Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google+ Share on Reddit Share on Pinterest Share on Linkedin Share on Tumblr Glass Animals’ debut Zaba was an out-of-nowhere mini-sensation, full of tropical percussive flourishes and colorful lyricism–what exactly are “Peanut butter vibes”? The album was refreshing and unique in part because it felt like the Oxford quartet was free-associating as it went along, putting an emphasis on sonic, not narrative, cohesion. The opposite is true on its highly anticipated sophomore LP, How to be a Human Being, which as its title suggests, is a collection of character studies culled partially from conversations front man Dave Bayley had while the band was traveling to promote its first album. It’s a phenomenally ambitious project from a band whose debut was defined by spontaneity more than precision. Each track tells its own story, and in a way it’s the perfect concept album for the streaming age, one that can be dissected for playlist-making purposes without fully compromising its integrity. Smartly, the album is incredibly lean, just 10 tracks with an interlude. This kind of concept record could have easily led to bloat that would have magnified its misfires. The record starts at its peak with the single “Life Itself,” which incorporates the synth-centric thump of the band’s earlier sound but alters it for a record where Bayley’s lyrics are front and center. “I can’t get a job so I live with my mom/ I take her money but not quite enough/ I sit in the car and I listen to static/ She said I look fat but I look fantastic,” he sings, leaning into the delusional loser role he’s embodying. “Youth” features a faux flute riff likely drawn from Bayley’s first-rate remix of Banks’ “Drowning.” Its haunting words of encouragement come from the perspective of a mother talking to her child after a tragedy. It’s a touch heavy-handed, but when you’re flitting from character to character on each song there isn’t much room for subtlety. Still, this kind of hyper-focused writing is new for the band, and there are times where its tight, shadowy groove saves what is ultimately a tedious tale. Such is the case on “Pork Soda,” a lower class love story that doesn’t give the listener much to follow lyrically but features a knotty, thick bass line from Edmund Irwin-Singer, whose work on Zaba was consistently brilliant. “Take a Slice” walks a fine line, steamy and lurid on the verses, but with a hook that offers a glimpse into the stifled love that prompts the protagonist to decide to “fuck [their] way through college.” The synth line that muscles its way to the front doesn’t entirely work–it’s too consistent with the darkness of the verses–but it’s another ambitious cut. The band’s broadest track to date may be “Agnes,” which could easily be a radio hit if handled by the right female pop star with the right soaring falsetto. But it still fits within the sonic structure, which is reassuring. No matter what direction the band takes, the sweltering Glass Animals trademark seems indelible. The stories told on How to be a Human Being are so diverse that any listener should be able to connect with at least some of the moments shared by its characters.