Who crafts worlds quite like Glass Animals? After a two-year period that saw them nearly lose drummer Joe Seaward in a horrific bike accident, you could forgive them for wanting to retreat into the fictional fantasies that fuelled their 2016 breakthrough. Instead, they’ve taken the harder route, pushing for a blend of honesty and escapism that acknowledges pain without wallowing in it.
Though their Dali-esque surrealism of pork sodas and pineapples is still very much intact, ‘Dreamland’ focuses the nonsense into something more evocative. The Spongebob rock of ‘Melon & The Coconut’ and ‘Waterfalls Coming Out Of Your Mouth’ both feel delightfully bonkers, while ‘Hot Sugar’, with its “lemongrass eyelids”, “chocolate chapsticks” and “bath time cool whip,” is giddy with silliness but somehow still manages to feel summer-summer-summertime-sensual, the kind of track you could imagine lazily floating from a speaker at a Coachella pre-party. The whole record is indebted to a rose-tinted nostalgia for the perfect summer, snatched cruelly from their fingertips.
At some point the glasses have to come off, and ‘It’s All So Incredibly Loud’ is the first track to really offer insight into a more difficult headspace. Drums pinched from Kanye’s ‘808s…’-era send the song spiralling in unconscious thought; “Ooh, I’m breaking down…heartbreak was never so loud…” finds ‘Domestic Bliss’ continuing the more sombre tone, pulsing synths tracing the story of an abusive relationship. For a band used to keeping things upbeat, it’s not an easy story to tell, but it’s a powerful push towards longevity, testament to frontman Dave Bayley making good on his promise to allow the personal to rise closer to the surface of his work.
Glass Animals might be a band, but it’s clear that this is Dave’s opus. Having spent most of his childhood as an American, he has always flirted with hip hop sonics in his day job, but all the time he’s spent over the past few years producing for rap stars has finally come to its true fruition. ‘Tokyo Drifting’, which felt somewhat jarring as a lead single, makes a lot more sense in context with the record’s wider palette of bouncy trap-pop, while the titular opener sits in similar cadence to Frank Ocean’s ‘Chanel’, floating through wisps of old-timey telephone operator glockenspiel.
Many guitar bands have tried to enter new R&B spaces; many have failed. It’s something that this self-described “skinny Jewish boy” might have worried about, but it’s testament to the band’s skill that at no point does ‘Dreamland’’s infatuation with the East Coast come off as culture-vulture voyeurism. Instead, they have crafted a new geography of their own, pulling together all of their strengths and vulnerabilities. Thank God they made it through the flames - our musical landscape is plenty richer for it.
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