With some songs standing out too much and others not enough, this atmospheric album falls just short of being easy listening. Great fun, though – sweet, sticky, and psychedelic, it's fresh English synth pop at its finest.
One day, I want to be as cool as How To Be A Human Being, Glass Animals’ sophomore release. Its aesthetic is on point – all dreamy pop from beginning to end – and despite really cultivating this mood it never quiet makes ‘chill’ by virtue of having some damn good songs. Lead single ‘Life Itself’ is obviously a stand out, and its front-and-centre placement definitely helps some; otherwise, you’d be completely pulled out of the album by its familiar twang and eclectic lyrics. Also, the opening twinkle of notes sound like an excerpt from a McDonald’s advert now that they’ve gone all green and self-conscious.
‘Youth,’ strongly reminiscent of the popular ‘Gooey’ from 2014’s debut album Zaba, brings the purest Glass Animals vibe with lead vocalist Dave Bayley’s unique sound, which is always difficult to place – a little gravelly, a little high, a little psychedelic. Second single and personal favourite ‘Season 2 Episode 3,’ the album’s third track, didn’t have a lot to offer to begin with (aside from its neat title), however on further listens you really to begin to appreciate the production here. The track acts as a splendid microcosm of what the band does well, with instrumentation – trimmed down and blended into sound effects – battling it out with lyrics almost nonsensical enough to be transcendent. Sweet but almost sticky, it drips with bittersweet vibes. Think Vampire Weekend meeting Shawn Wasabi, or Imagine Dragons meeting the sound effect setting of a keyboard. (‘Pork Soda’ also deserves a mention for an addictive beat that almost makes you ignore how its hook is as ridiculous as its name.)
Other tracks tend to fade into the background, but this is often an intentional and good thing – see an interlude, dialogue openings, and a few lyric-low tracks that aren’t especially noteworthy but help build the mood. Unfortunately, that’s really all they do. Writing this review after half a dozen complete listens, I still had to go back and check what ‘Mama’s Gun’ and ‘Cane Shuga’ actually sounded like. Tracks four through nine all rather blur together, and just don’t stick out on their own.
Given time, every track in this album will grow on you, and you’d be doing a disservice by not giving it the chance. Much like other favourite recent releases in the same genre, these sorts of albums show diverse techniques and expert production which you don’t get to thoroughly enjoy with a skim listen or by picking off the hits which chart. After an attentive first few goes, you’ll get to enjoy this album for what it is below the surface – a real stunner, where big songs melt into chiller ones – but for a more casual listen? For the most part, memorability isn’t Glass Animals’ strongest suit on this one. Playing How To Be A Human Being through, there’s a potential for a real ambience to be built, which is rather contemporarily perfect for late summer evenings with orange-pink sun and a sizzle-snap of heat. A sort of barbecue background sound, for when you just want a nice mood and a few recognisable tracks thrown in, but if you’re not into proper music listening sessions on the regular, to cut a long story short, you’d probably be better off buying a few singles over the album itself.
How To Be A Human Being is out now via Wolf Tone