wo years after the release of their debut, ZABA, Glass Animals are back with How To Be A Human Being, an ode to storytelling and explorations of our deepest feelings. Breathing the secrets and stories of an eclectic mix of people that the band met on tour, the album is worlds apart from the blissful havens of ZABA. With a clear focus on reality, in all its weird and wonderful forms, the most mundane but intimate experiences of the human mind are dug out and illuminated with no stone left unturned, from Tesco boxes to pineapples to jars of mayonnaise.
Opener and first single ‘Life Itself’, borrowing warm beats and melodies from around the world, is a playful paradox, combining upbeat charm with hauntingly relatable lyrics about lost potential and economic struggle, such as “I can’t get a job so I live with my mum”. Each image is a carefully handpicked window magnifying what it means to be human, affirming to us that we may sometimes feel lost, empty and unfulfilled but that’s okay, because it means we’re real. It is certainly the most fitting opener: no other track could compete with the over bounding energy and excitement that seeps from every hidden detail.
A CONTROLLED EXPLOSION, A PURPOSEFUL WHIRLWIND OF THEMES
Second single, ‘Youth’, shies away from the euphoric playfulness of ‘Life Itself’, instead opting for a more melancholic tone. This perfectly fits the subject matter of a parent’s nostalgia relayed in a retrospective love song to their child. ‘Youth’ is captivating as, by the end, we’re not sure whether to feel deflated or elevated; the character’s feelings are complicated, it’s difficult to determine whether they are excited for their child’s youth or lamenting for their own. Leaving this for us to work out for ourselves allows us to have a personal relationship with the character, a feature that Glass Animals have so perfectly achieved throughout the album.
Not only does the album flit between different human experiences, but also between genres and styles. Tracks like ‘Take A Slice’ and ‘Cane Suga’ conjure a light-hearted and clumsy indie electronic atmosphere, true to the band’s roots, while we hear undertones of borrowed hip-hop beats in ‘Season 2 Episode 3’.
This reinforces the unpredictable nature of human lives that are constantly in a state of flux, as well as giving each individual story its own unique perspective, as each character is brought to life.
‘Poplar St.’ and ‘Agnes’, the albums final two tracks respectively, adopt a much darker tone, loaded with an overriding sense of melancholy. It is clear to see why these two tracks were selected to close the album: after the playground of both subtle and jagged details and layers upon layers of hidden quirks that came before, the album is personified as it has naturally drawn to an end and matured throughout, almost as if it, as a whole, is a character in itself. This being said, it’s not all bitterness and despair. One of the greatest features of How To Be A Human Being is how no track is simply sad, or simply elevating. ‘Agnes’, while eerily gloomy, blossoms into a euphoric masterpiece halfway through that will send a shiver down your spine at the moment of the chant-like chorus. Everything in not only the track, but also the album, has been building up to this moment, and suddenly this becomes illuminated; the final secret is revealed and leaves us not knowing how to feel.
Despite the experimental fusions of eccentric synths and sounds, of which ZABA was very much concerned, the biggest departure of How To Be A Human Being from the band’s debut is undeniably the character development. We hear 11 unique people’s stories and become more than just a spectator of their lives, but a part of their worlds. The album is a controlled explosion, a purposeful whirlwind of themes, genres and sounds, showing rather than telling us the experiences right at the album’s heart that are responsible for its existence, just as any good story should do.