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Dreamland - Glass Animals

There’s not a dull moment on Dreamland. The third album from Oxford-based quartet Glass Animals, it’s their most cohesive and engaging release yet. It’s also their most personal, as front-man Dave Bayley has explored in recent interviews. “My mum’s always been like ‘think of everyone else first’, but I guess a couple of things led me to writing about more personal stuff,” he told Pilerats. It shows on the record, with every track recounting personal, and sometimes deeply sad, stories from his life. Intertwined with these are ‘home movie’ tracks, which really tie the whole album together. Dreamland leans into its emotional roots, dripping with nostalgia, and is perfect for this time of collective turmoil.

It’s been a long road for Glass Animals. Friends since childhood, they formed a band in 2010 and released their first EP in 2012. Their debut album Zaba took the world by storm with singles ‘Gooey’ and ‘Pools’ inescapable for much of 2014, and sophomore album How To Be A Human Being followed in 2016, with each of its eleven songs representing a different character. It was a triumphant return, snagging a Mercury Prize nomination and widespread acclaim. But as the wave from that album was cresting, they were hit with an unexpected tragedy: in July 2018, their drummer Joe Seaward was hit by a truck while riding his bike, resulting in a broken leg and fractured skull that impacted his brain. A band with the world at their feet had to drop everything, with massive uncertainty surrounding Joe’s life, let alone his musical future. Bayley described this period as incredibly difficult, saying “I didn’t know if he was going to be ok...I wasn’t really even thinking about this band thing, but that was also up in the air.”

With Seaward relearning almost everything after the accident, from speaking and eating to playing the drums again, the band wasn’t at all focused on releasing another record. "It was baby steps to begin with. Talking was first, which took a while. Then thinking, reading, walking. I had to start from scratch,” Seaward told Triple J in 2019. After a few months, however, he was back behind a drumkit, and the period of reflection for Bayley during this time resulted in a lot of the material on Dreamland.

The band played their first shows back in Australia in late 2019, releasing the first single from the album ‘Tokyo Drifting’ around the same time. ‘Tokyo’ is a jump from previous releases from the band: a collaboration with rapper Denzel Curry, it’s a fast-paced track driven by electronic beats and Curry’s frantic flow. Bayley said the track was about his “fucked-up Sasha Fierce” alter-ego, an extremely confident version of himself named Wavey Davey. It was a strong return for the band, setting the scene for what was to come.

2020 had other plans though, obviously, and the band was in the middle of a U.S tour when COVID-19 struck. They returned to the UK as the live music industry shut down worldwide. In the lead up to Dreamland Bayley turned to the internet to fill his time during lockdown, posting a series of covers of songs from Nirvana, Lana Del Rey and more. What stood out most about these covers was that Bayley was paying attention to what the people wanted, something that Glass Animals has always done so well. He covered requests made in the comments of previous videos, and the band interacted with listeners on Twitter. Despite not being able to tour, the band found a way to establish that connection with their fans in anticipation of the album, from the covers on YouTube and Instagram to a gig in front of their own billboard in London. This carried on as the record was released, with the Dreamland promotional material encouraging interactivity and fan-created content. The open source website created for the album harks back to the early days of the internet, with special content for fans who dig deep enough. The band also held a remix competition of single ‘Heat Waves’, with 19-year-old winner Shakur Ahmad having his funky remix of the song officially released alongside Diplo’s remix. However, this barely scratches the surface of the fan-oriented content and products released by the band for Dreamland, making it a truly immersive experience for those who wanted it.

Dreamland allowed Glass Animals to reach a new level of intimacy with their fans despite being further away than ever physically. This amplified the emotional connection listeners had with the album; not only were they creating their own memories with the tracks, they were sharing in Bayley’s too. This was most obvious through the ‘home movie’ tracks, where listeners hear childhood vignettes of Bayley and his mother. There are four of these tracks scattered throughout the album, linking various sections together. ‘(home movie: rockets)’ is the longest and the most moving of them all. Coming in at a minute exactly, it weaves the home video recording with a short orchestral-esque piece like something out of a Hollywood film. It emphasises how dreamlike these memories are, while also acting as a buffer between the overwhelming ‘It’s All So Incredibly Loud’ and the devastating ‘Domestic Bliss’. According to Bayley, the former is an intense track about “the time between you saying something devastating and then seeing the reaction” and the latter is about his first encounter with domestic violence. Sandwiching ‘(home movie: rockets)’ between these two heavy tracks ensures the nostalgia lives on, mimicking the way the human brain jumps from memory to memory rather than keeping things in chronological order.

Dreamland is Glass Animals’ best charting record yet, reaching #2 on the UK Album charts and #7 on the Billboard 200. It’s well deserved, with each track slotting in well on the album and the band’s efforts to engage with their fans paying off. With a tour already announced for 2021, it looks like we’ll be riding the Dreamland wave with Glass Animals for a while yet.

This review first appeared on Square One Magazine. The full review can be found here.

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