Since Glass Animals appeared on my radar last year, what has most impressed me about them, was their ability to create vaporous textures for their songs to live in. On the surface, they are an indie band but as their collaborations with Chicago’s Jean Deaux and their single ‘Gooey’ shows, they’ve more in common with the rise of electronic R&B than any Oxford rock luminaries – Radiohead or Foals, for example.
ZABA, the band’s debut album pushes their atmospheric agenda into a cohesive release. Their M.O. is slinky minimal pop, not a million miles from Alt-J, but more exotic and worldly than their counterparts. But they do share a common parlance in how they translate their traditional band setup into an otherworldly place.
‘Black Mambo’ uses guitar scrapes and unfurling bass and keys against simple drum hits for ambience, ‘Pools’ has a tropical R&B feel and ‘Hazey’ has a percussive soulful R&B lean. Rhythmically, the album stays minimal, with Dave Bayley’s hushed R&B vocals a constant and the production qualities of Timbaland are favoured over anything that specifically places the band alongside their aforementioned peers. ZABA is more exotic than that.
It’s hard to know specifically what Bayley’s singing about so cryptically – but he says the lyrics “tackle the humanisation of nature and human interference with nature”.
Tropical rainforest vibes are also alluded to in the title, taken from singer Bayley’s favorite childhood story, William Steig’s The Zabajaba Jungle.
Executive production by Paul Epworth with Bayley producing ensures that level of aural consistency, meaning ZABA which is likened to “a backdrop of man-made wilderness,” according to the band directly, is awash with ambient and alluring songcraft.
Niall Byrne is the founder of the most-influential Irish music site Nialler9, where he has been writing about music since 2005 . He is the cohost of the Nialler9 Podcast and has written for the Irish Times, Irish Independent, Cara Magazine, Sunday Times, Totally Dublin, Red Bull and more. Niall is a DJ, founder of Lumo Club, event curator and producer of gigs, parties & events.