We first met Glass Animals in 2014 with the release of their debut album ‘Zaba’, a heady mish-mash of bongos, synth-strings and slinky narcoticised eroticism that took its listeners on a bliss-filled voyage through the Amazon basin. On ‘How To Be A Human Being’ however, the four Oxford chaps have taken a different direction – they’ve more or less dropped the tropi-pop, stepping out of ‘Zaba’s intoxicating murk into more illuminating shades of day-to-day reality. Each track paints the story of a fictional character born of the hundreds of stories (frontman and producer) Dave Bayley collected from strangers while touring ‘Zaba’. The characters are thoroughly fleshed out, often given a life beyond the music. While less subtle and atmospheric than before, on a musical level the album is diverse, lush, surprising, and like its predecessor, just as suited for the bedroom as it is for the dance floor.
In opener ‘Life Itself’, uplifting sci-fi synths and massive oriental drumbeats follow a guzheng introduction to lay the context for the musings of Chuck Rogers, a delusional nerd-bum-weirdo who “Thought that I was northern Camden’s own Flash Gordon… /gonna be a superstar”. The lyrics sketch an indulgent individual, but the band does not stop there – they create a website (www.raygun123.com) for Rogers, on which he gets into detail about his raygun inventions; lists strange places on google maps; puts up an interactive poll regarding what he should invent next (reverse microwave or see thru toaster or air-conditioned shoes?); pens his own stories; and even includes a ‘send me an email’ link that is actually functional. To top it all off a Mario-fied version of the song plays on loop as soon as you enter the site. In similar fashion, the band made a website for the character behind ‘Youth’ (dizzyoncaffeine.com). It is a haphazard yet beautifully congruous affair with the running themes of colour, vibrancy, speed, but also melancholy – to match the song’s hyperactive flute tunes and Bayley’s poignant falsetto that mirrors the bereft mother character.
This curious interactivity of Glass Animals’ new album (an attempt Bayley hopes could serve to be a “version of vinyl art for the modern era”) does not stop here – rumour has it that the third track on the album ‘Season 2 Episode 3’ is soon to be accompanied by a video game. A quirky 8-bit slow jam about a lovable stoner girlfriend who uses “a cookie as a coaster” and does absolutely nothing but eat and play video games at home, this song is sagaciously ridden with sound bites that could have been taken off Cartoon Network or Super Mario. A number of other interesting samples can be picked up by the discerning ear. ‘Mama’s Gun’ for one, a peep into the psyche of a psychotic killer wife, samples ‘Mr. Guder’ by The Carpenters. A wry, sad jab at mindless civic obedience, ‘Mr. Guder’s’ feature renders ‘Mama’s Gun’ an all the more ironic, heart-wrenching human tragedy.
Another distinctive feature of this album is its diversity. Aside from the clean hip-hop beat and smooth hi-hat taps underlining ‘Season 2 Episode 3’ that harks back to early-2000s R&B. The band makes numerous departures from its archetypal sound, most notably of all, into a 36-second acapella “rap”. ‘[Premade Sandwiches]’, a weird hasty spoken intermission rushes along about the banality of contemporary consumption (“People standing in line to nuke themselves with ketamine…/What the McFuck are you eating?”), and according to Bayley, serves as the band’s nod to the likes of John Cooper Clarke and Gil Scott-Heron “as we don’t hear spoken word tracks on albums much anymore”. Numerous wayward conversations litter the background of multiple tracks, as in the hyper-sexual ‘Take A Slice’ and eclectic ‘Pork Soda’ (“pineapples are in my head”) that was named after a woman’s massive pig tattoo no less. Of course, trip-hop, indie electronic sounds, and the gloopy textures of ‘Zaba’ still feature heavily on the album as in ‘Cane Shuga’, the first track to be released as an album preview, and ‘The Other Side Of Paradise’, what Bayley described as ‘musically his favourite track on the album’.
While Glass Animals’ new number lacks the coherence of ‘Zaba’, it more than makes up for this absence of thematic continuity with a barrage of raw humanity. Perhaps it is this that serves as a consistent thread underlining the album despite its divergent sounds and stories. It doesn’t flow perfectly thematically or musically, but that was never the point. At the end of all its twisted sordid tales and kooky musical manoeuvres, the essence and genius behind the album is precisely as its title promises – that it tells plainly the messy truth of how it is to be a human being
Fun fact: all the fictional characters who dominate the songs are featured on the album cover – in what looks like a bizarre family portrait. Clues as to who’s who can be found on the album’s tumblr page- glassanimalsband.tumblr.com
By Lydia Shu