If Glass Animals’s music was a painting, it would have broken all the art rules of conventional art; kind of like the Dadaists, but calmer. The colors would go from contrasting to fading in each other, at times combining two extremes, and you can’t really tell what the painting is really about.
The enigmatic spirit of Glass Animals sparked a little over 3 million music lovers on Spotify less than a year after the release of their second album. For the first time in 2010, four students from Oxford, who shared а passion for a weird mixture of psychedelic trip hop and electronic indie formed the Glass Animals we know today.
The band’s frontman and main songwriter Dave Bayley, together with Drew MacFarlane on guitar and keys, Edmund Irwin-Singer on bass guitar, and Joe Seaward on drums recorded their debut EP “Leaflings,” and set the stage for their unique sound with “Cocoa Hooves.”
Though often times they have been compared with other Oxford bands like Alt-j and Radiohead, their signature sound is undeniably noticeable. Starting off with “Leaflings”and further expanding in their debut album “Zaba” with the help of producer Paul Epworth, they bring in a human’s meeting with the wild tropical nature in the language of sounds.
In their second album, “How to be a Human Being,” however, a character from each song clashes with his own peculiarities and past encounters with lovers, family and society, thus making up a musical patchwork of human experiences.
Glass Animals’s fluid style, “ranging from deep electronics, varied percussion and smooth jazz”, “buttery R’n’B grooves and intoxicating indie-rock riffs”, “and an anachronistic Jay Z x The Great Gatsby, vibe” puzzles critics and listeners, and inevitably creates a bi-polar listenership, with “Zaba” and “How to be a Human Being” on the two poles.
“While we were doing the record [Zaba] I was reading a lot of books about people wandering in the wilderness like“Mosquito ghost” and “Heart of Darkness” for example. I was really trying to capture the atmosphere of those books with the sound, as well as with the lyrics,” said medical graduate and frontman Dave in an interview for Billboard magazine.
“It’s phenomenally exciting to have that sense of danger back in music. It’s subtle, malevolent and utterly charming noise, and if Glass Animals turned out to be buttering you up with a cannibalistic lick of the lips, you’d let them gnaw away,” is how journalist Laurence Day described “Zaba” for The line of best Fit.
As gently as the songs come off, some of the lyrics are darker than one can imagine. In “Flip”, a song about revenge, the character has “Eyes killer cold and black and bare / Freaky little tooth hanging solo,” while in “JDNT” the character proclaims: “Oh don’t it leave that filthy taste/ When you squeeze that life untamed.”
The abstract lyrics coincide well with the groovy beats of the songs that have various combinations of tempo, rhythm, vocals, ambient sounds, and electric instruments. As music critic Rachelle Beaven wrote for Music Feeds, “There’s something to be said about how effortlessly each song on this album moves silkily into the next.”
In a interview for Billboard magazine, Joe said, “One of the first things we wanted to do about it was to make the album [Zaba] cohesive. We didn’t know what the songs will be, […] but we wanted to make it sound like one full piece.” This was also creatively intensified through their Audiovisual album, with footages as abstract as the song lyrics.
Following the enormous success of “Zaba”, the band went on an intense world-wide tour in 2014, where the band members found inspiration for their second album. What makes “How to be a Human Being” come to life, is the fact that each character (represented in a single song) is inspired by real people’s stories that Dave recorded on his phone during the tour.
Lyrically, the songs are much more literal about their message than “Zaba,” as they focus on one character’s point of view. “I scripted heavily each of the characters from the album – what they looked like, what they worked, what they ate, how their house looked like,” said Dave in an interview with Moshcam.
“Life itself”, the album’s single, narrates the story of a basement-living misfit (“I’m waking up, lost in boxes outside Tesco/ Look like a bum sipping codeine Coca-Cola”), while the static, never-changing relationship with a girl is portrayed in “Season 2, Episode 3” (“She’s drunk on old cartoons/ Liquid TV afternoons”).
As in “Season 2, Episode 3,” where the eight-bit sounds recreate a life-like video game, the musical representation of each character, brings in a new array of sounds, substantially different between tracks.
“”How To Be A Human Being” is rife with ZABA-isms – immense detail, tiny sample fragments, gloopy textures – and “Mama’s Gun” closer to the band’s misty roots than their dazzling future, but the jagged hip-hop of “Cane Shuga”, the freakout riffs in “Take A Slice”, and “Pork Soda”’s spiraling mayhem all prove that Glass Animals have plenty in the chamber to keep us guessing,” wrote Day.
For some critics and fans Glass Animals’ new album was too big of a jump and was seen as mainstream and inconsistent with their style.
“The sounds they had from the very beginning are fairly nonexistent this time around, replaced by a bombastic, indie/pop/hip-hop twist that buries all the subtlety that “Zaba” was absolutely drenched in. It’s lighter, it’s louder, it’s happier, it’s more mainstream,” commented the fan ninja200 on metacritic.
Despite criticisms, “How to be a Human Being” received a positive worldwide acclaim and the band is currently off to another tour, with tickets being sold by the dozen. The artistic growth in “How to be a Human Being” is evident in their precise and vivid images of each persona, coinciding with a grittier and rawer sound that the band mixed perfectly with their atmospheric grooves from the first album.
Music critic Mandy Freebairn wrote, “All the stories, sounds, and characters come together to form an album that plays like a colorful collage of life: It doesn’t flow perfectly, but maybe that was never the point.”