Release Date: Aug 26, 2016
Record label: Harvest
Glass Animals’ upswing from a mysterious glitched-out bunch of slug lovers to a rabble-rousing crew of pop Pied Pipers is an astonishing sight. Those who bet on the Oxford outfit becoming The Next Big Indie Band are surely very smug indeed; they've always had excellent tunes, but Glass Animals previously lurked in the background, looking on rather than diving into the brawl. But now they're on the cusp of being genuinely massive.
Glass Animals, a British conundrum of creativity. A band proudly making music in an indisputably indulgent manner broke the US like a cricket ball tearing through single glazing with their lavish debut record Zaba. The first signing to Paul Epworth's Wolf Tone Records would never have envisaged whilst crafting the forests, characters, landscapes and narratives of their first LP that one of its singles would rack up 60 million streams on Spotify.
When Oxford four-piece Glass Animals arrived on the scene two years ago with their shuffling rhythms, R&B-inflected beats and electronic structures, they were widely hailed as one of the most interesting and exciting acts in Britain. Despite the pressure on their debut record Zaba to live up to the hype, the band managed to ride the wave of expectation with impressive ease to deliver a slick first effort. It was by no means perfect, but Zaba certainly tried to bring something new to the table.
Second album syndrome is often characterised by lazy tales of tour boredom. But Glass Animals, the Oxford Alt-J-alikes with more than 200m Spotify streams, have used their time on the road imaginatively. This colourful collage was inspired by stories that frontman David Bayley secretly (and creepily) recorded on his iPhone: anecdotes from fans, taxi drivers and random strangers who felt compelled to unload.
On 2014 debut ‘ZABA’, Glass Animals shared branches with tropical frogs, talking monkeys and funky fruit. A twist on The Jungle Book, it was the Oxford group’s way of making a quick exit from this planet. True to its title, ‘How to Be a Human Being’ is far more rooted in reality. But in a nod to the debut, this reality is lifted from a hyperactive, alternate universe.
Like a trip to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, Glass Animals’ debut Zaba was a fruit salad-coloured melting pot of fizzing percussion, popping synths and tempting vocals that was not only interesting to listen to but horrendously fun. Every track was an earworm created from the contents of a test tube, designed purely to get the feet shuffling and those hips twitching. It was so specific a style, however, that it is nigh-on impossible to imagine the Oxford foursome doing anything else.
Glass Animals proved themselves worthy of all the early-bird hype with ZABA, their psychedelic dance debut from 2014. If you loved that record, How to Be a Human Being is good news. It picks up where ZABA left off with remarkable consistency, nailing the same strides and then some, keeping up with the expectations while completely decimating them. If ZABA was a weird and lovable new friend, How to Be a Human Being exploits that familiarity to test some new boundaries, and the result is delightfully entertaining.
It’s rare to see a band debut with an already defined and unique sound, but that’s what Glass Animals did with their first album, Zaba, two years ago. Infusing smooth indie electric beats with eclectic noise, the UK foursome sounded almost like if Alt-J had spent a lot of time in the forest and got really into the bongos. Zaba catapulted Glass Animals to a two-year stint of global tours and festival sets, leaving them with some bumps and bruises, a treasure trove of anecdotes, and a sophomore album to show for it.
Though How to Be a Human Being' lyrics are more straightforward than ZABA's abstracts musings, Glass Animals' vivid music does more to convey their characters. They use their animated arrangements more purposefully than they did before, even though the rippling "Cane Shuga" feels like the bridge between this album and their debut. The different guises allow the band new nuances: "Take a Slice" and "Poplar St" are two of their sexiest songs, but the former exudes seductive femininity, the latter a masculine strut.
Glass Animals 'How To Be A Human Being' (Wolf Tone)Glass Animals’ tropical-tinted debut ‘Zaba’ met with mixed reviews, but the Oxford quartet sound more interesting and original on this follow-up. Lead single ‘Life Itself’ is cool and confident, its bouncy bongo drums mixing with bold oriental melodies. ‘Youth’ follows suit, boasting bizarre chords, before ‘Season 2 Episode 3’ showcases frontman Dave Bayley’s experimental lyricism: “My girl eats mayonnaise from a jar while she’s getting blazed” is brilliantly nonsensical wordplay.
It may sound a little high-concept, but its ultimate themes of empathy and diversity are subtly communicated. Glass Animals’ melodies have an immediacy that diffuses any hint of chin-strokiness: that’s the reason the band worked so well with NYC rapper Joey Bada$$ last year on one-off collaboration ‘Lose Control’ and it’s the reason the drug-addled tragedy of closer ‘Agnes’ is able to ring true after such a kaleidoscopic, funny ride. .
The debut album by English indie rockers Glass Animals, Zaba, simmered with slinky beats and enigmatic lyrics about drugs and sex. Released two years ago, Zaba was produced by Adele and Florence and the Machine producer Paul Epworth and was also the first release to come out on his Wolf Tone imprint. Two years later, the Oxford four-piece have extended those sounds and themes into a second album of 11 songs sung from the point of view of the 11 characters featured on the album cover.