Single Review: Glass Animals – Life Itself

By on Wednesday, 18th May 2016 at 11:00 am
 

Growing up is hard to do. And it’s painful as hell if you’re going through emotional abandonment and excessive parental pressure. (So can random track or album drops with no warning to music editors, for that matter.) Oxford’s Glass Animals became more massive in Australia and America than the UK on the strength of their 2014 debut album ‘Zaba’, released on Paul Epworth’s Wolftone label. It was one of those curious phenomenons that I had predicted but when it actually happened, I still had trouble believing it.

With their nods to hip hop and urban music and frontman Dave Bayley’s self-professed love of Kanye West, I figured it would be a given they’d be embraced in my home country. Monday, after a long wait, they released new material in the form of single ‘Life Itself’, purported to be on the second Glass Animals long player. If Bayley’s comments “I still feel very odd listening to these strangely personal songs” are to be believed, the band’s trajectory, the highs and lows of being in a band, and the eventual confidence that rises from it appear to be chronicled on this first taster.

The first thing sonically you’ll notice is that overall, the music definitely takes a louder, centre stage role. While on 2014’s ‘Zaba’, singles like ‘Black Mambo’ and ‘Gooey’ were about setting a chill vibe, there is no mistaking on ‘Life Itself’ that it is forcing you to focus all your attention on it and nowhere else. The single begins almost like the start of a film, with harp chords, an Oriental melody on koto and instrumental clicks, but that doesn’t last too long. From there, there’s rhythmically a nice undercurrent of bouncy beats similar to that heard on ‘Zaba’ and engaging shakes of a jingle stick, but they sadly kind of get lost in the otherwise forward nature of the track, which includes borderline cacophonous synth lines.

Bayley explained the song to American indie music magazine Under the Radar this way: “It’s a guy who was born a bit strange, and struggles to become part of society. Because of that he spends more time alone in his own head, getting stranger, and it becomes an awful cycle of doom.” Looking closer at the lyrics, the first verse chronicles this character Bayley plays, a bloke whose father had a certain, probably macho life planned out for him that directly flies into the face of his son’s “gentle human” nature. In verse two, the bloke’s mum is introduced (using “mom” in American parlance), who notes her son’s inability to get and hold down a job and criticises his physical appearance.

The protagonist grows up and not into the image expected by his father. His own mother considers him a bum and his “grandmama” says he looks wasted. But in his own head, the son thinks he’s grown up just fine and he looks “fantastic”. Who’s wrong, and who’s right? Where’s the line between keeping up with the Joneses and being yourself? While there’s never been great finesse with word choice in Glass Animals songs, there is a strange and intriguing poignancy to the lyrics of ‘Life Itself’ hiding behind its over-the-top instrumentation. It’s like a massive pair of neon-coloured Dior sunglasses are sat in front of the eyes whose heart you want to discover.

6.5/10

Glass Animals’ second album is named ‘How to Be a Human Being’, but we don’t have a release date yet and it’s expected sometime in late summer on Caroline International / Wolftone. Based on the reveal of ‘Life Itself’ this week, we’re assuming we’ll be getting all the nitty-gritty details in due course. They have one UK show – at London ICA on the 15th of June – planned for this year and no others; they’re also scheduled to perform on the 20th of June at Berlin Kantine Am Berghain. For TGTF’s archive on Glass Animals, including our coverage of them at SXSW 2014 and Liverpool Sound City 2014 when it seemed barely anyone in the world knew who they were, go here.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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