UK psych-pop outfit Glass Animals are well adept at writing breezy, easy-listening tunes. There’s a stylishness that can prove impossible to resist. The minute you start to actually dig a little deeper, however, things begin to unravel at quite a pace. Glass Animals are comprised of hugely talented individuals who are either unable to look forward, or simply have no desire to do so. The washes of glittering synths and slickly produced woozy beats only go so far.
Dreamland is millennial nostalgia in a nutshell. Dave Bayley yearns for his youth. Enter: Pokemon; G.I. Joe; Scooby Doo; Nintendo 64; Grand Theft Auto; Doom; Quake; Street Fighter; Dr. Dre; OutKast; Michael Jordan; The Karate Kid; Ramen Noodles; Dunkaroos; Capri Sun; Hot Pockets; James Bond; The Price is Right; Friends; And… friends. What was his point, again?
Not to be overly critical. After all, Dreamland will prove to be prominent listening for socially distanced parties over the Summer. It’s practically designed for Spotify’s algorithms. Good for them. I’ve no issue with any success that may come their way, and I’ll likely listen to a few isolated tracks myself over the coming weeks. However, let’s not pretend Dreamland is anything more than a glorified trip down memory lane.
Favourite tracks // n/a
Gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you. Dreamland is an album that tackles head on the bubbly, colourful, vapid, disposable, Instagram filtered, infotainment-filled emptiness of modern life. To Glass Animals’ credit, that character comes across pretty strongly. Sadly though, that character comes across pretty strongly.
The album drifts through its 45-minute runtime with no real impetus, the mix caked thick with synthesisers and vocal effects. With no oomph beneath them, the lyrics themselves come across like a mundane stream of consciousness, skipping from [‘90s reference] to [‘90s reference] to [‘90s reference] with nostalgia soaked wistfulness. The fantasy world is dead; long live the fantasy world.
I’m left wondering whether this is a reaction against an unreal culture or a product of it, because as dreamy as the music is there’s not much going on beneath the surface. It’s like a bubbling synth pop brook — tranquil enough, but looks much the same now as it did 20 minutes ago.6 10
Favourite tracks // Heat Waves
Four years after fan-favourite How To Be A Human Being, Glass Animals return with Dreamland. A change in sound, writing, and focus make for a divisive release and I’ve been hoping this isn’t that ‘Difficult Third Album’ for the band.
With drummer, Joe Seward, recovering from a serious road accident and understandably affecting the whole band, frontman Dave Bayley has taken the reins. Citing positive reception to more personal songwriting, Bayley uses Dreamland as a nostalgia trip and, unintentionally(?), the longest ‘only Millenials will remember’ meme I’ve seen in some time.
From the outset, titular opener “Dreamland” gives us shimmering marimba twinkles over swathes of warm, bassy string synths accompanying Bayley’s memories in ‘Kodachrome’. “Tangerine” hits us with ‘Mr. Miyagi’ and ‘Friends’, ‘member those? “Space Ghost Coast To Coast” rhymes ‘GTA’ and ‘Dr. Dre’, d’ya get the reference? It’s a cavalcade of name drops which, to be fair, does let up somewhat in the second half, but nevertheless feels ham-fisted. Where previous material from the band has worked Flash Gordon in as a metaphorical device, new material simply reminds listeners that James Bond is, hopefully, a fictional character you and Bayley share memories of. Instead of using Pooh Bear as a descriptor of childlike naivety (as in debut single “Gooey”), Bayley instead hopes you can bond over popping a hot pocket in the microwave (I can’t). None of the above is world-changing, but there is still a stark contrast here, and it feels as though in trying to approach more personal themes, Bayley has instead lost the poeticism and creative license that previous album concepts afforded him.
The change in band dynamic isn’t just limited to lyrical work, however, with the sleeve notes revealing the rest of the band’s involvement was substantially reduced, with Bayley taking sole credit for several tracks. “Melon and the Coconut” was purportedly written and recorded in an hour, and ultimately left in its initial state. It kind of shows, feeling a bit like an oddity at the turning point of the album. “It’s All So Incredibly Loud” and “Domestic Bliss” truly feel like departures from the band, sounding closer to staple pop fodder than the distinctive, exotic jungle timbres of their debut or the percussive, sub-infused whack of the follow-up.
You might not believe it, but I have enjoyed Dreamland. Lead single “Your Love (Déjà Vu)” still sounds great, as does “Waterfalls Coming Out Your Mouth”. The narrative of tracks like “Space Ghost Coast To Coast” and “Domestic Bliss” are ripe for songwriting. There’s a lot here to like. But it’s an album that ultimately fades into the background, giving me much less reason to return to it than previous material ever did.6 10
Favourite tracks // Your Love (Deja Vu)
Waterfalls Coming Out Your Mouth