“Life Itself,” the first track off Glass Animals‘ new album How To Be A Human Being, was also its first single. When it came out, it definitely made an impact within my group of friends. Our group chat suddenly lit my phone up, all with texts about how great this new song was. With some groovy-as-hell percussion, it shimmies and dances its way along. Dave Bayley’s voice slides along hypnotically, and the chorus is a punchy thrill that grabs your attention immediately. The song even has a Flash Gordon reference (my friends and I are the nerds who get excited about that kind of thing). With such a stellar first single, we eagerly awaited the rest of the album. How To Be A Human Being is now here, and the rest of the album, complicated and tragic, is certainly something to remember.
What’s notable about How To Be A Human Being is the extraordinary variety in sounds and styles the Oxford-based band utilizes. I’ve already talked about the danceable groove of “Life Itself.” Two songs later, “Season 2 Episode 3” has sound effects that wouldn’t be out of place in a retro Super Nintendo game. “Cane Shuga” leans heavily on synths and voice modification, with an underlying beat that wouldn’t be out of place on Drake’s next album. “Poplar St” features a slow, methodical rock guitar riff that dives and soars to extremes. It’s an eclectic collection of tracks, with each of the 11 songs bringing something completely new to the table. It’s a bold, fascinating approach to constructing an album, and for the most part it works out. The exception to that rule is “[Premade Sandwiches]” a 30-second interlude that feels out of place on an album that’s so short, clocking in at under 45 minutes in total.
That 45 minutes contain a complete roller coaster of subject matters, settings, and emotions. How To Be A Human Being is a concept album, with each of the people you see on the cover incorporated into the songs. There’s the boy and waitress from “Youth“—a song about the connection between a mother and son that endures past death and will tear your heart out and stomp on it. We have the basketball player’s attempted journey into stardom that ends in tragedy during “The Other Side Of Paradise.” “Cane Shuga” finds a relationship between two of the characters failing because of drug addiction, and “Agnes” finds one of them mourning the titular character after her death following an addiction to painkillers.
If you couldn’t tell by now, How To Be A Human Being is a profoundly melancholy album, full of stories from all walks of life. It’s heavy, heavy stuff, and it’s deeply affecting. While some of the aesthetics of the album scream “fun, danceable album,” the lyrics convey despair, depression, addiction, seduction, failing relationships, and a bevy of problems that haunt your everyday people. This album is not for the faint of heart, and knowing that the band told EARMILK that many of these tracks are inspired by stories told to them by real people make it all the more heartbreaking. At the same time, it gives hope that people have lived through these stories and come out the other side, and that knowledge gives the album the little ray of light it needs.
Between the vast array of styles and sounds and the stories that the lyrics contain, Glass Animals have crafted an album that will stay with you long after it’s over. How To Be A Human Being never really gives a guide for its name, but it does give listeners much to think about.