The soundtrack of my freshman year of college consisted primarily of indie rock releases from bands like Young the Giant, Fitz and the Tantrums and Grouplove. Groups that I had been idly listening to during my high school days, their sounds, along with many others like them, had more or less defined one facet of my musical taste entering college. A mix of the electronic anthems of Fitz and the Tantrums and the sometimes nonsensical melodies that spewed from the zany mavericks of Grouplove eventually introduced me to Glass Animals, and with them a slew of other groups who dabble in the psychedelic avenue of pop music. Their 2016 sophomore debut, “How to Be a Human Being,” instantly entranced me, offering up easily danceable hits like “Life Itself” and “Youth” along with methodical and emotional musings like “Agnes.” The enigmatic sounds of the Oxford, England troupe had succeeded in nesting themselves within my headspace those four years ago, only to return in a turbulent 2020 where a brief escape from a dismal reality has very much become a necessity for most people. Following a generous collection of “quarantine covers” of Nirvana’s “Heart Shaped Box” and Lana Del Rey’s “Young & Beautiful,” their third album “Dreamland” finds the band diving deeper into not only the electro hip-hop that has defined them, but also the emotional resonance that has connected so many with their music.
The slow-burning, grief-filled ballad of “Agnes” would act as a preface for the far more intimate tracks from frontman Dave Bayley and his psych-pop quartet on “Dreamland.” Interspersed with Bayley’s own home recordings from his youth, the album acts as a trip down nostalgia lane as references from the 1990s spill into the tracks—ranging from Scooby-Doo and Pokémon to Mr. Miyagi and “Doom.” A longing to return to a pre-internet age of personal connections quickly becomes a motif throughout the record. Intermingling alongside Bayley and the group’s own memory palace of musical references. While glimmers of intimacy and the collective traumas of the band are dispersed less frequently across the album than, say, the exploits of Space Ghost from his 1994 cartoon, pain arrives in the somber “It’s All So Incredibly Loud” and a searing introspective on domestic violence in “Domestic Bliss.” When Bayley isn’t musing to a synth-filled crescendo in the former, he lends his voice to the bombastic and hallucinogenic lyricism that has become a staple of the group in stand-out singles like “Tokyo Drifting” and “Tangerine.”
Despite the echoes of Bayley’s childhood adventures at home with his mother—which offer sentimental but all-too-brief inklings of the intimacy and connectivity Glass Animals is striving for in “Dreamland,” listening through the band’s third record once more unfortunately brings only a thin shade of anything radically new from the pop outfit. While Glass Animals has the ability to effortlessly imbue electric and ethereal bops within each of their records, the band’s latest effort in “Dreamland” feels like the halfway point toward the group greeting something resembling real pain or heartbreak. “Dreamland” remains a sonic descent into what has made Glass Animals stand out musically, but only skims the surface in its autobiographical dissection of Bayley’s technicolor memories.
The third album from Glass Animals, which includes singles “Dreamland,” “Tokyo Drifting” and “Heat Waves,” is now available to stream and buy everywhere.