After embarking on an extensive festival tour, Oxford indie rock band Glass Animals has released “How to be a Human Being,” the follow up to 2014’s quirky “Zaba.” While their previous album turned some heads, their sophomore album gives them the chance to make a mark with a new, more developed sound. But did we actually get anything new?
“How to Be a Human Being” begins with the percussive “Life Itself,” an ode to self-reflection and inflated ego. The shifting synth and mumbled, absurdist lyrics create a sense of paranoia and unease, themes that continue throughout “How to Be a Human Being.” “Youth” picks up the pace with smooth, rhythmic phrasing and an almost danceable beat, a combination rarely heard on this new release.
Glass Animals may have produced a more coherent sound on this album when compared to “Zaba’s” eclecticism; however, the R&B tinged, heavily percussive beats on almost every track quickly pull “How to Be a Human Being” into a zone of monotony. “Pork Soda,” a track only memorable for the repeated line “Pineapples are in my head,” evokes ideas of spontaneity but sounds hypocritically calculated. Likewise, “Mama’s Gun” almost builds to a new frenetic sound but ends with the same snaking melody of other tracks. The most absurd point in the album comes with the track “Premade Sandwiches,” a 30-second clip about trends. Although it’s a welcome break from the tedium in previous tracks, it contributes little to the listener’s understanding of “How to be a Human Being.”
Each song on the 11-track concept album is supposed to reflect the personality of a figure on the album artwork (each inspired by true stories lead singer Dave Bayley heard while on tour), but rarely do we get a difference in style or attitude. Some songs shine through the haze; closer track “Agnes” backs off of the layered synth and prominent beat to focus on the lyrics about lost love.
Glass Animals’ struggles partially stem from weak lyrics. “How to Be a Human Being” continues the trend of nonsensical lyrics from “Zaba,” but rarely does it ever produce the intended visceral reaction. Instead, the listener is forced to sift through overproduced distortion to even hear the mumbled lyrics. Repetitive verses and choruses are best used in moderation, but Glass Animals chooses to use this technique on almost every song. One stunning exception is on “Mama’s Gun,” with its repeated line “In the summer silence I was getting violent,” reminding us of the album’s paranoia.
As Glass Animals has grown in popularity it has begun to mimic the sound of similar bands, like Alt-J and Phantogram. This could possibly be due to more mainstream production value (producer Paul Epworth is known for working with Adele), but it could also be a ploy to draw a larger fan base. “How to Be a Human Being” has greatly benefitted from its considerable draw on music streaming services like Spotify, where the band has over 3 million monthly listeners. But has this push to mainstream accessibility dulled Glass Animal’s sensibilities? “Zaba” created experimental textures for audiences to delve into, but “How to be a Human Being” seems more concerned with radio plays than innovation.
Top Tracks: “Youth,” “Mama’s Gun”