In the past, Glass Animals’ Dave Bayley has expressed himself through a procession of Wes Anderson-like characters. Heavily tanned blokes in tight speedos, a Fleetwood Mac loving waitress, and a preposterously tall basketball player all paced the aisles of the band’s last record ‘How To Be A Human Being’ – all of them caricatures of taxi drivers, fans, radio station employees, and other people from the road. Often it’s easier to pour your heart out to a stranger; in rare and reaching conversations with people we’ll never see again, people perhaps paint the fuller picture (rather than telling the story that makes us likeable). And the strangeness of this interaction is something that Glass Animals drew upon – but never really used it as a tool for telling their own stories to the world.
One song from their last album was markedly different. Heavily personal, ‘Agnes’ tells the story of one of Bayley’s close friends who died by suicide. “And so it goes, a choking rose back to be reborn, I want to hold you like you’re mine,” he sang, quoting the famous fatalist sentiment from Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse Five. The response to the song staggered the frontman – the first time they performed it, he broke down and cried. You sense the experience of being seen so clearly unlocked something new.
And Glass Animals’ third album ‘Dreamland’ is also autobiographical: in the opening song and title-track, Bayley sets out their newest vision, in meta fashion. “You go ask your questions like, “What makes a man?”” he says, appearing to reference the approach of previous records ‘Zaba’ and ‘How To Be A Human Being’, “Oh, it’s 2020, so it’s time to change that/ so you go make an album and call it Dreamland”.
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Rather than collaging from the experiences of other people, ‘Dreamland’ delves into a shoebox of shuffled-up memories: several ‘home movie’ interludes featuring conversations between Bayley and his mum pepper the record, warped through a lens of spacey synth. A Beach Boys riff flickers in the opener like deja vu hauled up from the past. Various songs attempt to make sense of various aspects of his upbringing: from the rigid definitions of masculinity the singer felt constrained by growing up in Texas, to witnessing darkness and abuse for the first time (‘Domestic Bliss’). Imagination still plays a crucial role, and total realism this is not: Glass Animals’ imagery is as surreal and surprising as ever, and frequently Bayley extrapolates situations beyond the present. Take a song like ‘Space Ghost Coast To Coast’ – which imagines what might happen if he visited an old friend from the States who attempted a school shooting in prison. It gives the record the close, slightly surreal feeling of being nestled inside someone’s brain.
And behind Glass Animals’ scattershot, subjective approach to memory – a muddle of psych-tinted hip-hop beats and woozy pop, with a stand-out guest spot from Florida rapper Denzel Curry along the way – lies more personal exploration for the band as a whole. In the summer of 2018, drummer Joe Seaward was hit by a truck while riding his bike, and left with serious, life-changing injuries. He could have been killed. Rehabilitation was a long road; slowly he learned to walk, talk, and drum again. ““Everything that made me… me was taken away,” Seaward told NME, of the short-term memory loss he experienced. “And I couldn’t even remember why.”
In rifling through his own past to make sense of who he is, Dave Bayley is in effect also talking about Joe Seaward. He’s still making sense of what makes a man, but from an alternative, more vulnerable angle. Compared with Glass Animals’ previous records, it’s a sadder, more reflective prospect – fewer hulking great choruses, more meandering contemplation. Moving, surprisingly understated, and frequently quite dark, it’s intriguing to find the band getting personal.