After teaching us how to be a human being in 2016, Glass Animals have been forced to adapt to a world in 2020 they definitely wouldn’t have even considered four years ago. Following the life-altering injuries sustained to drummer Joe Seaward, the band put plans for album number three on the back burner allowing Seaward to fully recover and the band to look at ways of reinventing themselves. With the band back in full swing and COVID looking to derail things once more, Glass Animals return with Dreamland, a nostalgic look back on past lives and the trials and tribulations that have allowed the band to get to the position they’re in now.
In a time where everyone is looking back and longing for a time that isn’t all about being in lockdown, frontman Dave Bayley has used the past few years’ experiences to paint a picture on Dreamland of a band looking to evolve and not be held back by some misfortunes of the past. A man of few words and an introvert at heart, Bayley has drawn on the sounds of earlier albums, whilst embracing the limitations that may exist in the wake of Seawards rehabilitation. While debut album ZABA relied on a groove-laden traditional rock sound of slinky drums, guitar and otherworldly sampling, much of Dreamland is heavily influenced by drum pads, minimal guitar and at times an over-reliance of production.
Keeping the hip hop influences of How to Be a Human Being firmly in his back pocket, Bayley continues to embrace the use of synth and faux horns, whilst continuing to push into the realms of being first and foremost a hip hop act. Historically releasing very lyrical and wordy tracks, Bayley continues on this path as he increases his words-per-minute count and at times delivers genuine rap moments. Obviously most prevalent on “Tokyo Drifting”, the influence of Denzel Curry on the track is evident, as Bayley’s flow and rhyme is clearly peaking. While the earliest single and first taste of the album, there’s enough on “Tokyo Drifting” to suggest there’s a future in hip hop and rap for Glass Animals.
Bayley openly talks about the uncertainty in his life that preceded Dreamland, and how this uncertainty helped shape the sounds you’re hearing on the album. Touching on elements of love, hate, sexuality, heart-break and personal growth, Bayley embraces the fact that life, even at the best of times, is completely uncertain and those that think they’ve got it under control are either faking it or in for a rude shock. It’s this narrative, and a nod towards the album title, that helps set Dreamland in good stead moving forward. Built on the traditional quirkiness of sound and lyrics you’ve come to expect from the band, Dreamland is a pleasant mix of hazy production and introspective thought that at times feels a little lost, while also simultaneously fully well knowing how seriously to take itself.
The infectious “Your Love (Deja Vu)”, with its repetitiously basic drum beat, when combined with the chorus production and switch up throughout the bridge, is delicious from the start and easily one of the standout moments on the album. There’s a level of desperation and longing heard on “Heat Waves”, a song that will undoubtedly be a live favourite and staple once gigs start up again. Relying once more on the staple drum machine beat, “Heat Waves” is sweet and magnetic in its delivery, whilst not breaking too much new ground.
Title track “Dreamland” is spacious and glorious from start to stop, as Bayley’s vocals float up high on another level, as the song embraces a definite pop vibe. It’s simple but no less defined than any of the other moments on the album. The song tries its best to look back to simpler and easier times as Bayley converses with another person throughout, before re-entering the consciousness of 2020. Following on the spaciousness of “Dreamland” but delivering on an entirely better level, “It’s All So incredibly Loud” is the most triumphant moment on Dreamland. Borrowing an almost Safia-esque vibe, it is four minutes of lush, atmospheric production and songwriting. Once more, “It’s All So Incredibly Loud” shows a side of Glass Animals that you’d be more than happy for them to pursue into the future.
If there is a drawback to Dreamland it is the lack of that one emotive crowning moment on the album that will continually draw you back in time and time again. Like the closing emotional brilliance of “Agnes” on How to be a Human Being, Dreamland lacks that point in the album that will well and truly ruin you every time. While it could be argued that “Domestic Bliss” and “It’s All So Incredibly Loud” are those songs, Dreamland falls just short of what it’s predecessors delivered holistically.
Released in a genuinely weird time, Dreamland allows the listener to escape the mundane nature of 2020 for the briefest of times. While not their best release, there’s enough nostalgia and progression on Dreamland to suggest the future of Glass Animals is nowhere as bleak as this year has been so far.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Dreamland is out Friday 7th August, 2020.