Label: Harvest Records
It’s one thing to name-drop Roald Dahl as an artistic influence, but quite another to expect people to take you seriously when you do. Glass Animals’ debut LP, Zaba, is hardly “everything wrong with pop music”, but its misappropriation of heavy political themes like man vs. nature and the lack of balance between human culture and its environment is a clunky and soulless underpinning to a contemporary London bass record.
Like Lady Gaga citing Andy Warhol as the influence behind The Fame, much of the musing behind Zaba comes off as a screen to avoid being just another dance-centric electronic record, which is undoubtedly what it is. It certainly isn’t a bad thing to come up with a record as catchy as Zaba is, though—easy R&B queues in “Black Mambo” ooze a distinct British sexiness, and the reedy beats in “Intruxx” are particularly well produced. Glass Animals have managed to create something so utterly sleek that it’s hard to find edges to grasp onto: there are occasional blips and studio-room noise to catch and jolt the attentive listener, but the strength of each song lies in careful references and a steady groove of buttery sine waves.
What Zaba captures isn’t some kind of artistic revery. Its battering ram against the door of children’s literary themes (Dahl’s James And The Giant Peach, and William Steig’s The Zabajaba Jungle, for which the album is named) isn’t at all astonishing or even vaguely interesting outside of each song, and at its worst comes off as some kind of misguided city-dweller projectionism. An album’s content shouldn’t matter if it sounds good enough, and there are a lot of songs so streamlined they almost get away with it, like “Cocoa Hooves” and its twirling synth ribbons and smokey vocals or the straight-up retro flange on “JDNT”. For warm bedrooms or full-moon night-time mixers, Glass Animals’ blend of silky-smooth aerodynamics and relatively harmless source material makes for a great cushion—just don’t expect to get into heated debates over the merits of their lyricist.