Image Credit: Image Credit: Polydor Records
Glass Animals’ latest album Dreamland retains the feature that has always set them apart from the rest: frontman Dave Bayley’s technicolour imagination. However, while the band’s first two albums were very surrealist in style, telling other people’s life stories through a fantastical lens, this album looks further inwards at the band themselves.
This shift was triggered by their shared trauma over the past few years. In 2018, their friend and drummer Joe Seaward had a brush with death during a cycling accident which left him with a serious brain injury. Since then, he has been on a long journey to recovery, learning how to walk, talk and play the drums once again. The accident brought an abrupt halt to Glass Animals’ rise to fame; however, they are now bouncing back with full force.
Dreamland continues with the band’s usual psych-pop style, but the narrative turns autobiographical. This first becomes clear on the track ‘It’s All So Incredibly Loud’, which Bayley has stated is about the moments of deafening silence which follow the breaking of bad news. It opens with honest lyrics that are laid bare and vulnerable, in contrast to Glass Animals’ usual chaotic polyphony. Synths build a gradual but dramatic crescendo with which come the lyrics “I’m breaking down. Whispers would deafen me now. Don’t make a sound, it’s all so incredibly loud”.
In contrast to this melancholic track, ‘Tokyo Drifting’, a collaboration with rapper Denzel Curry, takes a bold step into hip-hop. It’s playful, twisted and surrealist- like much of the band’s previous music. The lyrics tell the tale of Dave battling with his alter ego ‘Wavey Davey’, a swaggering “street fighter”. Bayley has explained that this is poking fun at an extreme imaginary version of himself who would be comfortable doing all the things that the real Dave is scared of. From this, it’s clear that Bayley hasn’t left behind his narrator complex which sees him telling other people’s stories (or his own) from a third person perspective- a key feature of what makes his lyrics so intriguing.
While Bayley seems to have let his imagination run wild with ‘Tokyo Drifting’, there is also an element of autobiography here. He grew up in Texas, where he felt uncomfortable with the hyper-masculine standards that were expected of him and other young boys. Bayley builds on this idea more clearly in the track ‘Space Ghost Coast to Coast’. Similarly, this has a strong hip-hop feel which evokes ideas of a cool and swaggering man. But it tells the story of Dave’s former childhood best friend who went on to bring a gun to school, and ponders over what led him to do this- was he brainwashed by violent video games or insecure in his masculinity?
The main tracks on the album are interspersed with short home recordings from Dave’s own childhood. For example, the voice of his mum telling him to get his shoes on and him as a young boy, talking excitedly about a toy rocket; both of which tie into the theme of lost childhood innocence. Bayley has stated that after Seaward’s accident the future was so uncertain that “all [he could] seem to do [was] start thinking about the past”. Therefore, this seems to be a very personal album which makes it an interesting progression from their previous work.
The innocence of ‘(home movie: rocket)’ is abruptly followed by the emotionally fraught ‘Domestic Bliss’ which tells the story of an abusive marriage. Continuing with the topic of relationships, ‘Helium’ is simultaneously reflective, somber and celebratory. Also, it brings a cyclical close to the album, with a warped version of the shimmering ‘Dreamland’ theme which was introduced in the title track. This motif sounds as if it’s gamelan inspired or played on a muted steel drum, and it brings the album to a hazy and meditative close, particularly as it’s in E major- the key of dreams. With a sigh of relief at the end, this gives closure and a sense of hope, as must have been felt by all when Seaward recovered.
While there are certainly a few forgettable tracks, such as ‘Melon and the Coconut’ and ‘Domestic Bliss’, Glass Animals have made a fantastic return to music with Dreamland. They have clearly grown as musicians by widening their influences with links to hip-hop, trap and grime, and drawing on more authentic and personal inspiration for their new songs.