s proper debut EP from 2012 certainly checks off the “ambience” box, and it’s a bit of an Easter Egg–in–reverse for listeners who only became aware of their music from I Like It When You Sleep on: The central melody on “Facedown” was later embellished on for that album’s interstitial-esque “Lost My Head.”
The song that put the 1975 on the map. It’s remarkable to revisit “Sex” — which appeared both as the title track to a 2012 EP and on the band’s self-titled debut the following year — six years later, in the wake of all the band’s accomplished thus far. It’s a fairly straightforward, hard-charging emo-rock song à la Jimmy Eat World (not a bad thing), and it kicks off with a lyrical sorta-name-check of LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends” (also not a bad thing). But it’s also a practical blueprint for the type of passionate, immediately catchy melodies that Healy would prove himself so adept at on future releases. Plus, it’s an amazing song to fist-pump (or, like, just nod your head vigorously in approval) to when seeing them in concert.
Just so things don’t get confused: There are two versions of the Sex EP (released through the band’s own Dirty Hit label as well as emo hub Vagrant) currently on Spotify — an international version, and the EP that saw release on American shores. “You” is less emblematic of the sound that the 1975 were exploring circa this era — specifically, American post-9/11 emo with a hint of ’80s pop-rock that would become way more pronounced later in their career — and more an early taste of the sweeping, shoegaze-inflected British rock that they dabble in on Brief Inquiry. Stick around after the silence hits, too: There’s a bonus track amended, “Milk,” that can also be heard on its own through a 2017 rerelease. Bonus tracks! How retro.
“Head.Cars.Bending (The 1975 Remix)” (2012)
This is a tricky one to unpack: This U.K. garage-y remix from the band’s drummer and co-musical architect George Daniel takes a new spin on a song that would see release in its original form several months later, as part of the Music for Cars EP (which, even more confusingly, was a working title for Brief Inquiry). You don’t have to untangle Wikipedia pages, however, to enjoy this remix, which capably showcases how well the 1975 have been able to synthesize different styles of electronic and dance music into their genre-blending approach.
“So Far (It’s Alright)” (2013)
A lighter touch, showcased on this track from IV, the aptly named fourth EP released before the band’s self-titled debut. The chiming, lighthearted melody that “So Far (It’s Alright)” is built around is pleasant on its own, but this track is also an early hat-tip toward Healy’s ability for more-clever-than-you-caught-on lyricism — an underrated element of the 1975’s music that’s finally gaining recognition on the eve of Brief Inquiry. “How can you complain about life and talk about being bored / If you just sit at Pete’s house playing video games / Doing sniff that you can’t afford,” Healy asks, one of many generational queries he’s posited to the millennial cosmos over the years.
Real heads — or, at least, most discerning music writers — will accurately tell you that The 1975 is easily the band’s weakest album to date, representing more of a road map for where they were going than a fully realized end point. But there are, nonetheless, some jams: obviously, “Sex,” as well as the vaguely Robert Palmer–esque “Girls,” and this gently sashaying cut, which features a tricky pre-chorus drum fill courtesy of Daniel and a just-catchy-enough chorus. (Try to overlook the fact that Healy sounds like South Park Canuck-wisecrackers Terrance and Phillip throughout. It’s hard, I know.)
The second single from I Like It When You Sleep … is the 1975 reaching the full-throated outlandish apex that they continue to stand tall on today — all glitchy drama and clipped vocal takes, bursting forth through speakers like a guy constantly falling down a flight of stairs. It’s spiky pop music at its finest, and more so than any 1975 song, it’s impossible to do at karaoke. (Trust me, I’ve tried.)
“Somebody Else” (2016)
An unrequited-love slow-dance classic for the ages, at the time “Somebody Else” was the straightforwardly beautiful ballad that few knew the 1975 had in them. The band’s always been indebted to the sounds of the ’80s, but “Somebody Else” was one of a few I Like It When You Sleep tracks that took on a distinctly John Hughes–ian quality (“Paris,” “This Must Be My Dream”). One key line also hints at the tech-and-romance-fixated turn the band takes on Brief Inquiry: “I’m looking through you while you’re looking through your phone / And then leaving with somebody else.” Who can relate?
“I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It” (2016)
Spoiler alert: besides the Afropop vibes of “TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME,” Brief Inquiry features a few distinctly electronic tracks that focus on texture and rhythm, combining the verve of dance music with the melodically charming nerd-isms that ran through electronic strains of 2000s-era indie rock. The title track to I Like It When You Sleep certainly more than hinted at that sound, stretching over six-and-a-half minutes with a lap-pop melody reminiscent of gone-but-not-too-forgotten Icelandic outfit Múm, as well as some toothsome sample breaks thrown in for good measure.
“If I Believe You — Live From the O2, London, 16.12,16” (2017)
Last year’s live document DH00278 (the inscrutable title referencing the catalogue number on the band’s Dirty Hit label) was proof of just how effective and revelatory the 1975 have become as a live act over six short years. (Also, of how loud the audience screams in between songs. Seriously — if you see them in the future, bring earplugs, even if you’re in the cheap seats. Thank me later.) During the tour behind the album, I Like It When You Sleep slow-burner “If I Believe You” turned into something like church when heard in a live setting, with backup singers throwing their all into the song’s ecstatic chorus and a huge-sounding sax solo that practically short-circuited your brain. Nothing can replace the real thing, but this live take is a more-than-solid substitute nonetheless.