Glass Animals — Dreamland (8/7/20)
This English band came into my life in the summer of 2014 with their full-length debut ZABA. I had never really listened to anything like it before. They created quite the immersive musical environment with mellow arrangements that used elements of tropical percussion and jungle timbres.
There was a real psychedelic aura to their debut album and it also held a shadow of mystery to it, like the band was hiding their identities under the music. This was also evident in their music videos at the time which hardly gave you a glimpse of the band.
The album delivered what has gone on to be by far their most successful single in “Gooey” (near 200 M streams on Spotify!).
They returned two years later with How To Be A Human Being in 2016 and showed off a much more open sound. Their debut was so closed in and subdued in a way, while their sophomore ripped things open for some much more direct and pop-driven songs. They held onto a quirky uniqueness though, largely due to vocalist Dave Bayley’s timidly playful performance. I came out of that album with “Youth” as a new favourite.
There was still an air of mystery to the band, who continued to stay away from the spotlight in their videos, and it wasn’t until I caught them live during the album’s tour that I got to see who they were (guess I never searched around much online).
Four years later now, we have their third album with Dreamland. Bayley is the frontman and primary songwriter for Glass Animals and with this album, I feel like I’m finally getting to know the guy. It is, after all, an album of memories and reflection.
The idea for Dreamland came during a scary time for Bayley and the band. In 2018, drummer Joe Seaward was hit by a truck while cycling in Dublin, which left him with a fractured skull, and he subsequently underwent brain surgery. There was no certainty in what the future held for Seaward, Bayley, and the rest of the band. Bayley found himself looking back at old memories for musical inspiration.
The result is an autobiographical album that gives us a glimpse at Bayley’s life, from his first memories as a kid growing up in Texas, to now.
We barely got a look at the band in the videos from their first two albums but Bayley is hiding no more, as is shown in the DIY video for the album’s opening song and title track.
“Dreamland” is a wonderfully mesmerizing way to open the album. It’s delivered gently with soothing keys and humming synths, Bayley warming the listener up as he teases some of the upcoming topics on the album.
The intro leads us into the fabulous “Tangerine.” It is easily one of the greatest songs I’ve heard from the band. There’s a clear hip-hop influence in Glass Animals’ production and you can feel it in the heavy-handed bass and snappy percussion of this track.
There’s a great easy-going flow to Bayley’s delivery through the three verses that makes for a ridiculously infectious sing-a-long. The backing strings help pull the song up in the ear-wormy hook and really add to the feeling for an amazing balance of pounding melody and atmospheric emotion.
“Tokyo Drifting” is a track you can’t ignore. It was originally released as a stand-alone single last Fall but ended up getting included on the album. It has Bayley teaming up with rapper Denzel Curry for the most in-your-face song the band has put forth.
Bayley takes on an alter-ego known as Wavey Davey. He’s an edited, cool version of himself that ignores all vulnerabilities, allowing him to perform with an added swagger that he wouldn’t normally display. It sounds built for a club with its stomping bass and it basically allows the band to indulge in the party music genre for its duration. Curry’s verse is also pretty awesome.
“Your Love (Déjà Vu)” was released as the second single and it was far more up my alley than “Tokyo Drifting.” It holds a much more familiar Glass Animals appeal to it, some of the instrumentals reminding me slightly of “Youth” off their last album.
Vocally and lyrically, the song holds a darker tone though. It’s about a toxic relationship that you can’t pull yourself away from.
We’ve got these summertime nights
Night by night, I let you eat me alive
I want you to eat me alive
I want you to eat me alive
It’s one of the band’s coolest performances, with a subdued beat, and wiggling synth keys in the chorus that you don’t hear from anyone else. He may not be taking on any cool alter-ego for this one but I am much more drawn to Bayley’s words with this track than with his Wavey Davey performance on “Tokyo Drifting.”
“Heat Waves” was released at the end of June as the album’s fourth single and it took one listen for me to see that it was pretty much the most straight-up catchy song they’ve ever done. It’s such a direct and punchy hook that, if you’re paying attention, should have you singing along by the end of your first listen.
There’s a longingness in the lyrics as Bayley reflects on a relationship he couldn’t save. The snappy pop quality keeps me from getting tied up in the melancholia of the song though. The video, however, manages to stir up some feeling as Bayley walks between houses in his East London neighbourhood during the peak of the pandemic lockdown. He’s filmed on the phones of neighbours from their windows and there’s this feeling of separated togetherness that’s quite touching.
The final single before the album’s release came with “It’s All So Incredibly Loud.” It’s the most haunting song I’ve heard from Glass Animals and it captures me in a way nothing else does on this album.
The song is meant to capture the feeling of the brief moment in time between telling someone something they don’t want to hear and their response to that. It’s that deafening silence as your relationship with that someone potentially changes forever. It does a fantastic job at capturing the tension of that moment as it slowly builds to a harrowing conclusion. The swelling strings in the song’s final moments and Bayley’s pained performance create something entirely special and wonderfully unique within 2020’s musical offerings.
“Domestic Bliss” is another incredibly touching piece of music. It looks at domestic abuse, inspired by a memory Bayley has from his childhood of witnessing a friend’s mom crying with a bloody nose after a fight with her husband. The song speaks on the helplessness you feel as a child in a situation like that.
Fight for me
We can leave, I’m beggin’, please
On my-on my knees, go to Hawaii
I can envision Bayley writing the chorus from the perspective of the child begging his mom to leave. There’s a sweet innocence to the performance where he knows something’s wrong but doesn’t really know what to do about it. It’s another great slow song from the band and I’m really happy to see them pulling off these sombre tracks with such success.
I’ve detailed seven of the twelve tracks on the album at this point. Six of those (“Dreamland,” “Tangerine,” “Your Love,” “It’s All So Incredibly Loud,” “Domestic Bliss,” “Heat Waves”) are pretty much the best I’ve heard from Glass Animals in the course of their three albums. “Tokyo Drifting” is not really my style but I couldn’t go without mentioning it due to its unique qualities compared to the rest of the album.
There’s five I’ve left unmentioned as they just don’t get much out of me.
Closer “Helium” has all the workings of a good song with moody thick synths in a fabulous chorus but it ONLY PLAYS THE CHORUS ONCE!! It’s a nice outro nonetheless, with a reprise of “Dreamland” to close, but I wish they would have made more use of the chorus.
“Hot Sugar” follows “Tangerine,” and, while honestly maybe the suavest cut from the album, its mellow pace and lacklustre melody leave me unexcited.
“Space Ghost Coast To Coast” is another very “cool” song with some interesting production choices. Its subject matter about an old childhood friend of Bayley’s bringing a gun to school is pretty shocking but I just don’t vibe with the song’s Busta Rhymes/Missy Elliot-inspired production.
“Melon and the Coconut” works as a mid-album interlude and floats right on by for me.
And there’s “Waterfalls Coming Out Your Mouth.” It’s similar in a way to “Hot Sugar” and “Space Ghost..” in that they really seem to be playing it cool. There’s some more punch to the track that helps push it slightly above those other two but overall it’s not what I’m looking for.
So, the album is kind of 50/50 for me. Six songs that I love and six that I don’t really care for. Fortunately, the amount of love I have for the six easily outweighs my lack of interest in the other six.
This is definitely my favourite album with the band. It’s been great to see a more open side to Bayley and I feel like they’ve opened more doors to their sound. It’ll be interesting to see where they take things next.