“I’ve always been really, really afraid to write about myself. I always thought it was selfish.” Said Dave Bayley in a recent interview. The lead vocalist and principle songwriter of Glass Animals had previously been only comfortable with the idea of writing from the perspective of characters. On the indie-hop group’s unique last record How To Be A Human Being they interestingly deconstructed the motives of a diverse bunch of people they had met whilst touring. However, two key moments persuaded Dave Bayley and the rest of the Oxford-formed band to change their songwriting approach. The life-threatening bike accident that almost paralyzed drummer Joe Seaward and the audience’s positive reaction to the previous record’s finale ‘Agnes’ – a song that detailed a friend’s suicide – led Bayley to open up about his childhood and upbringing in the States. He’s been trying to figure out why he’s been so hesitant to speak about himself for so long. Hiding behind characters as a defensive mechanism because he was brought up in a men-don’t-show-feelings-free culture, the once Texas-dwelling vocalist is now writing lyrics that don’t hold back – even to the point of profanity – and openly show his conflict with vulnerability.
This lyrical U-turn into autobiography is immediately evident from the track list of Glass Animals’ third album Dreamland, as the new LP is divided into fifths by short interludes that’s titles precede with ((home movies)). Indeed that’s what they are, little toddler Bayley and his mother Orit Braha having cute recorded conversations. His mother asking if he’s watching Sesame Street, talking about rockets and laughing at his shoes being put on the wrong feet. It endearingly brings us closer to Dave Bayley’s life. The first one acts as a time stamp: “What is the date? 7th of May, 1994”. This gives some indication to the time frame of Bayley’s cultural references and flashbacks to a certain extent, although they also scatter among late 90’s, early 00’s. The pop culture references throughout the album are so plentiful that it could make Seth McFarlane and Tinie Tempah blush (although many are American due to living in that country), but then again, it’s an accurate scrapbook of a millennial’s childhood: a combination of nervous energy, love confusion, TV shows and brands. It’s worth noting that the Glass Animals website currently operates like a Windows 98 desktop.
Title track ‘Dreamland’ and ‘Helium’ are summarizing bookends to the album. They ease us into and out the record musically and lyrically. The former is a soothing lullaby that sort of imagines listeners briefly floating through the contents of the album. It’s a clever and practical way to start a record. “Pullin’ down backstreets, deep in your head. Slippin’ through dreamland like a tourist.” Dave Bayley sings depicting the state of dreaming before listing contents of the record. For example: “He had a gun on the first day of high school” is a shortcut link to the track ‘Space Ghost Coast to Coast’.
‘Space Ghost Coast to Coast’ discusses Dave Bayley’s criminally-minded friend at school who was arrested for planning a school-shooting. Giving it a personal touch, he has a conversation with his imprisoned friend: “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.” But he also comments on how TV shows and videogames (hear a Space Invaders sound end the track) can contribute to a child’s delusional manner: “You think you’re Space Ghost. You’re wanted coast to coast / “Playing too much of that GTA. Playing too much of that Dr.Dre. Doom, Quake, where’d you get that gun from, eh?” The track is a great example of Glass Animals’s growing lean into hip-hop, as not only are the snapping beats in that form, there’s also Dave Bayley’s rapping and regular us of explicit lyrics.
Although ‘Tokyo Drifting’ (which could be a reference to The Fast and The Furious film) takes the Hip Hop nature further by being the first Glass Animals track to feature a rapper. Denzel Curry raps in the middle of the song that’s meant to be part ironic. Dave Bayley adopts a persona called Wavey Davey, which although would initially suggest that he’s going back camouflaging behind characters he’s actually expressing his timid insecurities. He dreams about being the brave hedonistic guy that can “Suck smoke in his ’40, windows up. He rolls, like he really doesn’t give a-
Drug lust and two packets in your pocket.”
‘Domestic Bliss’ is one of the most powerful tracks on Dreamland – it feels especially relevant now due to a rise in domestic violence during lock down – it’s about a childhood friend that’s father that used to abuse his mother. It’s written from the perspective of the friend whose questioning his mother’s reluctance to leave the situation. The best line is: “He got balloons, new flowers, too. Last one’s dyin’ in your bedroom,” that essentially reflects the cyclical routine of abusers; kindness becomes torment before becoming kindness again.
However, Dave Bayley also opens up about his own relationship experience on Dreamland. ‘Your Love (DéJá Vú)’ – which is a smooth transition from their previous record for it’s a music style – is about being addicted to an unhealthy and chaotic relationship. “Everyone who sees you falls in love. You eat us up.” ‘Waterfalls Coming Out Your Mouth’ is about pretending to be someone else in the first few months of a partnership because you’re afraid to be uncool. Which re-highlights the anxieties. Furthermore, ‘It’s All So Incredible Loud’ is about the stressful and horrifying moment where you realized you’ve said something that’s relationship-destroying. The apprehensive, word-play lyrics (“Whispers would deafen me now. You don’t make a sound. Heartbreak was never so loud”) and the way the music suitably becomes louder make one of the album’s best tracks.
Opening track Dreamland ends with the lines: “You go ask questions like “What makes a man? Oh it’s 2020, so it’s time to change that. So you go make an album and call it Dreamland.” It would have been interesting if the toxic masculinity theme was developed a bit further, there are moments where the lyrics can get a bit ludicrous and some songs veer a bit too much towards the pop production of Maroon 5. Nonetheless, it’s brave and admirable for Dave Bayley and Glass Animals to take the challenging leap into more exposing lyrics.