Glass Animals frontman Dave Bayley studied neuroscience at Oxford University – and you can tell. His natural curiosity for the way we think manifests in his band’s intelligent psych-pop, loaded with hip-hop beats and buzzy synths. Bayley’s lyrics, meanwhile, explore the minutiae of what it means to be human. Yet Glass Animals’ music is neither cold nor calculating; it’s warm, curious, full of humour and heart.
Dreamland was created in the wake of drummer Joe Seaward’s near-fatal cycling accident in Dublin two years ago, which required intense rehabilitation. Sitting by his friend’s hospital bedside and unable to think about the future, Bayley began to reflect on the past, instead. These mostly self-produced songs are filled with autobiographical details about a childhood growing up in Texas, where he felt at odds with the state’s overwhelmingly macho culture. Surrounded by the menacing beats of “Space Ghost Coast to Coast”, he searches for answers as to why a former best friend was caught taking a gun into a school: “Gotta be all that coco ayyy?/ Playin’ too much of that GTA/ Playin’ too much of that Dr Dre/ Doom, Quake, where’d you get the gun from eh?”
“Tokyo Drifting”, a single released in 2019, is a rare jump out of the otherwise ponderous, searching instrumentation that dominates this record. A blast of brass heralds a whiplash-inducing verse from US rapper Denzel Curry, the climax of a track built up from shivering 808 beats and samples from martial arts movies. “It’s All So Incredibly Loud” is a wrenching break-up narrative, wrestling with the deafening silence that follows painful truths. Bayley adopts alternate perspectives on “Domestic Bliss”, about a violent marriage, then uses surrealist imagery to explore guilt and sexuality in a doomed relationship on poignant closer “Helium”.
Dreamland is relatively sedate in comparison to 2016’s Mercury Prize-shortlisted How to Be a Human Being. That album fizzed with colourful, eclectic characters spun from real-life encounters; Dreamland, meanwhile, is drenched in a sepia-toned, Beach Boys-influenced nostalgia that casts wistful glances back at VHS tapes, cartoons, boomboxes and school discos. Bayley’s voice – light, airy, mournful – makes you think of Peter Pan if he were forced to grow up. Thinking of childhood in such analytical detail can throw up wonderful memories, sure, but it can bring out dark things, too – things that tend to hang around in later life. It makes for a complex, thoughtful and moving record.