Glass Animals: “How to be a Human Being”: A review of the indie rock band’s newest album

By Erin Caine
Elm Staff Writer

Based in Oxford, England (a place the poet Matthew Arnold once called the “city of dreaming spires,”) indie band Glass Animals emerged two years ago with their debut album, “Zaba.” This August, they released their second studio album, “How to be a Human Being”, an effort just as lush and textured as the debut, but imbued with an energetic self-assurance—the confidence to expand on the style and quality its predecessor established.
Glass Animals has always delivered songs that seamlessly blend mellow electronica with dynamic percussion, all of it wrapped up in vocalist Dave Bayley’s ever-immaculate voice. The first track, “Life Itself,” is faithful to this formula, but with an added flair of eccentricity and a dimension of narrative. In fact, the album itself is a study, perhaps even a celebration, of human beings. As NME writer Larry Bartleet wrote in his review, “It’s a concept album, sort of. Each track is a vignette—some funny, some tragic—based around a fictional character invented by frontman and producer Dave Bayley. The former neuroscientist recorded hundreds of strangers’ stories in the two years spent touring “Zaba” and used them to create character studies. These he unravels with cryptic lyrics “…and, if you can spot them, significant samples.”
Their debut, Zaba, plunged the listener into a dark, exotic, vibrant sound, a sound that called to mind Amazonian jungles and underwater scenes. It was gelatinous and subdued, and by comparison “How to be a Human Being” is, as Bartleet observed, like “stepping out of Zaba’s intoxicating murk and into the glare of a strange new reality.”  This reality is one mottled with a variety of different characters and personalities; it is perhaps personality that distinguishes the album from “Zaba”.
This sophomore takes the listener through a number of perspectives, some engaging, some immoral, some bizarre, some downtrodden, and some delusional. Bayley, himself, described one track, “Take a Slice,” as being “about someone with a lot of lust. It’s as sleazy as I’ll ever get in lyrics. But everyone has that inside them somewhere, even if it’s only a tiny bit. And it comes out from time to time. For some people, it’s out all the time.”
It is this fascination with human nature that propels the album through its multitude of anecdotes. There is an episodic quality to it, whereas “Zaba” had more of an easy continuity. Glass Animals in this new effort is painting a picture of the bizarre that lies within the mundane, the everyday life of people who are delusional and strange at times, but also very relatable and human.
A standout track is “Season 2 Episode 3,” which is overlaid with sounds and synths reminiscent of retro videogames and features lyrics such as, “She’s drunk on old cartoons/Liquid TV afternoons/Sometimes it makes me laugh/Sometimes it makes me sad” that call to mind the lazy weekends of one’s youth with both a touch of humor and a touch of nostalgia. Another standout is “Pork Soda,” one of the more bizarre songs on the album, jaunty and carefree in sound, repeating the nonsensical refrain of, “Pineapples are in my head.”  When discussing the song’s inspiration, Bayley said, “I heard a homeless man talking to someone once and say ‘pineapples are in my head’ …and it kind of stuck with me. The opening of the song is meant to sound like you’re outside on the street, and you can hear a group of people chanting this song. The drum sounds are made from old bins and trash pieces of metal I found around the studio. Kind of like those street drummers use. All that is meant to set the scene for the story.”
There is a degree of world-building that goes hand-in-hand with developing each character. Through elements of style and the group’s mastery of ambiance, “How to be a Human Being” manages to place its characters within a rich context, a world that is both nonsensical and strikingly real, the stories within both disjointed and interconnected. Glass Animals have delivered their sound to a new level of originality, out of the deep and murky forests of “Zaba” and into a cityscape bustling with oddball characters.

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