Oxford’s maverick noiseniks Glass Animals, touted by master chart-puppeteer Paul Epworth (Bloc Party, Adele, Florence + The Machine and many more), unloaded clip upon clip of awesome right to our temple last year. They presented us with a genuinely unique premise, stuffed with the warped tie-dye drones of psychedelia, the sultry slither of noir&B, a dash of soul, a jigger of synthpop and elements of grandiose baroque-rock, trip-hop and ‘90s pop. No one else really sounds like Glass Animals, who wield, quite majestically, both astute hind and foresight. They are, undoubtedly, one of the most exciting British bands for a long time.
No pressure on their debut LP, ZABA, then.
“Cocoa Hooves”, avec slug-addled visuals, was, for many, the introduction to the then elusive recluses. It swirls and pops, clicks and snaps, a whirling, twirling vortex of cracks. Imagine being sucked into the vacuum of Wonderland’s surreal, quasi-nonsense, chewed up by the nightmares of purest acid; it’s fever-dream delirious, a narcotised stream-of-consciousness. The four-piece may have been enigmas, but with something like “Cocoa Hooves” (along with “Gooey” and “Black Mambo”), no one would let them remain that way for long.
Continuing on that Wonderland theme, Glass Animals’ ZABA feels remarkably 19th century. This sort of thing wouldn’t have ever existed, not in Queen Victoria’s wildest fantasies, but there’s a anachronistic Jay Z x The Great Gatsby, vibe – perhaps it’s in the delightfully overwrought sound, akin to Dickens’ over-description. Perhaps it’s the skeevy, dingy opium den aura they cultivate. Perhaps it’s that their sound is the aural equivalent of crushed velvet, of repressed sexuality caused by carnal, primal, lascivious raunch that penetrates every throbbing beat and squelchy synth hum. Considering their sound is so overtly forward-thinking, toying with texture, dynamics and doing to musical styles what Uri Geller does to spoons, it’s impressive they can summon these vivid sepia-toned visions.
“Wyrd” clanks like those nice fellas who did the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony, there’s synth-strings plucked ripe from the Orient, dubstep wob-wob-wobs and alt-J basslines. Indeed comparisons to alt-J have already been rife in recent months when discussing Glass Animals, but aside from a vague similarity in the vocals, it’s a hackneyed link. For a start, Glass Animals seem ruddy dangerous – not enormously, mind, but enough to warrant crossing the road to avoid them. There’s a Pete Doherty chic to “Hazey”, an ants under the skin, a pallid, clammy flesh and jittery Mackenzie Crook-eyes nervousness; it’s not that they’re addicts, but there’s a spiv-ness to them.
The lyrics that Glass Animals proffer are cryptic like Zodiac taunts. The ciphers are so cloaked that not even the whole band knows the words, let alone the meaning. What we can glean is that the band are silver-penned, manipulating the corners of language into contorted poetry that you really have to dissect to garner any meaning. It allows for a personal reading that some pop doesn’t give; it’s devilishly ambiguous.
ZABA is one of the strongest debut albums of the year so far. It’s totally invigorating – from the tropi-pop escapades of “Pools” to the shattered ‘90s soul in “JDNT” – and the quartet provide us with a sophisticated-palate blend of sonic pleasures. It veers between darkly erotic and plain brutal on a whim, and plummets us into the depths of Edward Lear’s subconscious with gleeful bloodlust. Glass Animals have a Loki-an view of humanity, torturing our psyche one moment and massaging it in the next breath. It’s phenomenally exciting to have that sense of danger back in music. It’s subtle, malevolent and utterly charming noise, and if Glass Animals turned out to be buttering you up with a cannibalistic lick of the lips, you’d let them gnaw away.