Sucked into a musical maelstrom – Glass Animals, Brixton Academy, review

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Louche: Glass Animals frontman Dave Bayley performing at Brixton Academy
Louche: Glass Animals frontman Dave Bayley performing at Brixton Academy Credit: REX

From Radiohead and Supergrass to Foals and Stornoway, Oxford has proved to be a fertile breeding ground for guitar music. To that burgeoning list we can now add Glass Animals, a curious four-piece with more than 200 million Spotify streams. Blending buttery R’n’B grooves and intoxicating indie-rock riffs, their sound is a celestial stew of styles, with frontman Dave Bayley’s breathy falsetto its (wagyu) beef. Musically, they’ve drawn comparisons with Mercury Prize-winners Alt-J, but, in truth, they’re far more interesting.

Take their second album, How to Be a Human Being, released last August – each track is a twinkling episode revolving around a character that Bayley concocted from hundreds of strangers’ anecdotes on tour. As a record, it’s wonderfully variegated, a symphony of synths, bongos and pizzicato strings, bristling with swagger and bombast. 

That they sold out the 5,000-capacity Brixton Academy is really no surprise, then. Bounding onto the stage, the quartet – who formed in 2010 – immediately lit the fuse with the cool, seductive Life Itself. From there, heady rattles through Black Mambo and Hazey, both from 2014’s tropical-tinged LP Zaba, successfully harnessed the energetic bonhomie of the youngish crowd and never let up.

Guitarist and keyboardist Drew MacFarlane Credit: REX

Indeed, to watch Glass Animals is to get sucked into a musical maelstrom: they pull you in, fill your head with opalescent oddities, then spit you out, woozy. At the centre of it all is the 27-year-old former neuroscientist Bayley. A louche and indefatigable stage presence, he thrusts, skips, lunges, pirouettes, two-steps, rolls his shoulders.

During the excellent Gooey, for instance, he waded into the crowd, lasciviously unleashing lyrics such as “Right my little Pooh Bear” in front of a sea of mobile phones. Beside him throughout stood his school friend Drew MacFarlane, who, seesawing between keys and guitar, provided a slick undertow, cutting across the sound like a machete.

Credit: REX

“This one’s my favourite,” announced Bayley, before the drug-themed heartbreak of Agnes, in which the refrain of “You’re gone but you’re on my mind” elicited genuine emotion. If there was one cavil it was that the spleen-jangling bassline and cacophonous roars from the audience occasionally drowned Bayley out, particularly during Pork Soda, when fans held pineapples aloft in homage to the lyrics. But if you consider Glass Animals a fleeting force, think again: this menagerie is built to last.

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