Album Review: Glass Animals - ‘Dreamland'

Rousing personal anecdotes are set to shimmering dream-pop melodies in the latest offering from Oxford quartet Glass Animals. Jermain Ethell delves beneath the scorching, bass-induced pop-trip Dreamland, and into the prismatic mind of front man and visionary, Dave Bayley.

Glass Animals are finally back after a turbulent couple of years with the follow-up to 2016's widely acclaimed How to Be A Human Being. A definite evolution for the band lyrically, Dreamland sees the band provide a unique insight into their past, prompted by the hardship of looking to the future during a time riddled with uncertainty. As a result, we have an album perfectly suited to the present times.

For Glass Animals the past couple of years have been far from a smooth ride. Following drummer Joe Seaward’s cycling accident in July 2018, the future of the band was lurched into question. Born out of this time of great despair and uncertainty, their third record Dreamland sees the band move away from the biographical-style story telling seen in their Mercury Prize-nominated second album How To Be A Human Being. Instead the band adopt a more autobiographical style against a backdrop that sonically pushes the bands boundaries further, whilst remaining unmistakably Glass Animals.

With the arpeggiated chiming motif in the introduction of opener and title track Dreamland, we are invited into a world of Bayley’s design. In its own right it is a kaleidoscopic song featuring some of the distorted vocals that have become commonplace in the Glass Animals discography, however, where it really excels is in introducing the themes of the record. As front man Dave Bayley so deftly puts it: “… the words here could be considered a table of contents for the album as a whole. A little peek into what’s coming.”

This album is assuredly their most personal yet and, at its core, explores the complicated nature of relationships. Space Ghost Coast to Coast, against a backdrop of trap or hip-hop inspired drumbeats – possibly informed by time Bayley spent working with 6lack, Joey Bada$$ and Khalid, discusses a childhood friendship that ultimately ends with them going separate ways (“I go my way and you go yours”).

"The call and response between the verses of Melon and the Coconut tells the tale of an old relationship where expectation has been superseded by reality"

Released all the way back in November 2019, the next track Tokyo Drifting was our first taste of new material and it has proved to be a blinder. Featuring a verse – the build-up to which I anticipate will be incredible in a live setting – from American rapper Denzel Curry, it is a song about a manufactured alter ego (“Wavey Davey”) that is capable of doing things he [Bayley] would not normally do. It’s another point in the record where he harkens back to the lyrics of the opener (“You’ve had too much of your digital life”) and suggests that there is a down-side to the digital versions of ourselves that we create to hide our vulnerabilities. This is a song that is sure to go off in a big way at live shows when they’re allowed to happen again.

The call and response between the verses of Melon and the Coconut tells the tale of an old relationship where expectation (“When it all first started I thought we would grow old”) has been superseded by reality, and not being quite sure how it happened (“How did this happen when we were so close? How did this all go so Pete Tong?”). Your Love (Déjà Vu) is, contrastingly, a track about returning to a relationship over and over again despite knowing you will always be disappointed by it, and finding some kind of comfort in that certainty.

The climax of Waterfalls Coming Out Your Mouth sounds similar to the drop on Cane Shuga and features the same playful lyrics that characterise the previous record. It’s All So Incredibly Loud and Domestic Bliss are two of the hardest hitting tracks on Dreamland. The former is a haunting track laden with soft, reverb-soaked vocals that drift in and out of sharp focus, and embodies the silence that falls in the moments right after delivering bad news to a loved one - the immense pain that accompanies such a moment perfectly orchestrated as the song swells to an emotional climax.

Intersected by one of the interludes featuring audio from home movies with Dave’s mother, ((home movie: rockets)) is an affecting transition into the latter - a devastating take on domestic violence in a relationship from the perspective of a third party. “Fight for me” urges Bayley, begging for the person to leave a situation that is clearly causing them harm.

"The closer, Helium, feels like coming up for air after a deep dive into Bayley’s psyche"

The penultimate track Heat Waves features distorted vocals that resemble Premade Sandwiches from this album’s predecessor. It’s a song about the pain that comes from realising a relationship is not working but not wanting to let it go (“I don’t want to be alone, you know it hurts me too, you look so broken when you cry, one more and then I’ll say goodbye”).

The closer, Helium, feels like coming up for air after a deep dive into Bayley’s psyche and personal experiences; an emotional rollercoaster, it is perhaps Dreamland’s most intimate offering. Featuring reprisals of motifs heard throughout the record such as the introduction of Dreamland or the eerie chords of It’s All So Incredibly Loud, it’s a track that brings the album full circle and in the final minute, features a sort of rewind of the record with home-video audio clips overlaid.

'Welcome To Dreamland' tour tickets are available now.

For a record that looks to the past to avoid the potential pain of looking to the future, there is no shortage of hard-hitting, immensely personal vignettes into Bayley’s life. Ultimately, Glass Animals are yet to take a wrong step, and with Dreamland they have expanded upon an already solid discography whilst furthering Bayley's already stellar production quality. With the recent announcement of their Welcome to Dreamland tour scheduled for May 2021 it’s only a matter of time before we get to see the band in action on some of the biggest stages they’ve played to date, including a stop at London’s prestigious Alexandra Palace. Where they go from here is anyone’s guess, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see them topping festival bills in the near future.

Dreamland is out now on Polydor Records and is available to buy/stream online. Glass Animals embark on a European tour next year, stopping off in Nottingham at Rock City on 23rd May 2021. Tickets are available now.