‘Wavey Davey’, as lead singer Dave Bayley proclaims himself to be on ‘Tokyo Drifting’, and co. are back after nearly 4 years with the follow up to 2016′ ‘How To Be A Human Being’. A psych-pop delve into the understanding of modern day life that saw the Oxford originating four piece earn a nomination for the coveted Mercury Prize. And now they’ve returned with what an album that Bayley describes as “incredibly honest and indcredibly us“.
Throughout this album the band take more of a lean into the afflictions of hip-hop and trap than they ever have before. It’s not uncommon for a psychedelic based outfit to take their sound in a more hip-hop direction, were looking at you Tame Impala. The difference with the direction Kevin Parker took on ‘Currents’ was that he allowed elements of the sparkly production of hip-hop and R&B to expand his sound palette and let his sonic journeys into psychedelia flourish with this new found wave of expanse. However on ‘Dreamlands’ these influences almost feel like parodies. Through the basic beats, gimmicky rap styles and pitched down vocals it takes all the elements of an interesting sound and tries to boil it down to its most basic elements; almost reaching the level of royalty free music. There is a moment of redemption that comes in the form of Denzel Curry’s feature on ‘Tokyo Drifting’, his bars are as flawless as you could expect from one of his performances; delivered with grit, intent and prowess. However just moments later you’re thrown back into the grating high falsetto verses from Bayley that almost feel like a YouTube parody rap. I guess in most cases YouTube rap is parodic, even if not attempting to be.
Opening this album is something reminiscent of a video game opening sound, with it’s slow building violins and dancing piano melody. It leaves you excited for whats to come as Bayley’s vocal melody brings a sense of dreaminess with it; apt for the song title. It talks of the journey this album is about to take you on in its own meta way “You float in the pool where the soundtrack is Can, You go ask your 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”. Sonically it’s perhaps its the most expansive song on the album, which although brings promise for the rest of the album, the hype is never quite lived up to. The melodies of ‘Dreamland’ do make a reappearance at the end of closer ‘Helium’, forming a nice tie up to the album. Except it would be if the track didn’t then add in a new tripped out synth passage and ‘home movie’ sample. Thrown in throughout the album these samples slowly get more ambient as the album progresses but never really add much in the way thematically, just seeming to extend the tracklist, perhaps to match with streamings desire for longer albums.
What allowed ‘How To Be A Human Being’ to really thrive was its vibrant production and dynamic soundscapes. On ‘Dreamland’ these often seem to watered down to the bare minimum of some soft electronic drum beats and vaporwave style synthesisers. There’s numerous occasions on which the four chord melody that starts the songs carries through until the end. Like the twanging guitars of ‘Heat Waves’, ‘Waterfalls Coming Out Of Your Mouth’ or the 90’s hip-hop snyth samples on ‘Your Love (Déjà Vu). And once you’ve sat through a few of these one after another it becomes hard to distinguish any real dynamic between them; each getting lost in the almost off the cuff ramblings thrown on top. “How did this all go so Pete Tong? ” Bayley asks on ‘The Melon And The Coconut’ and wether intentionally or not ‘It’s All So Incredibly Loud’ does in fact go very Pete Tong. Gliding through a big synth build up throughout, with added flourishes of stringed instruments. The main difference with a Pete Tong song is that the build usually pays off, the problem here is after this almost four minute ascent you’re left feeling underwhelmed as the song just fizzles out to the woodwind melody and clunking beat.
It’s not as if the stories within this album don’t feel personal or disingenuous, but the presentation of them with multitudes of clichés come across as like a caption on an Instagram post. “As cold as an old ice cream sandwich, as focused as Mr. Miyagi, You poke at your phone posting aerial photos of you and your smoothie, I can’t keep on making you happy ’cause you got issues with your daddy” Bayley sings on ‘Tangerine’. A track that explores themes of not recognising a person you once admired, yet still seeing glints of their former self within them. And some of the bars on the rapped verses read as an attempted Tinder conversation start. ” I’m going to read your mind, Big dicks and big ol’ titties on the sly, Say I got Aries eyes, Fuck no, I’m a bonafide Aquemini”
Much like a dream this album comes off as messy, confused and never really nailing what it sets out to be. It has glimpses of ideas and movements that show artistic exploration but presents them in such a way that after coming away from it you’re not really quite sure what happened along the way.