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Who stole the soul?
on 14 June 2014
If Glass Animals don't have bedrooms stuffed with late-period Rebirth of Cool compilations from the 90s, I'll eat my hat. Because that's where their collective head appears to be at on Zaba.
Once upon a time, a scene that (to the disdain of all those involved) became known as trip-hop, splintered into two. One strain grew so creamy (unchallenging and dull) it begat chillout, and faded into irrelevance. While other, more challenging acts (as chronicled on the Rebirth of Cool series from, and after, edition Phive) got all serious (and, likewise, eventually very dull) playing cerebral games with jungle angularity and time-signature-bucking jazz vocal flows.
In the latter's case, the woozy, narco beats and clever, underpinning turntablist samples were all very interesting; as were the meandering, almost stream of consciousness vocals. But by trading heart for smarts, the music also dumped its ability to move or emote, and disappeared up its own bong. And that, sadly, is where Glass Animals have slaved the formula too closely; because, while previous single Gooey is all sweet charm and engagement (as the hit that will bring people here), the rest of GA's debut album is challenging - but not in a great way.
Okay, GA's building and matching of ethno-jazz percussion loops to smart cut-up samples is admirable. But over an album's length, a formula emerges - and repeats (and repeats) to fade; a revolving exercise in style over sincerity not helped by vocalist David Bayley's tendency to kick off on a sinewy vocal and not let up. As Talking Heads once said (on the Stop Making Sense inner sleeve), singing is just a way to hold the listener's attention; but in Bayley's case, the overall feel is that he's frightened to stop singing lest he expose his music's ultimate lack of heart. Moreover, what he's going on about is rarely clear - and while a lack of sense has never stopped pop or rock music from hitting the sweet spot, whereas Bjork might be singing the telephone book for all the enraptured world knows, Bayley's seeming dadaist lyrics could actually do with some narrative hooks to justify the attention.
Compilations like Rebirth Of Cool worked because they curated acts who didn't do albums - and in Glass Animals' case, less is most definitely more.