The Reclamation of Glass Animals

Image by Valentin Espey

Image by Valentin Espey

I have been listening to the album that is Zaba by Glass Animals my entire life, as much as trivialities like the fact that the album was only released five years ago (in 2014) may challenge my claim. The clean chimes and psychedelic impulses of the band’s music creates a world that sparkles with youthful sentimentality, that is impossible to measure in normal temporal metrics, magically displaced in “heavy mist,” “glitter dust,” and a “life untamed, (as their own lyrics would put it.)

The wonder of these traits mesmerized my friends and I enough in our early days of high school to warrant sounding the four person band over our speakers, eventually frequenting our playlists and becoming melodic hums in our throats. We made and consumed artful moments at an unsustainable pace to the otherworldly sounds. I ran desperately towards the “new;” new people to love, new parties, new bottles of hair dye. Glass Animals became a welcome friend I’d greet in the sunrises I stayed up all night to see in the aftermath.

Yet somewhere along the line I chased “new” so often it became very, very old. The motion of driving aimlessly, hungering for a nameless feeling in the night, feeding on the impulsive recklessness of crowds at bonfires and in basements - became habitual. But our laughter, the rhythm of songs like Walla Walla and Wyrd, and the thrill of ache kept us moving- 

until it didn’t. Self entitled family members became people that I used to know, and I moved across the country. The movie like scenes of adolescence I had lived became scenes I lived a few more times, becoming a self renewing subscription to mania and restlessness. I searched for what I had known with fervor. Anxiety propelled me to seek comfort in company, and at night I would feel exhaustion and restlessness in tandem, my body screaming for sleep while my mind yearned for the morphine of mingling amongst people, any people, anyone to replace those who were lost. Whenever I was alone, I always wished not to be. 

The same music library that used to inject me with an adolescent fever for life now produced only a throb of nauseating nostalgia. Playing tracks such as Flip, which opens with a sound frontman Dave Bayley once described as ”someone opening your head with a can opener,” resulted in a dizzying sensation of being suspended above a supercut of my own memories, as if in a floating pink bubble from the Wizard of Oz, sickeningly sweet and taunting. Whereas the cries of “I wanna go back, I wanna go back” once produced a rush of triumphant adrenaline at the crest of a night out, it evolved into a desperate prayer and a hopeless mantra in a losing battle against my own disappointment in the mundanity of the present.

I had forgotten how to be still, and instead I became irrevocably sentimental, and unreasonably frustrated with both myself and the people around me for not being something from the past. My aversion to evolution created a mindset that only permitted me to listen to albums like Zaba in melancholy, racked by a Pavolovian urge to dance in a summer scene of a movie that had long ended. The romanticization of the past became my most natural coping mechanism in response to the horror of realizing I was codependent on a town I used to convince myself I hated.

The ensuing school year and the accompanying winter (the longest I have lived through,) beat gratitude for stillness into me. Ironically, my new conservative hometown taught me self sufficiency through unwillful isolation, exposure to an epidemic of mental illness, and an atmosphere of conservatism and caustic transphobia. Every day I felt more like Sisyphus, nearly conquering my surroundings at the ring of the bell at 2:30 p.m., yet forced to consciousness the next morning to repeat the insurmountable task of surviving the day once more. 

The mental and emotional agony was burning up the lovable parts of myself and leaving a mere framework of a person. At one point I knew that it had come down to a singular truth; self love was survival. I began the hardest course of my life in my spare time, learning sentimentality for my own form, internalizing awe for the moment and not the memory. 

I memorized my face in self portraits and forced myself to romanticize my seemingly unlovable body, I taught myself forgiveness for my failures in recovering, for my setbacks and my self destructive behavior. Over many months I mastered spending the day in complete tranquility, adoring the action of existence in and of itself, for the feeling of my half dressed body chilled by the empty tile of my bathroom, for the gentle way the light warmed my laughing face in my empty room, for the caress of grass in empty, empty, empty fields.

And over a year later, in the sand of the Atlantic coast, I scrolled to the bottom of my playlists in search of music that was more summer sensitive. The happy go lucky attitude of my former favorites had been abandoned over the course of the year in favor of haphazardly created collections of songs by people like Mitski, Banks, Lorde and Joji. When I came across Glass Animals, I leaned into the sea scented swell of the breeze and listened to the careful ambience of Intruxx, and noticed the once roaring wistfulness that had possessed my body became a gentle hum. 

The music ebbed, crescendoed, and conversed with itself before disintegrating much like a stream of consciousness, like the life of both a thought and a wave. The experimentally successful cries of synthetic and material instruments reminded me of a quote from a 2017 interview given by fellow songwriter Lorde for the Guardian, “I’m trying to make stuff that looks like the inside of my brain, and how can criticism touch me as long as I know I’m transcribing my brain faithfully and vividly?” By these standards, the touching and surrealistically human music of albums like Zaba, which so adeptly mimics the fluidity of the stream of consciousness, should be considered a paragon of artistic transcription. 

In the coming days, I had fully reclaimed my adoration for the music of Glass Animals. Their restoration on the throne of my heart could not have been more well timed as I prepared my suitcase for a month in Missouri, the home state I had taken so long to love without pain.

I write this now on the couch of a friend that I only became truly close to near the end of my 16 years in Missouri, who helped me understand patience and closure, and life outside of the rushed living I had known before her. My natural hair color is growing steadily more visible for the first time since 4th grade as I no longer feel a manic craving to change any aspect of my appearance possible. I love people for their growth and their change, their drifting to and from their place in my life. I’ve reconciled the iterations of the people I’ve loved with the new ones they are today. 

I met with a person from my past, who I have not shared a genuine conversation since my abandonment of Glass Animals. Despite the immense gap of time that had separated us, we both felt a consuming sense of thankfulness for the fact that we were two people who lived through an accidentally magical period of our lives together, who now existed separately with little contact, who had struggled with this experience and yet had maintained a deep appreciation for each other through it all. There was immediate forgiveness for the necessary silence that had encroached upon our relationship for so long. 

While reconnecting with someone so now removed from yourself may typically have been awkward, we conversed as we always had, screamed the lyrics of songs on our old playlists giddily, and visited my old high school at sunset together. And when we watched the sky light up in orange I couldn’t stop thinking of a line from Cocoa Hooves, “why don’t you dance like you’re sick in your mind, why don’t you set your wings on fire.” Then we parted for the second time.