Glass Animals explore indietronica on sophomore release

Chris Duncan

Throughout their 2014 debut ZABA, Glass Animals guided listeners on one of the trippiest listens of the year, but the album failed to propel the band into the spotlight so many penned them for. With their follow-up effort, How To Be A Human Being, the group nails down their sound, cementing their position in indietronica as a pioneer of down-to-earth pop hits.

Instead of breaking out like LCD Soundsystem, Animal Collective or Alt-J, Glass Animals took more of a background role, slowly expanding from their home in Oxford, England, to the United States and Australia. Now, with their sophomore release, the group has grounded their dream-like state into something more personal and emotional while maintaining their psychedelic core.

Whereas ZABA felt like a secretive and claustrophobic listen, How To Be A Human Being speaks directly to its title by exploring brighter and cleaner sounds. It’s still a varied listen full of surprises around each corner, but with this release, Glass Animals takes a more gentle approach to their music to help ease listeners into an entrancing experience.

Each song has its own little quirks to make it stand out, from a variety of dark synths to booming drums and heavily altered guitar chords. The opening track, “Life Itself,” overflows with synths and trance-inducing guitar riffs, drawing in the listener for the album’s wild experience. During “Season 2 Episode 3,” lead singer Dave Bayley crafts some particularly strange lyrics, including “My girl eats mayonnaise from a jar when she’s getting blazed.” Elements like these might not elevate the song to the next level, but the attention to detail helps keep listeners hooked until the end, a task that is almost impossible to achieve in today’s music world. 

The subtleties speak volumes on this album, requiring a few listens to fully grasp each song. However, it would be just as easy to put this record on and sit back, listening purely to sonics, how each instrument plays into one fluent movement. It’s hard to craft an album that pleases both the dedicated and casual audiences, but with How To Be A Human Being, Glass Animals accomplished just that. 

Beyond the complex and intertwined instrumentation, most songs have a simple hip-hop-influenced beat and a story — often inspired by something that happens in everyday life, such as a taxi ride or a run-in with a fan. These simple anecdotes are the album’s backbone — someone else’s everyday life to a person not living it can be, and usually is, quite dull. Glass Animals accentuates this point, picking out only the most intriguing small moments to create a type of pop music few bands in today’s music scene can make.

Not every moment is impactful for the right reasons on How To Be A Human Being. “[Premade Sandwiches]” sticks out like a sore thumb because of its short 36-second runtime and how disjointed it feels. The song that follows, titled “The Other Side of Paradise,” derives heavily from hip-hop, to the extent that it completely takes over the song, and the entire experience of the track actually feels overbearing rather than immersive.

Although there are a couple slip-ups throughout the project, How To Be A Human Being fulfills Glass Animals’ promise of growth. There are obvious points of experimentation in their music, specially thematically, that make this record a listen almost every indie fan can enjoy.