Categories
Culture

Song by Song: The 1975’s Notes on a Conditional Form

Matt Healy’s The 1975 released a new album last week, and it’s been on repeat for me ever since. Overall, the album is a solid offering from the British rock/pop band, and 22 songs is welcome from their 4th full-length album.

In my opinion this album is their best since their self-titled debut, and has some pretty interesting exploration from song to song. NOACF certainly bends genres, and is quite a diverse album. That said, there are a few songs that could have been left on the metaphorical editing floor. I’d give Notes on a Conditional Form a 7.5/10. The back half of the album alone is worth repeat listening, and I’ll be listening to the album as a whole off and on for a while. Below’s a song-by-song breakdown:

The 1975: Every 1975 album starts with The 1975. That hasn’t changed. What has changed are the lyrics, for the first time. The tickling of the keys provides a backdrop for Greta Thunberg’s monologue, and amounts to the most memorable album opener for me since Kendrick’s BLOOD. Somber. Beautiful. Hopeful. It’s not what I expected from The 1975, but I’m glad I got it. 10/10

People: After Greta’s charge to “rebel”, we’re led into a classic British glam-punk featuring Healy in full on angst mode. The vocals and the distortion on the guitars reminds me a ton of Colorado’s The Photo Atlas, and unfortunately TPA does this style a lot better than The 1975. 6/10

The End (Music for Cars): To lead from People into this symphonic version of Hnscc hints at the diversity of what we can expect from the rest of the album. An instrumental offering, the brass lead off the short track which gets resolved with woodwinds and strings. Serves as a nice introduction into the first pop song on the album. 7/10

Frail State of Mind: Smart. That’s a word that can be used to describe a number of singles on the album, including this one. As commentary on social anxiety, it’s pretty brilliant. As a pop single with a bit of garage tracking? It’s quite catchy. 8/10

Streaming: Again, another Sigur Rós-esque transition piece between songs. This model dwindles about about a quarter through the album, but it’s an interesting approach for Healy & Co to demonstrate some creativity with instrumental tracks. 7/10

The Birthday Party: Classic acoustic-style 1975. Airy vocals over drums and strums drives the track, with filtered background vocals providing a bit of flair. Culminating in a bigger conclusion, it’s not a bad track. But not a great one either. 6/10

Yeah I Know: Euro. Glitch pop. Obvious Thom Yorke vibes. Love the backward vocals. Time feels like it’s changed, I don’t feel the same. Docking a couple points for monotony towards the end, but this track may even get an add to the Binary playlist I keep for flow state work. 7/10

Then Because She Goes: Savage Garden was great in the 90s. This song is one that could’ve easily been cut in my opinion. Don’t get me wrong: I love anxious shoegaze every once in a while. But outside of the “love you, love you, love you” earworm in the background, this song is instantly forgettable. 2/10

Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America: Smart. More commentary from The 1975, and this one featuring Phoebe Bridgers in a haunting manner. Midwest Americana at its best with a simple strum pattern paired with horns, you can almost hear Justin Vernon. The intelligence on the track isn’t just the music itself, but the lyrical value as well. The speakers in the song are obviously wrestling with a dichotomic lifestyle. In true American fashion. 9/10

Roadkill: A bit of honky-tonk comedy here matches the song’s styles to the narrative. Namely Healy peeing on himself in Texas. This song is a good one, much better than Then Because She Goes, but I think it’s still one that could’ve been left off the album. 6/10

Me & You Together Song: OG 1975. This has the same instrumentation as their freshman offering, but Healy’s vocals are a bit too dreamy after hearing his more mature voice on later records. Again has a very retro feel, like it were from another 90s shoegaze band: Third-Eye Blind. 7/10

I Think There’s Something You Should Know: This track at the halfway point on the album also marks the beginning of what feels like the right evolution of The 1975. There are some electronic elements here, even a diversion into the weird, but the core of the song feels right for the band, and it’s a fun one. The denouement of the song is fantastic, and resolves marvelously. 8/10

Nothing Revealed / Everything Denied: This song. R&B driven elements, we get a bit of soul from George Daniel on the keys, and Healy gets pretty close to rapping in spots. Love the breakbeat that permeates the song, and the chorus is among The 1975’s best ever. Feels like it should be the climax of Sister Act 4, in the best of ways. 10/10

Tonight (I Wish I Was Your Boy): Love the sample. The Temptations are one of my favorite musical acts of all time, and the opener of the song is fairly unique in a Kanye/Pharrell sort of manner. But then the song is downhill from there. The chorus in particular leaves a lot to be desired, and Healy’s vocals are mediocre on this track. Should’ve been cut. 4/10

Shiny Collarbone: Another drum & bass kind of backbeat with reggaeish vibes from Cutty Ranks underlying the whole track. The sonic layer from the synth is stellar and really showcases George’s production talents. This is also a great piece demonstrating The 1975’s experimentation on this record, and I’m glad it’s here, particularly as it leads into a more classic The 1975 piece in the next track. 8/10

If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know): Stellar. As The 1975 as it gets. 80s pop and Miami/LA undertones with Healy’s voice shining in the pre-choruses, it’s such a fun track. The chorus itself is such an earworm, and this track would easily be a contender for song of the summer in any other year. 10/10

Playing On My Mind: Phoebe Bridgers makes another appearance here, and the song is much more introspective than the run we just left on the album. It’s breathy and airy and folksy and…well, fine. It’s just fine. 7/10

Having No Head: Another instrumental from Mr. Daniel. Not as enjoyable as previous compositions, but still solid. The first half of the track feels like it belongs tracking a pivotal, beautiful moment in a movie about an astronaut returning to space, and then the track somehow becomes that backing soundtrack to that really weird rave scene in the Matrix sequel. 7/10

What Should I Say: More experimentation, and one of the highest quality examples of it on the album. The Eno-esque house beat combined with the backing vocals from FKA Twigs is exquisite. You can barely tell that it’s Healy on the track singing about AHMbien. This song is a vibe, and the outro is a sick one that leaves you wanting more.9/10

Bagsy Not In Net: I love the strings on this track…and that’s about it. Everything else is acceptable. Strings adds two points. Solid, but should’ve been cut. 7/10

Don’t Worry: Pretty cool that this is Matty and his dad. Even cooler that Healy knows it’s the first song he ever head. The emotional lift and the Francis and the Lights feel to the song gives it a couple points here, much like the strings in the last one. But sonically? It’s a 4. No offense to Tim Healy. 7/10

Guys: The counterpart to Girls. I like the meaning of the song (appreciation for same-gender friends), but it’s way too dreary musically speaking. It’s a lullaby-ballad. I get it that The 1975 is essentially giving each other a shout-out…but it’s such a weird way to end an album. 4/10

Categories
Random

Quarantine Culture

This note is coming to you straight outta Kenwood, California. Decisions are still hard, product-crafting is still hard, building a company is still hard, and living with 3 people that you’re not related to remains hard. That said, a lot of things have made this journey quite a bit easier. Thought I’d take the time and share some of the off-beat and downright weird things that we’ve been consuming lately as we try to maintain some level of normalcy during quarantine. Below, in no particular order, you’ll find some oddities of quarantine culture.

Food

  • Takis & Sour Cream: This strange concoction was dreamed up by one Elijah Elazarov, who has one of the most over-the-top and often disgusting palettes I know. There’s nothing he won’t put Nutella on, and the man drinks Arnold Palmer like it was water. That said, he’s directly responsible for two culinary curiosities in the house: a newfound love for Tate’s cookies and the combination that is Takis and sour cream. Most of the house having spent some amount of time in a NYC bodega, we all love Takis. Dipping them in something dairy was a revelation.
  • Crystal Hot Sauce: I’m a hot sauce fanatic. Seriously, when living in Brooklyn, one of my favorite trips was to Heatonist in Williamsburg. Regularly. I have anywhere between 4–10 hot sauces in my fridge at all times, including during quarantine. But one of my biggest accomplishments during the we-mote period of Bunches has been introducing the team to Crystal. It’s a mild, classic Louisiana hot sauce that goes on everything. Seriously. It’s delicious on fish, french fries, rice, salad, a burger, the list goes on. It’s not quite as good on ice cream as Tabasco Chipotle, but it’s still quite good there too.
  • Safeway Soleil Sparkling Water: I felt extraordinarily judged, rightfully so, by one of our investors who commented “that’s a lot of water” to the 7 cases we were going through a week of La Croix. Not wanting it to be a line item on our P&L, we switched to the off-brand, and I’m honestly glad we did. The flavors are slightly more exotic and include pineapple, blood orange, and apple alongside the traditional lime, lemon, and grapefuit. Apple’s a house favorite. Plus, a caffeinated version is a great afternoon pick-me-up for an increasingly diet-conscious team that’s growing weary of all the sugar-free Red Bull that’s been fueling our product & brand development efforts.

Sports

  • Cowboy Channel: Just because the big 4 are off the TV right now doesn’t mean that I haven’t gotten my sports fix. At the last house, the satellite provider carried the Cowboy Channel, which was an absolute gem of a channel. Constant bull riding, steer wrestling, and some of the best Made for TV commercials you’ll ever see. Steer wrestling was a household-favorite. Seriously. Go watch some if you don’t believe us.
  • World Chase Tag: Rounds are over in less than 15 minutes, it’s easy to grasp and understand, and it’s essentially competitive parkour. Phenomenal. There aren’t any real stars yet, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if this became a thing over the next few years.
  • Soapbox Derby: Red Bull sponsors a global tour of soapbox derby races, and each one is fantastically entertaining. Consisting of a performance score, a creativity score, and the actual race itself, it provides for 45 minutes or so of great content one way or another. Old men racing at 20+ miles per hour, the absolute catastrophic wrecks, and the absurdity of it all makes for a fun watch. Recommendation? Start with Japan. Always.

Tech

  • Apps Hardly Used Anymore: Google Maps. Lyft. Anything public transit related. Including scooters. OpenTable/Resy/Tock. Venmo/Cash App. Dark Sky.
  • Apps Used More: Pocket Casts. Sudoku. NYT Crosswords. Instapaper. Kindle. Marvin. AllTrails. TestFlight. Bunches.
Categories
Personal Random

Paying Down Debt

First let me be crystal clear: I’m fortunate enough to be in a position where I’m employed for the foreseeable future, working on something I enjoy, with people I’m (mostly) fond of. I completely understand that most people do not have the luxury that I currently have, and that the circumstances surrounding the COVID–19 outbreak are not pretty for many people in the US and abroad. That said, I’m not only trying to be grateful for the circumstances I’m in but also to make the best of it. The Bunches team and my family are living together in a quarantine house in Napa Valley, CA. Yes, I know. Things could be worse. We’ve cut salaries across the board and moved in together in order to get our MVP out the door. But in the meantime, I’m taking the opportunity to pay down some debt.

Financial Debt

Of course, when most people think of debt they think of financial debt. Which certainly applies. In my younger years, I didn’t always make the best financial decisions…even when I had money. Early in my career, I wasn’t making that much which meant that when I started to make a bit more, I had no idea how to be responsible with it. No savings, too much discretionary spending, etc. I was completely irresponsible, and I’m certainly paying for those decisions now. Literally.

That said, I’ve been working quite hard over the past couple of years to pay down debt, and I’m getting close. From credit card payments to a moving loan to a car payment, we’re building our savings and slashing debt across the board which is a very good feeling. The current situation hasn’t changed that fact, and is one of the many things for which I’m very thankful. But I’m equally as excited about the paying down of informational debt as well.

Informational Debt

I’m an informational fiend. Honestly. Podcasts, blogs, books, Twitter, longform writing, newsletters, music. The list of mediums is long. If it’s value-driven content, I’m into it. Which is one of the many reasons I love building Bunches. But it also means that my Pocket Casts library is constantly full (and growing!), my Instapaper backlog can get out of control, and I’m constantly checking Feedbin for the latest posts from the 100 RSS feeds to which I’m subscribed. I know, it’s absurd. But I love it. It’s my hobby. Some people knit. Others devote their basements to model railroads. I consume and learn. Sue me.

But the past few weeks have meant that I’m paying down this debt as well.

I’m reading more books. I’m listening to more podcasts. I’ve reduced my Instapaper backlog to a single page. And I’m very thankful for being able to “pay down” this debt as well. I’m learning a ton, enjoying my time, and catching up on things that I’ve wanted to for some time. Without the distractions of “normal living”, it’s been much easier to do so. The trick will be keeping the debt down in the future.

Wish me luck.

Categories
Personal Random

An Update, Part II

My, how things change in just a month. According to my last update, we were supposed to be preparing for a move to Los Angeles right about now. Instead? We’re holed up with the rest of the Bunches team at a home in Napa Valley. This post was supposed to be a deep dive into Bunches (it’s still coming, I promise!), but instead it’s been sidetracked into an update on where we are due to COVID–19.

On Bunches

Bunches is my latest startup, and the first one that I’ve started from scratch myself. After years at larger companies, and after leading Exeq through an acquisition that culminated last year, I finally feel ready to lead my own from start to finish. Hopefully, this is the big one. What we’re building sounds quite simple, but also has the flexibility and opportunity to grow into something huge, which is exciting.

Simply put, we’re building the easiest way to create a paid group chat. With the rise of the Passion Economy, more and more people are looking for ways to directly monetize their audiences and creations, so we’re creating a way for them to do that.

We raised a pre-seed round last November, closed it in December, moved to the SF Bay Area in the beginning of January, and have been working with our investors since then. I’ll go into a bit more details in the next post.

Basing the company in Los Angeles makes a ton of sense for us, considering our target audience and preference for sun and a food scene. But then this little thing called a coronavirus happened.

On COVID–19

Thankfully, we saw the writing on the wall fairly early, and were in a position to make decisions freely. We decided to isolate as a team, and booked a house in Calistoga, CA. I’m not going to lie…it’s a dope house. Jacuzzi, pool, a grill, a yard, and plenty of space for everyone. After all, there are 8 of us living in one home. But we are still living together.

Right now, we’re making decisions to preserve four things:
1. Our health & neighbors’ health.
2. Our cash.
3. Our productivity.
4. Our vision.

As of this writing, we’re all healthy and asymptomatic (knock on wood!), we have enough runway for 18 months or so, we’re still cranking on the product, and we’re still excited about what we’re building. So far so good…we’re four-for-four.

What’s Next?

Frankly, I don’t know. As I wrote in the last post, we do plan on moving to Los Angeles, but with the pandemic throwing a wrench in those plans, who knows what the coming weeks hold. I do know that I’m with my family, building something of value in one of the most beautiful areas of the country. I couldn’t be more fortunate.

Stay tuned for the next update!

Categories
Personal Random

An Update, Part I

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. For those of you who enjoy following along, I’m sorry for the delay. In any case, here’s a brief update on what’s happened in the past year or so…and what’s happening now.

On Exeq

At the end of 2018, the writing was on the wall for Exeq. While we had solid product traction and usage, a couple of things were happening in the market that changed the investment landscape. Goldman Sachs was entering consumer fintech in a real way: they had just acquired Clarity Money (folding them into Marcus) and they were the banking partner behind Apple’s soon-to-be-launched Apple Card.

With Goldman and Apple both entering the fray, we knew that CAC was only going to rise, product differentiation would only get slimmer, and that to compete you needed bottomless pockets.

Serendipitously, we had recently brought on a pilot partner on the B2B side of our business. There was immediate alignment around what we were doing, and acquisition talks began in earnest November of 2018. We canceled our plans for raising another round of funding and pursued the acquisition with the full support of our board.

As anyone knows, acquisitions are rarely closed quickly (if at all!), but long story short, this one did close in Q1 of 2019.

On Flagship

Flagship was, and remains, a very exciting company in the hospitality and retail world. As an umbrella brand over solid brands in the Northeast, they’re building really engaging businesses around food, fitness, and wellness.

I joined Flagship initially as CTO, but we later realized a more appropriate title would be Chief Strategy Officer, primarily tasked with helping to guide decision-making, digitizing the business, and implementing an overarching strategy around the CEO’s vision.

While we both knew from the outset that the relationship was likely short-lived (having operated in and having come from two different worlds), I’m thankful for my time there. I’m grateful for the learnings and friendships made there, and can only hope that the impact that I and the Exeq team had there is even longer-lived than our tenure.

What’s Next?

Currently, the family and I are in back in the San Francisco Bay Area through the end of March before heading to a new city: the City of Angels, Los Angeles.

I’ve started a new company that I couldn’t be more excited about, one that has a genuine shot at being legacy-defining.

I’ll give the full story in the next post.