Character studies and ready melodies abound in the latest record by the Oxford quartet
Glass Animals’ 2014 debut album ‘Zaba’ was like a blissed-out voyage through the Amazon basin. Its trippy tics earned them comparisons to Alt-J and Wild Beasts, and it shifted a highly decent half a million copies. On ‘How To Be A Human Being’, the four Oxford dudes have found bigger and broader stomping grounds, stepping out of ‘Zaba’’s intoxicating murk and into the glare of a strange new reality.
The breadth of their new horizons is best shown on irresistible opener ‘Life Itself’, a huge summer anthem in which vivid lyrics, like: “Northern Camden’s own Flash Gordon,” meet sci-fi synths and massive drum beats from the other side of the globe. The story here is about a delusional nerd (“She said I look fat but I look fantastic”), but there are plenty more eccentrics that make up ‘How To Be A Human Being’.
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: “Pineapples are in my head” – and, if you can spot them, significant samples.
The band’s clues sometimes hide in plain sight: ‘Mama’s Gun’, a whispered tale of lethal tedium, borrows its killer flute sample from the Carpenters’ ‘Mr. Guder’, a skewering of mindless civic obedience. ‘Season 2 Episode 3’ soundtracks a useless stoner with regressive synth throbs that wouldn’t seem out of place on Super Mario Bros. Bayley’s diction shifts accordingly, too. On ‘Youth’ his falsetto mirrors the lyrics’ bereft mother, while on ‘Take A Slice’ he gives an appropriately lechy grunt (“Gonna f**k my way through college”).
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.
Director: Wolf Tone Limited
Release date: 26 Aug, 2016