Down the rabbit hole
In 2014, English alt-rockers Glass Animals skyrocketed to international stardom following the massive success of debut album Zaba and radio hits “Black Mambo” and “Gooey.” With uniquely dynamic vocals, mischievously catchy hooks and genre-bending instrumentation, the band instantly claimed its own niche within the alternative scene.
Now, over six years later, the trend-setting psych-rock quartet returns to form stronger than ever. Dreamland, the band’s third studio album, is ambitiously inventive, thematically evocative and criminally captivating. Conceptualized, produced and written entirely by frontman Dave Bayley, Glass Animals’ latest release is an enthralling odyssey of nostalgia, reflection and self-discovery that will enamor listeners on the first, fifth and hundredth listen.
Eponymous opener “Dreamland” succinctly sets the stage. Slow-building, emotional and fittingly dreamy, the track aptly prefaces the album’s overall tone both lyrically and musically. Namely, “Dreamland” is meticulously balanced, melding deeply contemplative lyrics with a wispy, escapist feel. Frontman Dave Bayley, who personally wrote every song on the album, described “Dreamland” as “a table of contents for the album as a whole.”
Bayley displays an unwavering commitment to long-form storytelling across Dreamland. Across four brief interludes–ten- to thirty-second sound bites from his childhood home movies–Bayley constructs, reinforces and vivifies the album’s setting. As listeners delve further into Dreamland, they’ll be treated to a back-seat tour of the frontman’s innermost psyche. Given that Bayley wrote and recorded the entire album in the solitude of quarantine while still reeling from the trauma of drummer Joe Seaward’s near-death bike accident, it’s no surprise that the result is a highly emotional journey.
For starters, “Waterfalls Coming Out Your Mouth” and “Hot Sugar” are two of the most readily relatable tracks off Dreamland. “Waterfalls” is a poetic, moody alternative rock jam in which Bayley touches on the initial disingenuity of many relationships (romantic and platonic alike). Meanwhile, “Hot Sugar” croons ethereally about the paradox of “coolness,” of accidentally falling in love with someone’s fake projected persona rather than their true personality.
Interestingly enough, Dreamland’s most radio-friendly songs are just as poignant. High-energy, hypnotic “Heat Waves” checks all the criteria for a summer smash hit and is arguably the album’s best single. Underneath the surface, however, are Bayley’s wistful musings regarding loneliness, strength and embracing vulnerability via human connection. Similarly, “Your Love (Déjà Vu)” describes the inescapable circularity of trying to escape a toxic relationship. In spite of their significant emotional undercurrents, both songs will hype up even the most stoic listener.
Clearly, Dreamland’s weighty lyrical depth isn’t always overt. “Tangerine” and “Melon and the Coconut” are upbeat, whimsical pop hits in the making, surface-level bops perfect for summertime listening. Despite their playful exteriors, the tracks both utilize food metaphors to mask their depth. While “Melon and the Coconut” is a tasteful (and tasty) metaphor for an overdue breakup, “Tangerine” depicts the pain of growing apart from someone you love due to the passage of time. Beneath poppy façades lie Bayley’s struggles with aging, lost naiveté and interpersonal disconnection: “You only look at me properly now when you’re drunk watching movies/ Where are you? What happened? I want what we had.” These themes pervade the entirety of the album and are typically masked by a more cheerful veneer. Dreamland is the Inception of Glass Animals albums–within each song is another deeper, often darker song.
Of course, this packaging takes numerous forms. Bayley’s penchant for hip-hop shines through on “Space Ghost Coast To Coast”–a nostalgic ode to his childhood in which he unpacks the heartbreaking metamorphosis of his former best friend, and in the bombastic hype of “Tokyo Drifting.” The latter song features Denzel Curry and is, objectively speaking, a ludicrously exhilarating thrill ride.
To put it simply, Dreamland is as good as it gets. Glass Animals’ third studio release is an extraordinarily well-rounded album that proudly addresses profound, relatable themes of vulnerability, lost innocence and heartbreak without feeling overbearingly serious. Closing song “Helium,” a touching tonal bookend to “Dreamland,” encapsulates these messages masterfully, promoting acceptance and self-forgiveness amidst pain. Bayley states: “No one has any bloody idea what they’re doing. [“Helium”] starts with timidness and insecurity, and the end is saying, that’s OK. Do what you can with it.”
Flush with a myriad of radio-ready hits and more retrospective jams alike, Dreamland combines the best of both worlds–making the journey that much more rewarding. In a world bogged down by quarantine-induced madness, Dreamland is a much-needed moment of respite.