The Oxford collective 4 piece of Glass Animals were an ‘upcoming sensation’ when I started this review back in May. Now that I’m revisiting it, I think it is safe to say they are more than upcoming. They have arrived. After completing a successful tour in the USA, the group return to the UK with headlines shows across the isles. However after a while on release, how does the debut stand up?
Their debut album is a collection of the sounds and ideas of the band into a cohesive slice of action. Throughout you get a sense of identity. A good act needs an identity, and they have it flowing through them. With a focus on textures and rhythms with vocals containing the most direct melody. The album stands as a cross breed of 21st century trip hop, trap influenced, electronic based with soft feminine (no offence intended, this is complimentary) vocals, afro beat and indie rock. The album becomes an entirely new genre in itself in a way, a daring thing to proclaim.
From the opening off there’s a very prominent ping like an anvil being hit with a sledgehammer. Immediately a world is created where a few select humans live in a city invaded by the jungle (or was it the other way around). Black Mambo for example relies on a simple driving drum pattern, the sort of minimal groove you might expect on a Phil Collins album. The plucked string converse with pinging distant bursts, and the descending bass fills in that space at the bottom well. There’s a descending tripped melody throughout too that conjures someone walking past branches tuned to pitches. That seems like a bizarre description, but is probably oddly accurate.
Pools was one of the singles earlier in the year. It features little flutes, chirps, descending marimba and plucked brilliance. There’s a gentle swing and heavy reliance on tuned percussion still. As the track comes to a close it whispers into the distance into the next single, Gooey. This was the first song a lot of people heard from the band. It has a very sinusoidal climbing B minor chord (for the nerds amongst us) the rest of the instrumentation joins with a tripping electronic tom pattern (think less Roland more Linn). There’s an accent single pluck that fits snuggly into the rhythm. The chorus is pure brilliance and lyrically hilarious. ‘Right my little pooh bear’ is kind of sweet if you’re not too childish. There’s a natural ebb to the lyricism where it makes little sense yet paints a wonderful picture. The entire song features mostly the same repeating sequences with touches of changes and very precise yet natural feeling. The ‘chinese’ melody that comes and goes is used tastefully and shifts from slightly distant in the right to a little closer. The track is left to fade slowly with presence being added to the ice reverb on the percussion.
Walla Walla combines those Afro Beat grooves to plucked synths and dub bass galore with the guitar tones of some post rock band. In the middle of the song it breaks into Massive Attack styled processing of shuffled drums. Like a mantra it works well as it prevents similar ideas sitting too close together and shows the band are keen to make songs that appeal individually yet stand tall with the neighbouring tracks. Throughout the chorus is a response line of ‘Take my hand’ over lines about ‘Honey Honey’, decipher what you will. Whereas Intruxx relies more on a up and down arpeggio guitar, doubled with a sloppy acoustic in the left ear. A combination of ‘Sci Fi’ synthesis tickles the air. As a mostly instrumental track it bridges the album (there are acapella vocalises and some hidden treated vocals in the background, so not fully instrumental.) The jungle is alive with animals now, slithering, waking.
Hazey is the latest single of the album and the video for it really hits the nail on the head of wildlife invading urban abandoned areas perfectly. Nothing more to say about that, listed to it below:
Toes is more indie rock based for example yet features the whirling distant sounds that make up the glue of the tracks. Featuring those tight prurient harmonies at the start, it has live drums, a looping siren noise thing. Wyrd is a little darker than the previous songs and more reminiscent of Portishead in some sense. Panned arpeggios synths, tight high pitched drums, tape delays and more. ‘You can’t run so you must hide’ – again the lyrics are enigmatic. This the only song that doesn’t immediately appeal.Cocoa Hooves has doubled guitar (one an octave below) and is joined by jangly strummed guitars. The coldest, most sparse moments on the album can be found here before the closing choruses. It uses RnB grooves with subtle clicking and hidden chords. Again this is an album about collages, rather than direct linear instrumentation. JDNT is a chillwave, almost lullabye in nature. Slow attacking pads, sparkling glockenspiels, triangles and more make it very interesting as an end to the album, even though it isn’t. There’s a final hidden track but you’ll have to buy the album to learn anything about it.
Lyrically the album is somewhere between daft nonsense that equates to Dylan Thomas-esque genius. Rather than telling explicit stories, the lyrics are a wallpaper to the collage of images. Take the excellent groove of Gooey and its lyrics about ‘peanut butter vibes’. It is an odd combination yet never feels disjointed.
The overall album is a mellow and understated piece of brilliance. It never races or throws aggression your way, yet remains groovy and dance-able. Each track paints a relaxing canvas lyrically and sonically. Whilst at times it is a little too similar, especially some of the verse vocal hooks it is one of the most promising debut albums. If the next album features a bigger distinction of personal, close moments, faster pace at times, and a general exaggeration of what makes the band great then I will expect to see Glass Animals hit stratospheric levels of brilliance.