If an album is centralized around one central theme, it is widely accepted as a Concept Album. One central theme is set for the record, and every track seems to amplify that message. English Indie-Electronica outfit Glass Animals‘ latest release, How To Be A Human Being, is a concept album that brilliantly defies its own genre.
Conceptually, this album can be broken apart from its cover art. The cover features 11 characters, each representing one of the 10 songs on the album (two of the characters combine to represent one track). Breaking apart any central theme, this album tells ten separate but relatable stories.
When discussing the origins of the record, frontman Dave Bayley opened up about his inspirations: “I was recording all of these people telling me stories. On tour you meet so many people. As soon as you walk off the tour bus, you meet fans. You meet some radio people, taxi drivers, people at parties — you meet all these people and hear all their stories… People tell you some incredible things — some totally deep, dark secrets — with a sort of cheekiness to it… People say the strangest shit when they don’t think they’re ever gonna see you again“.
By using ten real-life human beings, as it were, to create these stories for the record, Bayley is able to create brilliantly powerful and emotional lyrics. “Poplar St.” tells the story of a young man marred by naive love, and the album’s closer, “Agnes“, tells the heartbreaking story of a best friend lost. The most powerful track on the record, “The Other Side of Paradise“, tells the story of the main character’s abandonment by a close figure.
Knowing the backstory of the album, at first listen it may be easy to examine these narratives as if Bayley had never experienced them. However, a minute into the album those predispositions seem to fade away. The group’s tribal sounds which were established on their premiere record Zaba begin to marry with their new style of synthetic instrumentation and vocals. This combination leaves the listener lost in a beautiful harmony from start to finish. Bayley’s wispy and naturally vibrating voice cries out with a sense of urgency that makes it likely for you to forget that he is not the main character of each story.
The album’s biggest downfall is what must have been the most difficult task: track arrangement. With ten different stories, it is nearly impossible to begin to flow one into another without retaining a bit of campiness. Glass Animals seem to have recognized this difficulty, and ignored it entirely, resulting in each track beginning with a certain jarring tendency: different instrumentation, different vocal sounds, reminding the listener that this is, in fact, a new character. The album is interrupted halfway by a robotic spoken word track, recorded by Bayley on the streets of New York City, titled [Premade Sandwiches]. The track is pleasantly incompatible, and reminiscent of Radiohead’s OK Computer interlude Fitter Happier.
At the time of writing, this album has been out for exactly two full months. My last.fm account has informed me I have listened to the album, in its entirety, 25 times. This does not include its plays on vinyl, or its plays in solid rotation on CD in my car. I fully expected to be worn out of this album by now, but the fact of the matter is: No one sounds like Glass Animals right now. Their performance last month at Express Live! here in Columbus was one of my most favorite concert experiences, and brought me to tears, as has the record on multiple occasions. This album is different – an emotionally-charged standout. I simply can’t get enough. How To Be a Human Being is a strong contender for my Album of The Year, and a seriously beautiful record.