How To Be A Human Being is not a collection of potential chart singles, but a montage of voices and rhythms that give way to some truly innovative ideas. An album in the truest sense of the word; something vibrant and daring and whole.
Inspired by renowned documentary makers and visual storytelling, ‘Life Itself’ was the first release along with its music video. Soon after came ‘Youth,’ a song based on a devastating story that a stranger once told the band about her son. Dave Bayley said in an interview with Paste Magazine that the strange combination of happiness, sadness, and nostalgia in the song, “kind of made me feel like my heart was being ripped apart but was also optimistic in a weird way… that combination of emotions is what this song is getting at.” The band would then reveal that the upcoming album would follow in the footsteps of singles ‘Life Itself’ and ‘Youth’ with each song telling the story of a different character, based on stories Dave had come across while on tour.
How To Be A Human Being has subtle storytelling at its roots, juggling character perspectives and motifs but without taking itself too seriously. Bayley’s mix of surreal lyricism and specific subject matter on each track creates a bizarre expanded universe around the album, aided by the cover art which features a group of actors posed as the album’s characters. Of course, it was the band themselves who cast the actors, with Bayley giving them minute details on each of their characters to further flesh out the world around the album. I can guarantee no other album on the shortlist required casting calls.
The new record is a departure from first album Zaba which, to be honest, I played to death; beyond death if you include how many times I streamed the unrivalled genius of Dave’s ‘Hazey’ remix with Rome Fortune. A collaboration that wasn’t showy, that wasn’t going to break the internet- but for those who knew and shared it around (about 1 million of us actually), it was astounding. Bass line, vocals, rework; perfection.
Whereas Zaba provided a soothing, albeit intricate, sundown soundtrack of hazy summer nights, How To Be A Human Being features a more boisterous energy and a percussion-driven sound. Zaba’s attention to detail was honed and expanded on with more layers of instrumentation, stronger grooves and overall more confident sound.
It was released at the end of August via Caroline International / Wolf Tone to rave album reviews, while BBC Radio 1 and BBC Radio 6 Music A-listed singles ‘Life Itself’ and Youth’. The band have now amassed well over 200 million Spotify streams, obliterating all expectations created by Zaba’s word of mouth buzz.
This album knocks harder than you can likely imagine and deserves to be considered as a playlist must-have. It’s bolder, brighter and the attention to detail and infinite creativity on this self-produced work is astonishing. Every sound, every theme, every moment has been carefully constructed to ensure the listener gets the best experience while remaining playful and therefore steering itself away from pretentiousness.
It’s the sort of care and attention that should be celebrated, and a bold statement that should be commended in a saturated industry, for the sheer amount of research and work that went into the album alone Glass Animals deserve to win the Mercury Prize.
Like many other of the nominees, they are authentic, they are skilled in ways you can’t even begin to scratch the surface of and they are pioneers. There aren’t many world-famous indie bands left and the vast majority of those that don’t hold a candle to Glass Animals’ originality. Instead of mourning former glories or leaving the genre to die, the Mercury Prize should honour of one of the last lights in indie.
Tickets are available to buy now for The Hyundai Mercury Prize Awards Show taking place on September 14th at the Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith. The BBC Four show will start at 9 pm featuring performances from the artists and the live winners announcement.