An introspective and personal record
Rob Waters
17:25 5th August 2020

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Oxford four-piece Glass Animals have always commanded an aura of mystery in their music. Their 2014 debut album ZABA wove a fantastical musical narrative that felt wild, primal and somewhat estranged from contemporary human experience. As if in response, their 2016 record How to Be a Human Being addressed human experience head-on by recreating an elegant tapestry of deeply personal stories from their fans and various strangers encountered on their world tour. What we were yet to see however, was an introspective, personal record, and now, four years later, that is exactly what Dreamland delivers.

Opening the album is the eponymous single ‘Dreamland’. It is a shimmering, lullaby-like tune with heavily distorted vocals that phase in and out of focus. It sets the tone for a wholly more open-minded and ultimately more optimistic record. ‘Tangerine’ has a dusty, tropical vibe, reminiscent of the melancholic summer sounds in Childish Gambino’s ‘Awaken My Love’. Repetitive use of simple vocal melodies pepper the track, calling and responding playfully to the instrumental trills. The music is more grounded and earthly than their earlier work, but this contextualises and amplifies the unorthodox nature of their sound, bringing a sense of balance to the record. Sparing but elegant use of samples helps build this real-world connection in the distorted and vibrant world of their own creation. ‘Space Ghost Coast To Coast’ feels much more like their earlier work, with a dark, even ominous underbelly and sultry, brooding vocals.

The first single from the album, ‘Tokyo Drifting’, has a bold, cinematic vibe with singer Dave Bayley’s plosive, staccato lyrics dancing around a bombastic brass synth and a restless trap drumbeat. Denzel Curry’s appearance here is perfect for the song. In the context of the full album, it’s clear that this track was a strong choice for the first single. It is perhaps the boldest and most exciting departure from the group’s earlier work and an indicator of more exciting collaboration opportunities that are sure to present themselves to the band.

‘Melon and the Coconut’ borrows heavily from contemporary RnB, which is an influencing thread through much of the album, with near-Kanye levels of autotune and plenty of RnB phrasing in the vocals. This all sits over another expansive, dreamlike backdrop and what can only be truly described as a kazoo solo (finally!). ‘Waterfalls Coming Out Your Mouth’ is another song that fits comfortably in the band’s original vernacular - its story-like vocals unfolding over a rich musical tapestry, with ample food references and quirky one liners, “clap clap, you’re a clever, clever cookie now”.

The third single from the album, ‘Heat Waves’, is an undeniably poppy number, built on a delicious groove and utilising very conventional lyrical structures. It probably contains just about enough Glass Animals DNA to entice casual pop listeners towards more of their music. Similarly, ‘Helium’ is a lofty, ethereal tune built on a simple, clean guitar riff. The song structure breaks down to allow for more pop-like vocal solos to echo through before fading into the signature melody from the record’s title track. It isn’t the strongest closer, with its somewhat watery and wandering sound, which is a shame after an album full of perfectly-formed bangers. It is at least reflective, and somewhat open-ended, hinting at the group’s renewed enthusiasm.

As with their previous album, Dreamland is interspersed with ambient interludes, though this time they are all seemingly plucked from a home video of Bayley’s childhood. This drives home the autobiographical nature of the LP and reinforces the real-world connection that was obscured in their previous work. Dreamland is a very well executed album, it is progressive in all the right ways, without ever losing sight of the group’s quirky signature sound. Coupled with their refreshingly radical promotional style and innovative expression, this signals a bright future for a band whose spotlight is hard-earned and well-deserved.

Dreamland is released on 7 August 2020 via Polydor. 

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