Album Education: Glass Animals’ How to Be a Human Being

In listening to Glass Animals’ 2016 album How to Be a Human Being, the follow up to 2014’s jungle-inspired ZABA, the first notable change is in their style. The tropical beats and marimba are replaced by drums and synthesizers, and the album cover is a strange family portrait of sorts, featuring eleven people, each with a very distinct look. Inspired by lead singer Dave Bayley's interactions with people he met and stories they told him, How to Be a Human Being focuses on how each person is an individual with their own unique experiences, and that there is no one way to be a human being.  

Life Itself
The album opens with an intense track with a Lollywood (music from Pakistani films) sound. It starts out with heavy drums, and then introduces thin electric guitar notes. It’s about “a guy who was born a bit strange, and struggles to become part of society,” Bayley said in Variance Magazine. The character lives in his head, and has immense trouble getting out. The middle of the song is a very busy instrumental break, featuring drums, electric guitar, and what sounds like a synthesizer. Notable line: “She said I look fat, but I look fantastic.”

The second song is a mother’s message to her separated child. It is an upbeat song, yet has lots of sadness mixed in. In a Facebook post, Dave Bayley claimed that the synth in this track is a sample of an owl which he turned into an instrument. This song also starts with a heavy drum beat, with the owl synth is brought in soon after.

Season 2 Episode 3
As How to Be a Human Being is the band’s second album, and as this is the third track, it becomes “Season 2 Episode 3.” “Everyone knows someone like the character from this song,” Bayley wrote on Facebook. “Someone who does nothing. All day. Every day.” The sound is inspired by video games and cartoons, audible in the reference to Adventure Time.

Pork Soda
“Pork Soda” describes a relationship that has lost its fun. The words may appear random at first, but there is deep sadness and regret in them. The opening sounds of engines, horns, and shouts make you feel as if you’re in the middle of a street. Bayley said to Paste Magazine that “The drum sounds are made from old bins and trash pieces of metal I found around the studio. Kind of like those street drummers use.” They are meant to set the scene of the story. Bayley had his bandmates gather around a microphone to get four takes of them singing the same line in order to give the song more of a group effect.  Notable line: “Pineapples are in my head, got nobody ‘cause I’m brain dead.”

Mama’s Gun
The fifth song on the album focuses on mental health and stability. The flute samples The Carpenters’ “Mr. Guder,” which, in a Facebook post, Bayley wrote that he felt “fit the atmosphere musically.” This track tells the spooky story of a woman who cannot tell the difference between the voices in her head and reality. In an interview with EARMILK, the band shared the inspiration for the song: a taxi driver had told them about how she used to be a long haul truck driver, and would do cocaine and crystal meth in order to drive across all states in one shot. One day, she overdid it and blacked out. She suddenly woke up in a strip club, and asked where she was and what the date was. A whole month had gone by and she had no memory of it, and felt as if she had done something awful.

Cane Shuga
“Cane Shuga” is a slang term for cocaine. The subject of this song decides that he wants to give it up, as it is a threat to his relationship with his significant other. This prompts him to explore another aspect of who he’s become, but now realizes he doesn’t like. According to the band, he is “a drug dealer for the elite.”

[Premade Sandwiches]
The only spoken word track on the album, a rant about the lack of authenticity in modern society. The track describes the overwhelming junk that we are confronted with every day, and that eventually numbs us to what’s real.

The Other Side of Paradise
The eighth track on the album features loud, stacked chords which are perfect for a big arena show, made possible by 30 recordings of a synthesizer playing each note of the chord. This song tells the story of someone whose lover left to become a “hoop phenomenon.” She loves him and misses him, and hopes he will come back, but realizes that she’s settling “for a ghost.”

Take a Slice
“Take a Slice” is about the sleazy, lust-filled side that everyone has, but that only shows up in thoughts and fantasies. The song describes topics many people would prefer not to talk about, such as hard drugs, shotguns, and sex. It opens with a guitar excerpt which sounds like the end of The Strokes’ “Call It Fate, Call It Karma,” featuring voices talking and laughing over it. After someone says, “I just like sausage,” the song itself starts, kicking off with a heavy sounding synth. Electric guitar soon comes in to accompany the synth.

Poplar St
This track is about the loss of innocence in boyhood. The singer talks about his neighbor, Mrs. Moore, a promiscuous woman who seem to have slept with every man who lives on Poplar Street. When she seduces the boy, he is elated. But, despite him feeling so special in the moment, he soon realizes he means nothing to her, “just another boy who lived on Poplar street.” As the song progresses, the guitar and drums become more agitated, as to represent how the singer’s view of Poplar Street is becoming more and more twisted.

How to Be a Human Being closes with a track dedicated to a friend who is succumbing to drug use. This is a song about deep loss. The singer is reflecting on his friend’s downward spiral, how it started, and the different choices that could have been made to take a different path.

text: meera singh
visual: how to be a human being

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