San Francisco – In high school, I remember a few friends of mine and I had this crazy notion that we should start a band. We failed, of course, but I couldn’t help thinking that other people must feel the same way. The fresh-faced lads of the UK’s newest experimental posse, Glass Animals, have taken up the reigns of young hearts everywhere.
Dave Bayley, the group’s head songwriter and frontman, approached his longtime friends—Drew MacFarlane, Edmund Irwin-Singer, and Joe Seaward—with some demos he had composed just after they finished school. After a multitude of EPs and singles they released over the past couple of years, the band now has their debut LP (produced by Paul Epworth): ZABA.
Much of the album’s lyrical content shies away from easy interpretation. It’s almost impossible to discern fantasy from reality, which transforms this collection of songs into a perplexing fun-house mirror. Many of the albums lyrics are oxymorons or juxtapositions that ensnare the listener. For instance, the second track, “Black Mambo,” reads like an unfortunate tale of a venomous lover and his cruel tendencies; however the song skillfully utilizes crafty imagery and meticulously composed music to emulate the dangers of drug addiction through a simulated, sonic overdose.
“Pools” uses far more imperative instrumentation—especially in terms of percussion—to convey an echoing message of desperation: ‘Sink my little soul for you/And talking/I said I’ve been through a lot of noise.’ It is a frantic, merciless surrender to one’s own shortcomings, yet Bayley repeatedly retaliates back to himself with a coy ‘I smile because I won’t do.’
ZABA’s lead single, “Gooey,” is perhaps the tamest track on the album, as vibratory tones drift around Bayley’s falsettos as he coos to the listener: ‘Truth be told I’ve been here/I’ve done this all before/I tell you go gloom/I cut it up and puff it into bloom.’ The song’s message of the relatability of emotions is brilliantly helped by silky accompaniment.
Some of the songs on this album are a little disturbing. The lyrics, at times, conjure images of twisted lunacy, sometimes making little to no sense at all; but oh, do you feel something. I could go on and on about each song- how I adore the masked tenderness in the lovelorn chimes of “Hazey,” how the frothy sounds of “Toes” document one person’s (or all persons’) indignation towards the kinds of unfair snap judgment we all face, or how “Cocoa Hooves” begs for a reason to hate the one you love when that love has done nothing wrong. These are all feelings that I can relate to. And if I can, there’s a good chance that you can too.
While the lyrics penned for ZABA exhibit exquisite grace and eloquence in their poetic placement and towering metaphor, there is an inherent madness to them that stealthily obscures itself amongst the quartet’s artful musical experimentation. Dave Bayley’s luminescent vocals are hardly indistinguishable, which can sometimes make things difficult when putting together an album that strives to be unique (especially as a debut). All of the musicians flawlessly help shade and tint the grandly vivid mural that makes up the sweeping sonic landscape of this album.
Glass Animals had a vision when they created ZABA. The enigmatic nature of this album is only matched by its rampant originality, and both of these facets are a testament to the brilliance of the album.
So now here I am, writing this review, singing the praises of a group of four high-school buddies who one day just decided to make music together. It’s sometimes remarkable how drastically our lives change, day-to-day, month-to-month, year-to-year. Glass Animals’ ZABA will undoubtedly stand the test of time as a pillar of experimental music, one which many groups and artists will reference in the future.