People are special. Biologically, no person is exactly identical to another. Even on less biological grounds, personality and emotion are what keep humans from being soulless sacks of bones, muscles, and skin.
It can be overwhelming to think about how there are over seven billion completely unique human beings living on this one planet, and even more if you take the dead into account as former people who were one-of-a-kind in their lifetime.
It’s also a concept that must really pique the interest of Glass Animals frontman Dave Bayley. During the band’s massive world tour in support of 2014’s Zaba, Bayley recorded hundreds of conversations with people from all walks of life. After using these recordings to build his own set of characters as depicted on the album’s cover, the concept of How To Be A Human Being was formed.
In an interview with “Vinyl Me, Please,” Bayley went into just how intricately these characters are written.
“For each character, I have everything about them written down. Basically these huge poster size sheets with what their furniture is, what their house looks like, what clothes they wear, how they act, what they think about, what they do on their spare time.”
The band even went to the length to design personal websites for the two characters that star separately in the first two singles.
The effort put into creating these personalities shows.
Human Being is a lyrical intrigue from front to back. Some tracks may have some vaguely similar major themes, but each track shows off its protagonists own eccentricities in their four-minute runtime. Case in point, “Life Itself,” which centers on a socially inept, nerdy man (who according to his personal website is named Chuck Rogers) living in his parents’ basement, uses the line “Thought that I was northern Camden's own Flash Gordon” to express hopes of becoming bigger than oneself.
Wonderful indirect characterization is used throughout “Season 2 Episode 3,” as great lyrics about having cereal for lunch, eating mayo from the jar, and checking your phone in three-day-old clothes, being delivered in Bayley’s wispy vocals perfectly paint a picture of a lazy, couch potato and how her behavior affects her relationship with her significant other.
The laid back beat that incorporates synths and sound effects reminiscent of ‘80s-era video games strengthens the mood of this album highlight even more. It’s the prime example of how well Glass Animals craft characters through the power of music on Human Being.
Just like the cast of characters that inhabit this record, the music accompanying their stories is extremely animated. “Life Itself” is driven by hard-hitting tribal beat that pulls just as much inspiration from world music as it does from hip-hop, and is the closest this album gets to sounding like Zaba.
How To Be A Human Being is vastly more varied than its predecessor, and for the better. But if there was one reoccurring musical theme, it’d be the more pronounced influence hip-hop has on the production, a change of pace that goes over incredibly well.
Human Being is filled with colorful, creative, and sometimes nutty beats. The exception to this is “Take a Slice,” a mess of a track that’s too bombastic for its own good. The following track pulls off the inclusion of bluesy guitar with much more success. On the other side of the spectrum is “Mama’s Gun,” a beautifully climactic song that elevates the somber story of a woman with schizophrenia forced by her disorder to kill the ones she loves to a tear-jerking emotional experience with the wonderful blend of flute, choral vocals, and one of Bayley’s best performances behind the mic.
Unlike any typical concept album, How To Be A Human Being doesn’t stick to a single story or theme. In fact, it does the exact opposite. A song about a mother lamenting her son’s young death and all the memories he could’ve made later in life is followed by a track dedicated to lazy stoners. But this lack of solidarity answers a question very similar to the album’s title: what’s it like to be a human being? It’s funny, sad, sexy, and gleeful. It’s filled with mental illness, social awkwardness, standing in lines, and cookie coasters. It's all of these things at the same time. This is why How To Be A Human Being might understand life more than most albums in 2016. Life isn’t all pain and suffering, nor is it always a blessing. It’s a mixed bag, and you're going to have to deal with the good and the bad.