Review: Glass Animals’ “How to Be A Human Being”

More often than not dance music touches upon the animalistic, carnal and euphoric. The more disposable pop quality of these themes can result in more than a few upturned noses from those finding purchase with the densely biographical lyrics of singer-songwriters. Glass Animals‘ latest LP How to Be A Human Being cuts an uncommon balance between the two extremes – and how.

Populating the slinky electronic soup of debut ZABA with a rouge’s gallery of semi-fictitious characters, the quartet’s latest LP touches on some lofty creative thematics. Yes, it’s a concept album. Tieing together a grander narrative, the album tells 11 stories from the perspective of a series of fictionalised alter-egos synthesised from the group’s imagination and some nefarious characters encountered during two years of international touring.

“It’s a combination of autobiography and made up [stories], more than about any people that we met,” Dave Bayley elaborated during a recent interview with Howl & Echoes. “There were a lot of underlying themes that are in the record, and I was trying to recreate those undercurrents with new characters, and some autobiography, too.”

The LP’s psychedelic details and nebulous characterisations call back to Frank Zappa or Bob Dylan, an unlikely proposition for the group’s signature indietronica with trip-hop elements at its core. Yet as opener Life Itself demonstrate, this is something that works. There’s layers of lyrical, thematic and musical complexity to each track, perhaps best left for fans to scrutinise or uncover through their own analysis. Particularly when considering the concept that each song is about a person – a person living their own life, a person who is part fiction and part real, and therefore ultimately representative of a lot more than just a person, and also possibly interconnected with the album’s other characters as indicated by the connected video clips singles Youth and Life Itself, which adds a whole new level to it all – that their interpretations could be left up to the listener only seems fitting.

But regardless of high-minded conceptual success, How to Be A Human Being cuts infectious dance grooves and floatingly euphoric vibrations. Slow motion grooves and soulful vocal top lining have returned in abundance. More direct dance tracks like Youth stand as an inviting testament. Mama’s Gun showcases the group’s melancholy yet bubbling electronic sound at full stride. Cane Shuga’s warbling, sparse synths and delicate, electronified falsetto are the perfect sonic representation of the song’s core theme – cocaine.

For the most part, Glass Animal’s amalgam of indie sophistication and electronic proves just as infectious as anything they’ve produced so far. Even the seemingly throwaway lyrics of Pork Soda and banality of Fitter Happier-esque [Premade Sandwiches] gel smoothly with the deeper underlying pathos, urgency and despair of the album’s two most unconventional tracks. Slow groover Take a Slice and Poplar St prove the perfect vehicles for waxing lyrical alongside amidst infectious rhythms and a pervading sense of light hearted fun. While each track is honestly as phenomenal as they are diverse, the best might just have been left for last, with final track Agnes shifting the atmosphere once more, to an oddly dichotomous sound; melodically, it’s not exactly uplifting in spite of the glorious chorus and major chords, but there’s a sense of finality and farewell to it. Lyrically, it’s heartbreaking, about accepting the death (it seems to be by way of an overdose) of someone once held so close by the protagonist. Many of the songs on this album share the trickery of music that emanates something so different to the lyrics or the story, and on this final track, which could not have been anything other than this album’s final track, is a real testament to that and to Bayley’s songwriting.

From open to close, Glass Animals’ How to Be A Human Being works in some lofty conceptual undercurrents without losing speed. Glass Animals have absolutely proven themselves to be so much more than we’d already hoped; this album is a real treasure, and one of this year’s best records.

Written with Lauren Ziegler

Visit our interview and photo shoot with Glass Animals
Check out our review and photos of Glass Animals live in Sydney

Image: LinkedIn