Courtesy of Caroline Records

September 5, 2016

TEST SPIN: Glass Animals — How To Be A Human Being

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Glass Animals’ sophomore album, How To Be A Human Being, presents a bold expansion from the intimate and smooth vibes in 2014’s ZABA. The band has had a distinctive sound since they released their first EP, Leaflings, in 2012. That sound has carried with them through their second self-titled EP and first album.

Unlike the cryptic lyrics on ZABA that better communicated feelings than messages, each track on this album tells a story inspired by hundreds of recorded conversations with real people that the band met on tour. These conversations were distilled into the 11 fictional characters featured on the album artwork. In a recent interview with DIY Magazine, frontman Dave Bayley explained the detail that went into creating the characters, “I was interested in what these characters ate, what they wore, what they did in their spare time.”

One character even has a website that features a short story he wrote. He is an antisocial sci-fi addict who explains “I can’t get a job so I live with my mom.” The song about him, “Life Itself,” is the first track on the album and most likely to become a mainstream success. It transitions seamlessly from pensive verses about the wasted potential of a failed adult self-medicating with lean to an optimistic, fun chorus about standing up and facing life’s obstacles. A tribal beat carries through the background, adding energy to the verses and tying the song together.

“Youth,” the most accessible song, is also one of the weakest. Released as the second single, the track serves primarily as a promotional tool and introduction to the band’s sound with a bright, airy beat. The lyrics tell the hopeful and longing story of a parent wishing the best for a child that he/she had to give up. Despite the serious theme, the song feels uninspired and forgettable.

The third track of the second album, “Season 2 Episode 3” infuses retro sound effects straight from arcade games over a relaxed, hip-hop inspired beat in a combination that the band achieves flawlessly. “Pork Soda” showcases Glass Animals in their prime. The deep, intimate vocals pair with jazzy instrumentals to deliver one of the strongest tracks on the album. This song covers a failing relationship, reminiscing about good times in the past and trying to understand what changed.

The synths in “Mama’s Gun” have an ethereal quality, sounding straight out of a fairytale. The band completes the theme with references to Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan. “Mama’s Gun” tells the tale of a psychopathic wife who murders her husband. The calm, rolling soundscapes pair with the eerie vocals to paint a believable picture of insanity. “Cane Shuga” has little depth and a generic rhythm coming from Glass Animals. The song primarily focuses on an uninteresting and undeveloped relationship damaged by a cocaine addict. The verses are interesting but last a total of eight lines and only provide just enough context for the looping chorus, which revolves around the false confidence of cocaine.

“[Premade Sandwiches],” a short spoken-word interlude, draws attention to consumerist culture from health food and fast food to fashion and drugs, but serves only to point out the mere fact that consumerism exists. Telling the tale of the fifth failed relationship on the album, “The Other Side Of Paradise” has little to offer in terms of a unique theme. The electronic instruments are textured and redeem an otherwise bland song. “Take A Slice” is the most sensual song off the album. Consistent with the other tracks, “Take A Slice” contains intimate, stripped vocals during the verse but switches to a wide, expansive sound during the chorus. The instruments here are more textured and varied than the rest of the album. Here, Glass Animals experiments with a fuzzy guitar sounding synth for fills and a lead as well as almost orchestral sounds in the background.

“Poplar St.” brings back the guitar for a rhythm that could be mistaken for Red Hot Chili Peppers. It begins as if the narrator were reminiscing about his boyhood home before explaining that he was obsessing over an affair with his married neighbor. The guitar-centric rhythm is a new sound for Glass Animals and it works well. “Agnes” is the least approachable song on the album. Musically, it comes across flat. Lyrically, it is one of the strongest tracks and serves as an excellent closer. The song focuses on drugs, hardly a new theme in this album, but the slight quiver in Bayley’s vocals captures every drop of emotion and makes “Agnes” a much deeper song than the rest of the album.

While How To Be A Human Being is still instantly recognizable as Glass Animals, it represents a clear departure from the dreamlike sound of the band’s previous releases. Compared to the band’s other work, this new album is less atmospheric and less passive. The sounds are more diverse and the lyrics are more direct. Despite the fact that ZABA remains a stronger album overall, How To Be A Human Being is a step forward as Glass Animals experiments with new sounds.

Glass Animals will be playing at the State Theatre on Oct. 1.

Ryan Slama is a freshman in the College of Engineering. He can be reached at [email protected]