I had only heard a little of Glass Animal’s work before reviewing their newest album, so I decided to check out their 2014 debut ZABA. It was a record I originally (and somewhat pretentiously) wrote off as another new indie band making music for the masses that would have as much appeal as possible. I was happy to find out that I was incorrect. ZABA was vibrant, energetic and very well-produced music that was certainly higher quality than most music played at college parties and clubs.
However, unlike a great deal of music that seems designed for that environment, ZABA had very layered and textured sounds. When intently listened to, one could find very well-arranged pieces of music. It wasn’t something that provided any great emotional depth, but it was an incredibly pleasurable listening experience that rewarded careful attention nonetheless.
For their newest album How to be a Human Being, I expected that again. At first, that is exactly what I thought I got. It was very well-produced and put-together indie music that took all the right influences from electronic music and hip-hop to make an interesting, catchy listen, but wouldn’t go out of my way to listen to over and over again.
As it turns out, this was the exact wrong way for me to categorize it, because experiencing this album over and over again is precisely how it should be enjoyed. And I do say enjoyed, because after paying careful attention to everything in the album, it is pretty incredible.
How to be a Human Being really is the best title for this album, as Glass Animals has learned to bring humanity into their well-developed sound. It’s a concept album, which does always make me a bit randy. That was something I hadn’t even remotely picked up on during my initial listen (probably due to the pigeonhole I had put it in already).
Each song is based around interviews, or conversations, lead singer Dave Bayley conducted with a wide variety of people on tour for his last album. They were all secretly recorded, as he wanted them to be completely honest. While the ethics of this are debatable, these real life stories and experiences lay the groundwork for what the previous album was lacking for me: humanity. Every song on the album has a sense of humanity to it.
The music in each song is crafted to match the idiosyncrasies of its particular character. Standout tracks like “Season 2 Episode 3,” “Popular Street” and the closing track “Agnes” do this incredibly well.
“Season 2 Episode 3” depicts a stoner girlfriend who doesn’t do much with her life. It also brings in retro video game sounds into the beat while referencing TV shows like Adventure Time. This pairs incredibly well with a verse like “She’s drunk on old cartoons/Liquid TV afternoons/sometimes it makes me laugh/sometimes it makes me sad.”
Even though I only highlighted three tracks, there is not one song on this album I did not enjoy to at least some degree. The first track, “Life Itself,” is about a young man who was born a bit strange and can’t adjust to society. It is completed with a funky beat with syncopated synthesizer rhythms to match the quirkiness (and I always hesitate to say that word) of the character.
Even songs that don’t stick with me as much as some of the others all have something special — something human. Each track is elegantly crafted and incredibly well-produced, with each song’s character brought out by well-composed music, great-sounding beats and counter-melodies that seamlessly ride along to anything that song originally establishes.
Overall, it’s the production quality that makes this album truly great. It can be enjoyed as great-sounding music at a club or at a party, or as a beautiful experience that flows in between your headphones while you lay down and take it all in. Not every song will grab each individual listener, but that is part of what makes the album great: how human it is, and each human who listens will find something different.
Final Rating: 9/10
Favorite Tracks: “Season 2 Episode 3” “Pork Soda” “Popular Street” “Agnes”
Contact CU Independent Arts Writer Austin Willeke at email@example.com