Glass Animals, Local Natives, and the Double Edged Sword of Alternative-Indie

Anna Kaplan

photo by Timothy Toda

I hopped on my American Airlines flight from London to back to the USA in early August, and was greeted by a semi-familiar tune. After listening to a few seconds of it and realizing it was Local Natives’ single “Villainy”, I was struck: what is this doing on repeat on a worldwide commercial airline? Before this, I was used to only hearing it on my Spotify and my favorite indie radio station. Fast-forward to now, and I’ve been hearing all of the Local Natives singles drift from all the stations I listen to effortlessly, crossing genre lines over indie, alternative, and pop. They’re not the only ones either- Glass Animals have smoothly accomplished this feat as well.

Alternative and indie were almost inseparable and nearly synonymous just a few years ago. Now that seems like a previous life. With alternative becoming more and more doused with pop, even sometimes to the point of being pop music in disguise just a couple of months before it makes it to the popular radio stations. Indie, respectfully, has begun to hustle as far away as possible from the word pop- forcing alternative and indie to drift further away than ever. That is, until Glass Animals and Local Natives’ new records surfaced, where we are now reminded that crossover between the two genres exists, and can bring them closer together than ever before.

Glass Animals’ sophomore effort, How to Be a Human Being, released just two weeks ago on August 26th, is a clear departure from their debut record, Zaba. While Zaba was the product of being first time musicians, How to Be a Human Being was born from two years of nonstop touring, and the endless amount of stories associated with playing a different city every night. The band took it upon themselves to record some of these stories on their iPhones, and many of these recordings becoming the direct canvas the songs were constructed from. Without abandoning sounds that borderline weird and strange (see “Take a Slice” and “Cane Shuga”) and one-liners that shouldn’t work but do (“My girl eats mayonnaise from the jar when she’s gettin’ blazed”, from “Season 2 Episode 3”), the subject matter takes a full 360 from the previous record. Whereas Zaba doesn’t seem to dwell too much on what the songs are saying as long as it sounds good, How to Be a Human Being’s entire premise is to create 11 separate characters through the lyrics. To name a couple, “[Premade Sandwiches]” provides the most uncomfortable rap but contains a striking social commentary on the artificial nature of the world today, and “Youth” flutes its way through a parent’s devastating story about her son.  As ambitious as it sounds, and however skeptical you may be about this record sounding cohesive, Glass Animals pulls it off almost effortlessly.  Lead vocalist Dave Bayley’s voice shapeshifts from one persona to the next, and the original familiarity of unfamiliar sounds established on Zaba extends its reach onto this release as well. However, the notions of humanity, living, and youth that are seen over and over again on this record are unavoidable if you’re using these types of memories as a source of inspiration.

The power of youth, and the simplicity of human interactions are explored heavily on LA’s Local Natives’ third record, Sunlit Youth, as well. Released on September 9th with songs like “Ellie Alice” and “Jellyfish” that describe day-to-day interactions between young people, again we see a striking contrast from their previous record, Hummingbird. Sunlit Youth is crafted with sweeping guitars and alternating vocalists, allowing each song to take on its own persona, but doesn’t leave behind the care, attention, and generosity shrouded by youthful relationships on each one as well. The idea of youth extends to the power behind the younger generations on “Fountain of Youth, “ when they exclaim, “I have waited so long, Mrs. President” and closes with nearly every member of the band shouting, “We can do whatever we want, we can say whatever we need!” “Masters” takes a softer approach, while the words don’t stop questioning injustices within our society- most notably the line “unafraid to call yourself a feminist.” The track ends with “the masters want change, but we’re our masters now”- Local Natives’ playing their riskiest hand by putting all of their faith in the rising generation. They’re not bluffing either- in an interview with Consequence of Sound the band said, ““I think the minds and hearts of younger generations have a clearer idea of what the world needs from them,” effectively turning this album into more than just sounds, but rather an hour long political statement.

Both of these albums are easy listens that glide from each song to the next, but have so much more underneath. Satisfying both the sound for alternative (these albums are sonically huge), and the artful expertise for indie (both have accompanying visuals), these songs swim from station to station with ease, a feat accomplished by few in music today. Greats like M83 and Tame Impala have managed to become a crossover staple in most music listeners’ library, and Glass Animals and Local Natives seem to be following the same path. Sounding good isn’t enough anymore to be both alternative and indie- there has to be a level of complexity, which is especially seen in the form of dealing with life head on. It’s a sign of strong artistry with a universal vision- one that seeks to progress and transform what we accept to be true. Whether it’s how to be a human being or how to inspire the youth to change the world, artists like Local Natives and Glass Animals are using their medium to fuel their ideals, and are doing it in an accessible and addicting way. Alternative and indie may seem to be drifting further away than ever, but there’s still bands like Glass Animals and Local Natives, who are bringing the two closer than ever- along with the rest of the world.

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