Glass Animals emerged in the wave that followed Alt-J’s success, alongside Django Django and Everything Everything (who were around before Alt-J hit big with An Awesome Wave, but finally found their scene). They were a bit different, in that they further embraced the poppiness of the flagbearer, dropping some of the moodiness and playing up the non-UK styles – that meant bringing in trap drums, african drums, pretty much any drums that had a foreign style. That weirdness remains on How To Be A Human Being, which is so bright and enjoyable it might just separate them from their peers. The singles that open the album, ‘Life Itself’ and especially ‘Youth’, have huge choruses, weird, unexplainable noises and just optimism beaming out of them. ‘Youth’ is aided by frontman Dave Bayley’s falsetto, which reminds me of Wild Beasts’ Hayden Thorpe and pristine production by Bayley as well.
How To Be A Human Being is another example of these British alt-pop bands diversifying after relatively safe debuts to the world. Everything Everything did it on Get To Heaven, Wild Beasts did it very recently on Boy King. Glass Animals do it by enhancing the foreign imports – the funkiness of ‘Pork Soda’, the rap-trap on ‘Cane Shuga’, the Red Hot Chili strut of ‘Poplar St’ (the beginning really does sound like ‘Under The Bridge’), but as long as they keep bringing in the shiny production, the straightforward poppiness and the genre-hopping, Glass Animals can do what they like. ‘Poplar Street’, like many other tracks on here, does indulge in the weirdness though. It’s about a woman called ‘Mrs Moore’, and the protagonist, who transitions from a child to an adult with the chorus of ‘I feel like a new man’ and ‘I am a true romantic / Free falling love addict’ but the way it’s spun is that the boy loses his virginity to Mrs Moore, believing themselves to be a romantic individual only to be rejected by Mrs Moore. The song could have easily slotted onto Wild Beasts’ last album, but the huge chorus screams out for the radio, even if the creepy lyrics might not.
‘Cane Shuga’ is also another song ready for radio, riding an 8-bit beat and more of those trappy high hats. It just shows the band and how easily they can switch from style to style without dropping the ball, because they adapt so well. It reminds me of when Beck released the safe ‘Dreams’ and then did ‘Wow’, which was hyper-modern and very accessible. If ‘Life Itself’ is the safe choice then ‘Cane Shuga’ is the ‘Wow’. Also, extra points for reminding me of Justin Timberlake’s ‘Cry Me a River’ piano line. Deep down, How To Be A Human Being has some fairly dark lyrics too. ‘Cane Shuga’ is about cocaine and trying to give it up, and a relationship collapsing around it. ‘Mama’s Gun’ has references to murder and mental illness. And then there’s ‘Agnes’ and its story about a suicidal character.
How To Be A Human Being was genuinely surprising for how much it exceeded expectations. Just when you think you’ve pegged them, Glass Animals come back with an album that in many ways does better than their contemporaries. A lot of it comes down to their experimentation with sound, whilst still in the confines of pop music. There’s definitely hits to be had here – ‘Life Itself’ has already become a minor hit, but you could take most of the tracks here and they have two layers of accessibility the first time around, but the ability to dig deeper the second time and discover a Carpenters’ sample or a clever lyric. How To Be A Human Being is very refreshing.
Funnel Recommends: Youth / Cane Shuga / Poplar Street