Album of the Week: “Zaba” by Glass Animals
How have I not written about Glass Animals yet!? Since 2017, I have been in love with the silky, enticing music of British foursome Glass Animals. This year, the band’s newest release blew up on TikTok, but I want to discuss their first album instead. As much as I love Glass Animals, the album that has become TikTok famous is their least impressive release. “Zaba,” their first album, is their true masterpiece.
Released in 2014, “Zaba” marked the debut of Glass Animals as kingpins in the alternative scene. The album is best known for blessing the alternative music world with the song “Gooey.” All 11 tracks on “Zaba” are smooth and create a cohesive concept album. All three albums by Glass Animals are concept albums, but “Zaba” provides the most interesting concept, since it does not revolve around human stories. Rather, “Zaba” explores the exotic parts of nature. This concept manifests itself not just in lyrics, but also through the integration of animal sounds throughout the album. Lead singer, David Bayley, recorded the sounds of birds chirping and other natural sounds outside of his house and decided to incorporate these into the songs on “Zaba.”
Glass Animals’ musical style has always compelled me: the balanced influence of both psychedelic rock and R&B. The amalgamation of these unlikely genres gives Glass Animals a sound all their own; “Zaba” is the album in which this unique sound is most prevalent. “Zaba” even takes things a step further with the inclusion of tropical drums as each song paints a picture of a jungle through music. The album has also garnered praise due to its dream pop sound; songs are hazy, sensual, and artful. It is very rare that an entire album can penetrate the mind and set a mood, but “Zaba” does precisely that.
“Zaba” is a piece of minimalist music at heart, making its charm all the more impressive. David Bayley’s vocals are the most minimalist aspect of the album, as his voice ghosts effortlessly over each track. Bayley’s voice is not modified, but instead shows off its naturally breathy and enchanting quality. It is his unique vocal quality that makes the minimalism of “Zaba” so intriguing. I have a great appreciation for unconventional singing voices, and Bayley’s is one that I adore; it is milky and gorgeously bridled.
All eleven “Zaba” tracks are performed at lullaby tempos: nothing is much faster than “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” However slow the songs may be, they are far from boring. Instead, it is the lack of upbeat tunes that makes the album such a standout. It is rare for an album of solely slow songs to remain engaging and unique, but Glass Animals is able to accomplish this on “Zaba.” Even the slowest songs on the album include nuances that give them personality; some are a bit bouncier than others, some are drum-heavy, and some border on acoustic. For a slow album, this is one piece of music that harps on a lot of bass!
Conceptually, “Zaba” is unlike any other album. Many concept albums are centered around human relationships, stories of the past, or even artistic concepts. Thus, the animalistic concept of “Zaba” sets it apart from others in the world of concept albums. It is interesting to consider the layers of nature that are explored in the lyrics of “Zaba,” even the sensuality of the jungle is touched on in a number of songs. While obscure, the concept of “Zaba” does nothing to distract from the beauty of the music itself. If anything, the conceptual obscurity complements the musical design.
My all-time favorite song on the album is “Gooey.” While I am typically not as fond of singles, this one has everything I look for in a song. It is lyrically compelling, the beat is moving, and overall, it is a fun song to listen, study, or dance to! “Gooey” is also special to me because it happens to have been my introduction to Glass Animals. What a great way to get into a band! “Gooey” is an interesting example of juxtaposition in music, the band has described the song as being about youth and naivety, while the lyrics are set to a sexy instrumental. There are many layers in this song, including lyrical meaning, which I very much love in a song. I consider “Gooey” to be more like a poem than a song, as it always gets me thinking abstractly.
It is insane to think that at one point, I did not find “Zaba” as amazing as I do now. Though I am going to give the album a five star rating, I will admit that it may take a couple of listens before you will truly appreciate its beauty. “Zaba” is conceptually unique, lyrically enigmatic, and musically artful. These traits make it an outstanding album in my book. Give it a listen or two. I promise that there will be something for everyone to fall in love with on “Zaba.”