Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
2020 8 "Dreamland", "Space Ghost Coast to Coast", "Heat Waves"

1) Dreamland; 2) Tangerine; 3) ((Home Movie: 1994)); 4) Hot Sugar; 5) ((Home Movie: BTX)); 6) Space Ghost Coast to Coast; 7) Tokyo Drifting (feat. Denzel Curry); 8) Melon and the Coconut; 9) Your Love (Déjà Vu); 10) Waterfalls Coming Out of Your Mouth; 11) It's All So Incredibly Loud; 12) ((Home Movie: Rockets)); 13) Domestic Bliss; 14) Heat Waves; 15) ((Home Movie: Shoes On)); 16) Helium

A wistful nostalgia trip set to stylish bedroom production - and coincidentally COVID-adjacent one at that.

The story of Dreamland began when Joe Seaward, Glass Animals' drummer, suffered a near-fatal car crash that left him with severe physical injuries and forced him into an extended period of recovery to get back his ability to move. With the band's future in an unknown state in the meantime, songwriter/producer/frontman Dave Bailey retreated into his past for comfort. His songwriting took a more personal and introspective angle, and he ended up devising most of what would become Dreamland all by himself in his studio, with the whole band coming together after Seaward's full recovery the following year to add finishing touches and to finalise the project. Fast forward to the album's release date in August 2020 and the whole world - especially the UK - was finding themselves isolated, uncertain of the future and dipping into the past as the extensive COVID lockdowns got everyone introspective and nostalgically pining for the carefree days of their youth. Out of the many pre-COVID projects that took on an eerily pre-emptive visage following The Event, Dreamland feels like the most vivid example: bedroom pop for millennials trapped in their bedrooms, revisiting their pasts with a mixture of yearning and bittersweet melancholy.

It's impossible for me to separate Dreamland from its release date not just because of the coincidental COVID-era vibes that it has, but because it was very specifically our lockdown record. My partner was the Glass Animals fan of the house and this was their most hyped release of the year from the moment the first few singles dropped several months earlier, and when it was finally out they would play it all the time at every possible opportunity - and in our small flat, it was frequently my incidental soundtrack as well and eventually became a regular part of our daily lives. After months of indirect exposure it had won me over enough as to warrant me getting a physical copy for my own collection, and through that I began spending my own time with it and dove deep into its flashbacks of the past - which, as a fellow expat (Bailey is from the USA and moved to the UK later on) and a slave for nostalgia who also revisited familiar childhood touchpoints during the days stayed indoors, resonated with me to an obvious degree. The only virtual gig we both "attended" was Glass Animals' Live in the Internet concert in late 2020 (the poster now hangs in our living room), and when the world finally opened up our first nervous post-COVID real life concert experience was Glass Animals on their belated Dreamland tour. Glass Animals had not even been a blip on my radar before the lockdown and I emerged from the period with indepth knowledge of this one particular album. That's going to leave a biased mark.

I could stop the review there because it's already obvious at this stage that I'm fond of Dreamland for reasons that go way beyond the music itself, but I'd be remiss to mention that it is a musically an excellent album as well. It is obviously much more of a Dave Bailey feat. Glass Animals album than a "real" follow-up to the first two records: not only is Bailey front and center in all the artwork but the production relies almost completely on programmed elements over live instrumentation and its quaint drum machines and synth stabs have all the hallmarks of a bedroom production job. If the video for the runaway surprise hit "Heat Waves" so perfectly encapsules the UK in peak lockdown (best COVID-era video? Maybe), then the one for "Dreamland" where Bailey constructs an entire music video set within his apartment with only his own two hands and the material (and the instructions) shipped to him is an appropriate visual image for what the album represents. If you're an established Glass Animals fan of yore it may have been irritating, but as a complete newbie coming into this it barely triggers nor does it really matter either, because Bailey's songwriting is the best it's been. He's adept at both creating tension and setting a tangibly evocative mood, but also he's just plain great at writing a really great pop hook; his characteristic quirky touch, with the stream-of-consciousness and reference-heavy lyrics and especially prominent in his various punchline hooks ("clap clap you're a clever clever cookie now", "hawa-hawaii", pretty much everything about "Space Ghost Coast to Coast" right down to the title), can sometimes cross from charming to awkward but it's always effective and eventually endearing.

Through the album Bailey wades through a whole spectrum from carefree summer smash jubility ("Tangerine", "Hot Sugar") and intensely tightening tension (the imposingly climbing "It's All So Incredibly Loud", the domestic abuse drama of "Domestic Bliss") to mastercrafted pop juggernauts ("Heat Waves", "Your Love") and theoretically messy bundles of inspired chaos that somehow work (the Halloween-hip hop of "Space Ghost Coast to Coast", an album highlight in its audacity and absurdity), without ever stumbling or coming across incoherent. That cohesiveness comes in large part from the album's meta elements, which is what takes this from a neat little set of bangers to the kind of captivating experience that draws you in the moment those thematic pillars clicks. The nostalgic home video clips which act as interludes tie in with the hefty amount of late 1990s throwback references scattered across the lyrics (Friends, Doom, Quake, Pokémon and many more make cameos), all conjuring a vision of a hazy trip down the memory lane where the pleasant memories of the past come to touch with the realisation that some parts were maybe best left behind as you return to it with your trauma-addled adult mind.

Despite the tonal shifts the production aesthetic acts as the connecting string between the various bursts of ideas, and as its biggest conceptual nod the album itself both begins and ends with "Dreamland" first acting as the slow atmospheric sink into its aesthetics and then making a surprise reprise appearance as the finale to the perfectly wistful torchlight-waving slow anthem "Helium". The title track might just be one of my favourite prologues to an album that I've encountered - not only in how it so gently drifts into existence and nails down the album's prevailing tone so perfectly in what is effectively just three minutes of ambient pillow with narration, but how could you not love an album's establishing opening scene finishing with the line "so you go make an album and call it Dreamland"? The only point where the illusion breaks is when "Tokyo Drifting" jumps in: it’s like good non-album single from an entirely different era that crashes through the wall and interrupts the otherwise perfect flow for a brief time, with Bailey pushing himself into the background as a hypeman for Denzel Curry. Both its vocal trade-offs and the show-off bravado it conjures feel out of place on an otherwise very personal and even a somewhat vulnerable record and even as I’ve grown adjusted to it the song never finds a comfortable home on the album. Great synth horns though.

To bring this all back together, we're way past the COVID isolation now and Dreamland has since transformed into a perversely comfortable memory trip of its own of that era. It was a weird time and absolutely nothing I long back to, but it was also a lot of time I shared with my partner and we kept each other relatively sane within four walls. Dreamland has in turn become our shared album of sorts, and we can now easily trade lines back-to-back when a song from it pops by on shuffle or the entire album gets a spin in brand new contexts (and in our new home). Even something like "Heat Waves" - a global smash and on its way to become a recurring summer airplay staple - still feels like something personal. From a nerdy score perspective this could probably be a point higher if it wasn’t for some oblique gut feeling preventing me from doing it - some minor hesitations maybe to do with some of the more anaemic production choices like the thin drum machines - but ultimately it’s nothing that would stop Dreamland from being a captivating and intriguing journey deep into its songwriter's head. It’s an internet-era reinvisioning of an intimate singer/songwriter record expressed through the skillset of a professional pop songwriter, and through that Bailey makes his own nostalgia compelling to his audience too.

Physically: Gatefold packaging, with a fold-out poster featuring all the lyrics on one side and 3D models of all the band members' heads on the other side. The CD artwork also ties in with the whole millennial nostalgia vibe, made to resemble a home-printed CD-R.

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