An illustration of the Glass Animals "Dreamland" album cover
An old-school website and VHS tapes continue the album's childhood nostalgia theme. (Illustration by Shelly Freund, Elon University)

Glass Animals’ ‘Dreamland’ Uses Multimedia To Redefine the Album Release

Their latest record is far more than just a collection of songs: Here’s a closer look at how the band has changed the game when it comes to debuting new music.

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An illustration of the Glass Animals "Dreamland" album cover

Their latest record is far more than just a collection of songs: Here’s a closer look at how the band has changed the game when it comes to debuting new music.

When most artists release an album, they put out a few rounds of materials: promotional information about the album and tour dates, the album itself, merchandise and occasionally a few music videos for the more popular tracks. Some artists, like Taylor Swift in her recent album, “Folklore,” stray slightly from the typical path with a surprise release. But with their latest studio album, “Dreamland,” the English pop band Glass Animals has completely redefined the process of releasing music.

The band, led by singer-songwriter and producer Dave Bayley, alongside Joe Seaward, Ed Irwin-Singer and Drew MacFarlane, did not limit itself to the release of music. The introduction of “Dreamland” to streaming services came with the launch of a new website, the creation of several dreamy Instagram filters based on concept art from the album and a complete set of listening instructions for fans experiencing the album for the first time.

Aside from the musical merits of the latest Glass Animals album, which are not to be dismissed, the “Dreamland” website is an especially brilliant touch. A click on the site takes you to a webpage that is designed to look like an old-school computer desktop, complete with very pixelated graphics, a mouse in the shape of a sandwich and even a small digital clock in the bottom right corner.

Like any computer desktop, the dashboard on the Glass Animals website is filled with icons. Some lead to links where you can listen to the new album in full, purchase merchandise or view upcoming tour dates for the spring of 2021. Other icons, though, offer more exclusive “Dreamland” creations, such as backgrounds based on the album cover or text versions of song lyrics.

My favorite link takes you from the “Archives” icon through a link labeled “Fresh Fruit” to a page titled “Wavey Davey’s Fun Station,” an old-school animated version of a slot machine. Prizes for spinning a matching set of fruit include a sneak peek at the song “Tokyo Drifting,” one of the singles that Glass Animals released in advance of “Dreamland.”

The nostalgic theme of the Glass Animals website is in keeping with the overarching narrative of the album, which centers around Bayley’s childhood memories.

“It was written when I was in a strange place in life,” Bayley explained in the Spotify Storyline that accompanies the album’s first, and titular, track. “My best friend (our drummer) Joe was in a horrible life-threatening accident. I didn’t know if he would survive or be able to walk or talk again. With the future so bleak, your brain goes to weird places. It digs around in memories. This album is about those memories. Good, awkward, funny, sad … all sorts.”

The theme of childhood memories is most apparent in the four home movie tracks, titled accordingly, which are original audio recordings of home videos from Bayley’s youth. The short tracks are set to music and blended carefully with surrounding songs so that listeners cannot entirely tell if they are hearing a separate audio or just the beginning or ending of another song, an effect that adds to the dreamlike qualities of the album.

And because “Dreamland” revolves so heavily around a central theme of memories and nostalgia, Glass Animals included one especially notable component on the website: detailed listening notes for fans who are hearing the album for the first time and want to experience it fully.

The first section of the listening notes, titled “Dreamland Listening Instructions,” is what you might expect from an artist who wants their listeners to engage with their work: Wear headphones, ensure privacy, minimize distractions, take a deep breath and enjoy.

The second section, “Optional But Encouraged,” is where the instructions become a little more specific. Listeners are instructed to gather a series of items — a peeled tangerine or orange, a school yearbook and a glass of fizzy water with ice, a raspberry, a slice of lime and a gummy bear in it, to name a few — and interact with them as they listen to the album.

The peeled tangerine comes in handy early on. The notes suggest that during track two, “Tangerine,” listeners “eat the tangerine/orange in one single mouthful,” then “take ONE photo of yourself while you do it. DON’T look at the photo.”

Other instructions are simpler: During track 14, “Heat Waves,” the notes urge listeners to look out the window, while during track six, “Space Ghost Coast to Coast,” listeners are supposed to look through their yearbooks. Upon completing the album, the notes suggest that you “have a bowl of cereal and then look at the photo you took during track 2.”

Though I have not yet experienced “Dreamland” in full accordance with the listening notes, I have no doubt that following Glass Animals’ instructions would augment my sensory experience of the album. And while the nostalgic “Dreamland” is best enjoyed from a childhood bedroom with a series of comforting items, I imagine that listening notes for other artists’ albums (post COVID-19, of course) might recommend a few friends to listen with, a moving car with the windows down or a house party.

And while the website and accompanying listening guidance incorporate additional components into the album, they do not represent the outer limits of the band’s creativity with “Dreamland.” Glass Animals took their album release even further with the creation of specific, themed, exclusive merchandise, including a VHS tape version of the album.

According to Glass Animals’ Instagram page, the idea for a “Dreamland” VHS came to be after the album was completed. “When the songs were finished, the album still felt like it was missing a little something to tie it all together nicely,” wrote Bayley in a recent post promoting the new merchandise.

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DREAMLAND, the visual album, on VHS…on the store now. When the songs were finished, the album still felt like it was missing a little something to tie it all together nicely. so i started thinking like….what’s that one constant thing in my life throughout the up/down/confusing/strange/crazy moments that these songs are about? MY MUM. She used to make home movies on a VHS camcorder of me and my little brother as we grew up. She’d narrate what we were doing as she filmed. I thought i could take the audio from these movies and lay them between the songs as interludes, almost as if she was narrating the album. It fit perfectly and i was so happy to have my mum on the record…and i knew she’d be really happy to hear her voice on the record. but i was wrong. she hated it. she said “i hate my voice take it off.” Anyway to cut a long story short – she more or less came around to the idea (thank you mum, love you). I thought it would be pretty apt to make a VHS version of the album. Like those classic home movies. Drew got to work. He did such an amazing job synchronising our memories to the music. here are his words on the project: Dreamland is all about looking back on growing up, all the happy, sad, & crazy shit that happened on the way to now.. So Dave had the idea of making a visual version of the album from his mom’s home movies, videos that we took over the years at special moments when we were all hanging out, right the way up to footage of our most recent Deja Vu tour in America 2020. We collected hours of all these videos, and I picked out the best bits and edited it together into Dreamland: The Home Movies, which is here on a SICK see-through VHS and special packaging, all designed, selected & made beautiful by us by hand. I went and copied the video 30 times on to these the tapes… it took a long time haha. So there you have it, these are THE ORIGINAL Glass Animals home movies on VHS. Hope these memories are as special to you as they are to us. Love Drew x p.s. link in storiessss x

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In the same post, Bayley credited bandmate MacFarlane with the creation of the VHS tape. MacFarlane explained his role in the project later on in the caption. “We collected hours of all these videos, and I picked out the best bits and edited it together into Dreamland: The Home Movies, which is here on a SICK see-through VHS and special packaging, all designed, selected & made beautiful by us by hand,” wrote MacFarlane. “I went and copied the video 30 times on to these the tapes … it took a long time haha.”

Likely because of the thematic consistencies between the supplementary materials and the album itself, Glass Animals managed to pull off the release of the multimedia components to “Dreamland” without detracting from the music at the core of the project. Especially at a time when touring and playing in front of huge crowds is impossible, the “Dreamland” website, listening notes and merchandise allow fans to engage with the album safely and creatively.

Given the dedication with which Glass Animals approached the creation and promotion of “Dreamland,” along with the widely acknowledged fact that the album is a fantastic piece of art, it should come as no surprise that the album has risen to No. 2 on Britain’s Official Albums Chart and No. 7 on the U.S. Billboard Top 200.

Will other artists take a page out of Glass Animals’ book and make their album releases multi-tiered promotional efforts? It does not seem as though websites and VHS tapes can really replace the experience of seeing an artist live, but I do hope that the inclusion of listening instructions with albums will catch on. Perhaps “Dreamland” will be the first of many albums that, to engage listeners fully, promote a full sensory experience.

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