Being a Human is Hard
No matter how good an artist is or how much you love their new album, sometimes it takes seeing them in concert to truly understand what they are going for. As a frequent concertgoer I can say I’ve experienced this with a few bands – Twenty One Pilots, Mac Demarco, Judah and the Lion – though if there’s a band that I feel I understood their motives and artistry on a new level after seeing a live show it has to be Glass Animals.
After spending the afternoon NYC, a girl I just met asked if I wanted to go to a show at Terminal 5. I said, “yes” before I even knew who was playing, though I was even more stoked to hear that Glass Animals were playing. I had listened to a few songs from the band like, “Gooey” and “Black Mambo”. I knew they had a distinct and unique sound but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Were they similar to Alt-J? Maybe. But there was this sound to them I couldn’t describe.
At live shows most artists express their artistic vision through stage design. Glass Animals took this to the next level and had reconstructed Terminal 5 into their own jungle playground. My ticket was scanned and I immediately emerged in this neon jungle of neon lights, hazy synths, palm trees, pineapples, and madness.
Their sound clicked with me almost instantaneously. I was an “Ah, I see” type of moment. The name Glass Animals had become something more than just a random band name to me. The band members were all these majestic, neon, glass animals making beautiful music in this jungle of chaos. Simply alleviating the madness of the world. Though I can’t explain it in words, suddenly I know understood what these “peanut butter vibes” referred to.
Their freshman album “Zaba”, filled with these peanut-butter vibes, jungle sounding synths, and neon (if neon has a sound), had truly put them on the map. In today’s industry, it’s difficult to establish your own sound, to create something so fresh and unique, and something that differs from anything else we’ve heard. Glass Animals established that sound and now, it’s time to take that sound and run. The sophomore album, How to Be a Human Being is what that sounds like.
The record leads off with “Life Itself” about a boy who despises his father’s optimism, lives with his mom, and can’t get a job. The upbeat percussion and soothing synths, allow the idea of putting one’s head between their knees to cope with nauseating thoughts, as something positive. One might think a track this dark would find its place deep in the track list, though this serves as welcoming to track to the record.
The second track, “Youth”, is one of the most beautiful songs on the album. The track has a mix of sadness and optimism, as a mother speaks to her son whom she had to leave as a boy. Sounds of an owl ring, as this mother simply desires for her son to live a happy life, full of friends and laughter.
“Season 2 Episode 3” is about a girl who’s daily routine is to get high, eat food, watch television, and be completely content doing so. “Leftover breakfast, cereal for lunch / She’s broken but she’s fun / My girl eats mayonnaise / From a jar when she’s getting’ blazed”. The cartoon and video game sounds throughout the track really set the scene for this song.
“Pineapples are in my head” is another lyric that encompasses that indescribable feeling I felt when seeing Glass Animals live. This lyric, followed by “Got nobody ‘cos I’m brain dead”, comes from the chorus of the fourth track “Pork Soda”. The lyrics are first recited by some men on the street with distorted voices, with the noise of city traffic in the air, before the beat comes in, ultimately setting the scene on the streets. The song seems to be about a life on the street; the introduction and the sounds of trashcan drums throughout the track certainly help paint this picture.
When I first heard the beat for the fifth track, “Mama’s Gun”, I immediately thought of Mos Def’s “Auditorium” featuring Slick Rick. The sample is actually from The Carpenters, “Ms. Guder”. It gives a creepy vibe, and portrays the feeling that something bad might happen, though you still choose to stick around. It’s no doubt that this song contains dark lyrics, perhaps about mental illness, though I find the flow of the 5 verses to be addicting. “Little voices buzzin’ poison, backward noise from everything / Dr. Swango says I’m psycho, says they’re all from Neverland”. I wish I could explain why the flow of the verses is so addicting, but I can’t find the words to do so. I guess you’ll just have to give this song a listen for yourself.
I can’t help but feel Alt-J vibes when listening to “Cane Shuga”, though it’s clear there is an aspect that distinguishes the track from Alt-J, which is that Glass Animals sound. This and “Mama’s Gun” have to be my favorite two songs on the album. The same few lyrics are repeated throughout the track, though with changes of pitch and tone in each line give a build-up suspenseful feeling.
The next track, “[Premade Sandwiches]” is, well…how do I describe this? You might just want to listen for yourself.
Is that a dark barking, a human barking, a mix of both? Regardless, this sound heard throughout “The Other Side of Paradise” just adds a layer of quirkiness to the already outlandish beat. The lyrics are about a jock that is now growing older, as he quests for fortune and fame, and leaves his family behind.
The next track, “Take A Slice”, samples a conversation that seems to have no connection to the song, though the undeniable structure and craftsmanship on this record tells me that this is not random. The song is about someone who has a lot of lust and is trying to find her place in the world. In the chorus, the narrator claims, “I’m filthy and I love it”, amongst other feelings, though something tells me she is lying to herself. The beat, reminding me of Thundercat & Flying Lotus’, “Them Changes”, is much slower than the rest of the album and fits so perfectly in the track list as the album begins to wind down.
I can’t help but think back to the early 2000’s, John Frusciante era of the Red Hot Chili Peppers in the intro of “Poplar Street”. This slowly fades away as the indescribable “peanut butter vibes” take over this track. The guitar stays present, though some soothing synths, jungle-ish beats, and Dave’s hazy and repetitive lyrics take over this track very quickly.
And now the journey sadly comes to an end with the last track “Agnes”. This is by far the saddest song on the album. It’s tragically beautiful. “You see the sad in everything, a genius of love and loneliness, and this time you overdid the liquor, this time you pulled the fucking trigger”. It displays the devastating feeling of watching a friend stumble through tough times.
I knew that the album told the stories of a variety of different characters. Though, it wasn’t until this write-up that I realized, the eleven, very different people, on the album cover represent the main character in each eleven of the songs. It’s fun to try and figure out which story is who’s. With Zaba the Glass Animals established their sound. With How to Be a Human, they told these difficult stories with that sound. What a spectacular, while heartfelt and tragic, yet undeniably fun picture these four guys have given us.