Chances are, if you kept up with Indie music at all in the Summer of 2014, you often struggled to get British psychedelic pop group Glass Animals’ “Gooey” out of your head. The jungle-esque beats, the bizarre yet eerily seductive lyrics, and absurdly catchy hook was all the makings of a hit, and Glass Animals immediately caught attention. Now, the group returns with their sophomore effort, How to Be a Human Being, complete with a change in aesthetic and sound that, impressively, is still familiar and established.
The most recognizable difference between Zaba and How to Be a Human Being is the overall sound. Zaba was dense, exotic, and syrupy sweet. The spacey and crisp production gave the impression of a sort of Amazonian promenade, and the uniquely strange lyrics (“peanut butter vibes”) were the hook. This time around, Glass Animals shoot more a more retro feel, and that’s not just noticeable from the pixelated logo. Much of the production, especially on the tracks “Season 2, Episode 3” (A marvelous standout), “Cane Shuga” and “The Other Side of Paradise” have, if not outright samples, a style that imitates the 8-bit video game tracks of old. Many of these tracks are also sunnier, and less serious than Zaba, a welcome shift in sound.
The wonderfully peculiar lyrics make a comeback (“My girl eats mayonnaise/ from a jar while she’s gettin’ blazed), along with singer Dave Bayley’s now discernible falsetto voice, and it mostly works pretty well. It’s where the album sticks to form, or treads familiar ground where it falters most. The lead single “Youth” and “Life Itself” retain some of the jungle vibes from the last record, and yet don’t fully dive fully into the new aesthetic. As a result, they both come off as bland, as do “Mama’s Gun” and “Agnes”. They’re okay tracks, just somewhat plain and boring, which especially stands out when many of the other tracks are so great.
When the tracks hit on this record, they really do hit. Again, “Season 2, Episode 3” easily in the running for one of my favorite tracks of 2016, is an incredibly catchy, cheeky serenade to a girl who spends her days doing nothing. “Pork Soda” (no relation to the classic Primus song), has a delightfully weird bundle of lyrics (“pineapples are in my head”), while “Cane Shuga” has yet another catchy synth line, and some neat vocal effects, and “Take a Slice” moves towards grimey territory.
How to Be a Human Being may not be the quintessential pop album of 2016, but it sure is a damn fun one. The concept of the songs being representative of the characters on the cover is solid, and most of the record offers fascinating, often pretty creative, and even more often, catchy results, though some of it falls a little flat. Still the fact that Glass Animals have already established unique sounds for themselves is impressive in itself.