In June of 2014, Glass Animals debuted a whimsical and unique sound with their first album “Zaba.” Unlike “Zaba,” the recent album they released this summer moves beyond eclectic noise and explores a fresh sound. “How To Be A Human Being” is the result of global tours and travel, two years worth of anecdotes and musical growth.
Although very consistent with the sound of “Zaba,” their new album goes beyond background electronic sounds and brings the strangeness to a new level by exploring the human experience. High-pitched flutes ride along the central melody of “Youth,” while clips of conversations on the road begin and end several tracks. “Premade Sandwiches” is a rap about the dismal reality of modern consumption. Of course, the album still features plenty of contemporary electronic grooves such as “Cane Shuga” and “The Other Side of Paradise.” Arguably the most experimental track, “Season 2 Episode 3,” owes its individuality to a well-executed hip-hop beat and hi-hat percussions reminiscent of more R&B-leaning music.
The greatest change from “Zaba” to this album is the inclusion of their spoken poetry about humanity. Where their first album displayed a diversity in sound, “How To Be A Human Being” expands from unique instrumental choices to the idiosyncrasy of life itself. This new album looks to explore storytelling and human expression through sound and language. Many songs conjure eccentric characters and tell about their lives through instruments. There’s the loner in a basement characterized in “Life Itself,” the dangerous wife in “Mama’s Gun,” and the laid-back girlfriend in “Season 2 Episode 3.”
The vocalist weaves in and out of these characters as the tracks progress, fully immersing the listener in the character’s own reality by offering an anecdotal approach. While vocalist Dave Bayley narrates, each instrument helps paint the scene, adding dimension and incorporating thematic elements. As one character relays the voices in her head in “Mama’s Gun,” the listener hears a faint echo. The flute that contrastingly adds an upbeat tone in “Youth” is also present in this song, lacking in quick repetition and resulting in a haunting melody.
Much of “How To Be A Human Being” and its videos take listeners on a journey of action and exploration of the dark qualities of human nature. There is an obvious shift in mood when they approach the Red Hot Chili Peppers-esque track, “Poplar St.” The flute and electronic sound disappears and and guitar riffs take over. This song floats back and forth when it comes to perspective, allowing the audience to believe in the possibility of personal influence in the lyrical construction. In the final track, “Agnes,” the lyrics also suggest that the events happened to the songwriter himself. “Agnes” oozes raw human emotion and concludes the album with just the right amount of pure expression.
Glass Animals has used life on the road to evolve their old sound, but not completely abandon the sound created in “Zaba.” After touring the world for two years, a list of people and places served as inspiration for their second album. They chose to stay close to their original sound, but strengthen their ability to use a single instrument to tell a story to their audience. What they saw on the road was the thematic muse with which to hone their skills. The wide variety of characters they met on their travels make “How To Be A Human Being” much more disjointed than “Zaba.” However, when it comes to natural human expression, Glass Animals nailed it.