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Album Review: How to Be a Human Being

Glass Animals
How to Be a Human Being
Wolf Tone, Caroline International

Based on its title, Glass Animals’ sophomore record could easily be confused with a how-to guide for recent university graduates, androids, or aliens hoping to assimilate into society. Alternate uses aside, How to Be a Human Being is a worthy successor to the British rock group’s debut, staying faithful to the band’s unique aesthetic.

Glass Animals splashed into an oversaturated indie scene in 2014 with a colourful palette of sounds — and an arsenal of phonetically pleasing lyrics to boot — with their debut album Zaba. Their hit single “Gooey” climbed the Billboard charts this past year, singlehandedly causing a global rise in “peanut-butter vibes.” Where Zaba painted abstract, surrealist dreamscapes (that would make Dali nod his head to the beat of conga drums), How to Be a Human Being focuses more on, well, “Life Itself.”

Under loopy beats, eclectic instrumentation, and eccentric wordplay, How to Be a Human Being is essentially a series of character studies. Among the diverse group are a Speedo-sporting cocaine user, a mayonnaise-munching stoner, and a free-falling love addict. On the surface, it’s easy to pass the band off as more concerned with style over substance — a criticism justifiably levelled towards Zaba. By digging a little deeper, however, there is more to pick apart. Lyrics that seem to be saying a whole lotta nothing, in actuality, carry emotional weight. Using absurdity and funky upbeat melodies, the band conceals heavier subject matters ranging from humorously endearing to downright sad: “Leftover breakfast, cereal for lunch. She’s broken but she’s fun.”

In an interview with Billboard, lead singer Dave Bayley revealed he drew inspiration for the characters from people he encountered while touring: “As soon as you walk off the tour bus, you meet fans… radio people, taxi drivers, people at parties. You meet all these people and hear all their stories.”

Instrumentally, the album is rife with crunchy drum beats, dancey synth grooves, and subdued guitar riffs and basslines. Considering the many words often used to describe Glass Animals — dark, sexy, experimental — it’s hard to deny they’re one of the most unique bands in the industry.

The band indulges in obscure expressions like “Liquid TV afternoons,” evoking imagery that engages multiple senses. On the other hand, lyrics like “Pineapples are in my head,” sound like the drug-induced ramblings of someone with that condition Pharrell reportedly has; but anyone familiar with the band’s unique writing style should expect this level of absurdity. Those with an ear for phonetics — and other literary devices — should appreciate the merit of such poetic, unconventional lyricism.

How to Be a Human Being is a colourful, eclectic mosaic of slice-of-life tales — a stylish sophomore record that gradually reveals its layers over multiple listens.

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