Discovery of this band for me was very much unintentional; I found Glass Animals quite by accident. A happy accident in the click of the wrong button, and then the haunting flute melody of "Mama's Gun" looped and stumbled tripping circles through my earbuds, luring in the sensual floating whisper of frontman Dave Bayley as a horrifying tale of murder spilled out under a sultry summer sun. The notes lingered in the speakers long after the next song had begun to play.
From the silky haze of their debut album ZABA, this Oxford-born outfit continue their ascent in indie music with a journey out of their rabbit-hole Wonderland and into an even messier dream: humanity.
There is no doubting the truly unique (and frankly strange) sound of Glass Animals. ZABA was an eclectic electric jungle of sound, with Dave Bayley's compelling and cryptic tones fading in and out of the tangled-vine guitar riffs, drawn out synth notes, primal throbbing drumbeats and chorus of voices. And yet. It is controlled, cohesive, beautiful. Far from a clamorous riot, this album is the aural equivalent of liquid velvet.
Released in 2016, their second album How to be a Human Being on the other hand feels much more solid, much more real - unsurprising when you consider the two years the band spent on tour following the release of ZABA, an interlude of long-night drives and unknown cities and stories imparted by voices that sound nothing like home. From this swirling sea-change of life and colour a cast of characters burst into existence, born of Bayley's reweaving of stolen strands of life (children's cartoons, tattoo's, taxi-drivers, love, lust, loss) into a rich tapestry of sound. It is dizzying, maddening, sickening, joyful. Whilst it is true that the bass is heavier and some of the more unusual instruments that lurked in the background of ZABA lurch into the foreground, Glass Animals' sound is still wholly theirs, just perhaps sharper. Lyrically, however, a much greater evolution is seen. (You can actually sing along this time, rather than butcher half-hummed mondegreens)
This album is truly a testament to the power of song and the spoken word as a storytelling medium. Each of the 11 tracks features a fully fledged character, from the stoner girlfriend of "Season 2 Episode 3" to her coke-snorting boyfriend of "Cane Shuga", from the murderous wife in "Mama's Gun" and the voices that taunt her, to the sci-fi loner of "Life Itself" in his mother's basement (if you were wondering, his name is Chuck Rogers and he has a website. A bona fide sonic-ray gun website you can find without too much trouble, reminiscent of My-Space era internet in all its eye-bleeding glory. Glass Animals don't do anything by halves). Depicted on the album cover in a pseudo-family photo type set up, these stories wind around each other in an incongruous collage of life. As both a reader and a writer, it is impossible not to admire the richness of Bayley's vision: where ZABA was an outpouring of melody that flows from track to track, How to be a Human Being is more contained, tiny worlds in five minutes or less, all vividly dreamt, shocking and soft-lovely lyrical.
Bayley's artistry is evident in oddly specific details as he flits between these hyper-real personas seamlessly. The girlfriend eats 'mayonnaise from a jar when she's getting blazed', so lazy she uses a 'cookie as a coaster'; Chuck Rogers has 'two million freckles' and fancies himself 'Northern Camden's own Flash Gordon'. The weird and wonderful phrase 'pineapples are in my head' eddies through "Pork Soda", a nonsense overheard from a homeless man. It's quirks like this that immerse you as a listener, and new layers of meaning are revealed every time you hit play. This album captures life in all it's sordid, messy splendour.
Truly the most poignant moment of the How to be a Human Being is in its closing minutes. "Agnes" is Bayley's self-confessed favourite track and the line between character and creator noticeably blurs here; pain and loss drips from every syllable of the raw and intimate grief, making it a simultaneous melody of lump-throated agony and trembling euphoria. You feel your heart rip in two. Goosebumps trail in the wake of this album.
And as for my favourite track? Bizarre and infectious, "The Other Side of Paradise" just takes the win.
Essential Tracks: "The Other Side of Paradise", "Mama's Gun", "Agnes"