Along the top of www.RAYGUN123.com runs a banner of made up, whimsical inventions such as an “inverse tennis” set and a “shower in a can”. Below it is a simple welcome page and a menu which directs the user to a short story, a set of games, and various other random pages within the amateur site. All of this is set atop a backdrop of blinking stars and rotating planets. Life Itself, the opening track off of Glass Animals’ sophomore album, How To Be A Human Being, plays in the background, stripped of its lyrics and edited into the style of an arcade game. The website is an ode to just one of the eleven characters featured on the artwork of the band’s latest record and within each of the songs themselves. A lot of thought has gone into this album.
I’m afraid that, faced with the challenge of condensing my thoughts on How To Be A Human Being into a concise review, I am going to fail quite spectacularly. If RAYGUN123.com, with all of its quirks and subtle messages, is just one digital embodiment of one of the carefully considered ‘characters’ whose stories fill the LP, how on earth will I be able to discuss not only the sonic quality of the album, but the stories behind each song’s unequivocally meaningful lyrics and the painstakingly precise visual accompaniments to the record? Not forgetting all of the supplementary digital profiles across tumblr, LinkedIn and wherever else – it is surely impossible to stay within the constraints of about 700 words.
The four guys behind the band which blew fans’ minds with Zaba in 2014 have returned with an album which somehow makes their debut look like an LP made from patched together experiments, far from their end product. The new record shows this product as polished and on display – ten tracks plus an interlude, all staggeringly unique and yet astoundingly cohesive as a unit. This is no matter of luck, the guys have been meticulously assembling this new collection of tracks since lead singer, Dave Bayley, conceived the idea for it after starting to record the stories encountered in exchanges with fans, drivers and strangers whilst touring post-Zaba.
How To Be A Human Being is the perfect follow up to Zaba, which presented to the world the beginnings of a band who had discovered, and were just developing, a truly original brand of electro-indie music. From the moment that tribal percussion kicked off Life Itself, which was released at the beginning of the summer, I knew that How To Be A Human Being wouldn’t be a disappointment, and indeed I wasn’t wrong. The natural, hard to define sound of Pools, Gooey and Black Mambo, the main hits off Zaba, are still heard within all of the songs on the new record, but are much more refined, now corresponding to lyrics purposed to tell real stories. That isn’t to say that Glass Animals have found their winning formula and have contented themselves with it; the video game SFX found in Season 2 Episode 3 and the hip-hop experimentation that they’ve been developing in the interim since their last LP (see Lose Control feat. Joey Bada$$) demonstrate that the band are still looking for ways to keep things fresh and have their fans guessing upon future releases.
I won’t dwell much on the indisputable quality of the instrumentals found on the How To Be a Human Being tracklist. What I’d point out as the standout attribute of this album, is the emotional potency of the lyrics throughout the oeuvre. There is but one song in the new release whose production preceded its lyrics (Cane Shuga) – which tells you something about the weight that the band put on this element of the work. Ranging from comedic lines such as “My girl eats mayonnaise / From a jar while getting blazed.” in Season 2 Episode 3 to the more profound, melancholic ones found in a track like Agnes: “This life is long / When soaked in sadness”. Both the spectrum of emotions within individual pieces and the variety of subject matter across the record is extraordinary, let alone the seamless transitions between a Mrs Robinson-style storyline in Poplar St. to that of losing a friend to drug addiction in Agnes.
Glass Animals have returned with much more than a new album. How To Be A Human Being is truly a masterpiece of cultural understanding, be it the deeply empathetic lyrics, the strange online personas that have accompanied the release, or the mixture of 90s societal and contemporary musical influences. The band have genuinely sought to connect with their listeners through a beautiful set of new songs, and it’s worked.
Picks: Youth, The Other Side of Paradise, Agnes