Album Review: Dreamland // Glass Animals

In 2018, Glass Animals drummer Joe Seaward became involved in a tragic cycling accident; it was unknown whether or not he would recover. Since the accident, the drummer has made a full recovery to play on the band’s new record. Despite the setback, the Oxford-based pop outfit have made quite a name for themselves over the past six years. The first two albums Zaba (2014) and How to Be a Human Being (2016) saw Glass Animals take influence from psychedelia and contemporary electronica, the latter album getting a nomination for the Mercury Music Prize in 2017.   

Dreamland takes a route that is more autobiographical than their previous work. The album contains short snippets of audio from home videos that help give the album some unique chronology and maps out a route for what the listener can expect. The first of these lasts only a few seconds and is dubbed ‘((home movie:1994))’. The voice in the background is lead singer Dave Bayley’s mother. Behind the scenes, Bayley includes the clip as a flash of memory, starting the process of recovery. The aim of the record is attempting to recover lost memories, retelling Seaward’s story of recovering from a tragic near-death experience.

Album opener and title track ‘Dreamland’ outlines the road to recovery as the author reflects upon his condition: “Pulling down backstreets deep in your head / Slipping through Dreamland like a tourist.” The song fully embraces the listener to share the experience, reaching out to those who routinely daydream. Not to be too flippant, the song also touches upon some aspects of memory which are tragic and sad. As lead singer and songwriter Bayley says on the album’s Spotify storyline: ‘With the future so bleak your brain goes to weird places. It digs around in memories’. The opening lyric captures the dazed, wanderlust sheen that sets the tone for the rest of the album.

The record’s heavy lyrical content is foregrounded against the wider audio experience. The psychedelic influence is swapped for hip-hop layered guises, giving off a hyperactive buzz. Where on ‘Dreamland’ there is lo-fi melancholic electronica, the band cross multiple genres, particularly on the track ‘Tokyo Drifting’, although the decision to layer on pulsating beats can feel predictable, keen to appease.

‘Tokyo Drifting’ features Denzel Curry in an attempt to merge the worlds of hip-hop and dreamy indie-pop. Although you can’t blame them for trying, the track falls a bit short of the mark, it drifts off course from what the album is otherwise aimed at achieving and makes the experience feel a bit out of sorts. This misplacement in the album doesn’t wreck the overall feeling of the album – which is intense and emotionally overcoming with the haunting vocal style of Bayley and the lo-fi moody electronics. This sentiment is captured well on the track ‘Hot Sugar’, a relaxing track that brings another aspect to recovery. The lyrics draw on summer nostalgia, painting cooling memories of coastal horizons and late summer evenings. It is by far the most pleasant track to listen to throughout the album. 

Glass Animals have created something that resonates with most people: how to address pain and fathom from it some kind of recovery. Dreamland translates the emotion into an intense and varied journey through Seaward’s personal stream of consciousness, allowing the audience to fish out and reinterpret some of the lost memories. The band’s focus on writing and style has made them more humble and honest, and while their experiments with audio and film appear as slots to fill gaps, they don’t do this simply for the sake of it. The journey is a celebration of a gamut of emotions that all come about through memory.

Words by Lewis Oxley


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