“I wanted this album to be a full reflection of life,” Glass Animals’ frontman Dave Bayley explained of their third album ‘Dreamland’ in their recent NME cover feature. Having created two albums that largely explored the lives of others (2014 debut ‘Zaba’ and its follow 2016 follow-up ‘How to Be a Human Being’, the latter of which based each of the 11 songs on a different character), their latest release marks a stark change in how the Oxfordian quartet construct an album. For the first time the work is entirely autobiographical.
In the past Bayley had been afraid to write about himself (“I always thought it was selfish,” he told us), but on the deeply moving final track of ‘How to Be a Human Being’, ‘Agnes’, Bayley opened up about a friend he lost to suicide. ‘Agnes’ quickly became a fan favourite, and this reaction, as well as Bayley’s experiences working with other artists who wrote about themselves (such as Joey Bada$$ and Khalid), opened him up to the possibilities of writing autobiographically.
This change in viewpoint was also impacted by trauma period for the band. In July 2018, having toured their Mercury-nominated album ‘How to Be a Human Being’ around the globe and preparing for a summer of festivals, drummer Joe Seaward was hit by a truck in Dublin while cycling his bike, breaking a leg, fracturing his skull and suffering from severe brain damage. “Everyone was very close to losing a friend, a brother, a boyfriend, a son and a bandmate,” Seaward candidly explained to NME.
Glass Animals put the band on pause while Seaward underwent rehabilitation, having to re-learn how to walk, talk and drum again. This resulted in a fresh perspective, and lyrically ‘Dreamland’ charts from Bayley’s first ever memories up to the present day.
Title track ‘Dreamland’ includes a peeling riff that nods to The Beach Boys (Bayley’s first musical memory is of his Dad playing ‘Pet Sounds’) and peppered throughout the record are snippets of mum’s voice, taken from old home movies. There are tougher childhood memories in there too, though. The agitated ‘Domestic Bliss’ sees Bayley recount being young and seeing a friend’s mother in an abusive relationship. Over squelchy synths and ethereal hums of electricity he candidly sings about the distressing memories (“I see the bruise / I see the truth / I see what he did to you”), with frantic harp flourishes later joining the fray and adding to the overall sense of unease.
‘Space Ghost Coast To Coast’, meanwhile, is about a friend Bayley had growing up in the States. They lost touch with when the singer moved to England, and the friend later attempted a school shooting. Over pulsating production (courtesy of Dr. Dre apprentice MixedbyAli), Bayley contemplates this childhood friendship (“We were just two Texas toddlers / Pokemon and bottle rockets”) and imagines what visiting this person in prison would be like: “I said to you, ‘Why did you do it?’ / Touch the glass, I’ll feel ya through it / Against the wall, with the bracelets on / You look bizarre, in the apricot”).
‘Dreamland’ sees Bayley succinctly convey confusing and complicated emotions in pithy verses. At times he even manages to put physical gut reactions into words. Take ‘It’s All So Incredibly Loud’, a song about the seconds that come immediately after telling somebody something that’ll hurt them, when the pause in conversation makes your stomach drop. Over a restless storm of pounding synths and cantering beats, Bayley sings, “Whispers would deafen me now / You don’t make a sound / Heartbreak was never so loud”. It’s visceral and evocative.
The profoundly honest lyrics are run through a kaleidoscope of genre-splicing, technicoloured production. ‘Tangerine’, a buzzy ear-worm about a crumbling relationship, features skittering, ‘Hotline Bling’ evoking beats and glittering bleeps. Denzel Curry -featuring ‘Tokyo Drifting’ is a hulking amalgam of brooding hip-hop bounce, cinematic electronica and dramatic synth lines, while ‘Heat Waves’ sees earnest R&B run through the Glass Animals filter.
The record occasionally feels deflated, though, and this sleek production – although always immaculately done – threatens to drag. While tunes such as ‘It’s All So Incredibly Loud’ are fuelled by vivid and creative production, gradually growing before arriving at a majestic conclusion, some of their counterparts (‘Waterfalls Coming Out Your Mouth’, the sticky sweet ‘Melon and the Coconut’) get stuck on the journey, never reaching the summit.
Despite these sticky moments, though, ‘Dreamland’ is stuffed with effervescent nuggets of pop gold. It’s a sun-drenched record of summer tunes that will sound even better when heard at festivals with a tinnie in hand. Yet look behind glittering shells of these tunes and you’ll find hugely personal stories, told with new strength and resilience. So stick on your headphones, close your eyes and take a trip to ‘Dreamland’ – you won’t want to leave.
Release date: August 7
Record label: Polydor