Although titled as such, the new album from U.K. indie synth-pop group Glass Animals is not an instruction manual. Instead, How To Be A Human Being is a paradigm shift of sorts, re-telling stories and interviews into music through the eyes of the characters – in this case, frontman and producer Dave Bayley. While on tour in support of their 2014 debut ZABA, Bayley recorded countless conversations and stories from strangers:
“I tr[ied] to sneakily record people, and I have hours and hours of these amazing rants from taxi drivers, people we met outside of shows, people at parties. People tell you some amazing things when they don’t think they’re ever gonna see you again”.
And with these words in hand, Bayley developed characters, devoting hours into these fictional beings for each of the songs. So with 11 tracks in hand, How To Be A Human Being is as diverse and detailed as a group of 11 individuals would be.
Known for the glossy, tranquil mix of electronic and indie rock found on their debut record, Glass Animals have taken it up a notch, incorporating layers of added sonic details against their stealthy hooks. Surprisingly simple, yet catchy melodies act as the skeleton for each song, working the subtleness of their appeal to draw the attention to the soft, silky voice of Bayley and the hypnotizing range of synthetic textures. Without even mentioning the narratives found within the lyrics, the songs possess the fluidity of moving pictures, generating images in the mind’s eye; treks through the desert (“Life Itself”), care-free, star-lit walks (“Youth”), or drug-induced hallucinations (“Take A Slice”) to name a few.
The visually simulating characteristics come from the synergy of sounds and careful production detailing. Melting together quirky electronic drips and tones with cyclic percussion and effect-drenched guitars, hit singles “Life Itself” and “Youth” add a splash of colour to the album with each passing phrase, allowing Bayley’s warm falsetto to glide across the music and ignite the hooks waiting in the chorus. Playfully incorporating elements of hip-hop, and then repurposing them into electro-pop, “Pork Soda”, “The Other Side of Paradise”, and “Cane Shuga” find an oddly shaped, off-centered intensity, with dense bass lines underneath altered vocal and guitar effects.
Although there are 11 different stories built into the track list, and each song finds a way to stand out on its own, the album holds together with a familiar adhesive. Moving from “Life Itself” all the way to the anthemic album-closer “Agnes” may seem like quite a jump, but progressing naturally through the order allows for the album to function as a spectrum, blending subtle differences together before noticing a change. Borrowing elements from 2000s-R&B (“Season 2 Episode 3”), Red Hot Chili Pepper-esque guitar melodies (“Poplar St.”), and a tribal-psych Alt-J styling (“Youth”) make How to Be A Human Being varying, but their ability to effortlessly blend into the Glass Animals niche becomes their core strength, never quite leaving home, but branching out enough to try new things.
How To Be A Human Being is equal parts personality and hits, dabbling into the realm of concept album, but without the oft-accompanying pretentiousness or dizzying complexity. Like a chocolate mousse cake, the album holds deeper layers, both musically and conceptually, below a coating of chocolatey goodness that is the ear-pleasing indie synth-pop. Listeners can delve deeper into the rich layers if they so choose, but will still be left satisfied with the surface.