Hidden Gems: Dreamland by Glass Animals

Dreamland by Glass Animals

First of all, welcome back to my column! I hope you had a great summer regardless of the current state of the world, and I’m glad you’ve come back to read about art that I’m passionate about. You might have noticed that my column actually has a title now! Hidden Gems is going to be a running series where I bring to light some hidden gems of art that have been overlooked or underappreciated by the majority of people. Be warned, there might also be some lumps of coal (e.g. art related topics that I’m passionately furious about). In the first entry of this series is the album Dreamland, released in August of 2020 by the band Glass Animals. I’ve been looking forward to an album by Glass Animals since their last album in 2016, and I got even more excited as they started dropping amazing singles like Tokyo Drifting. Having listened to the entire album at least 50 times now, I can guarantee it qualifies for hidden gem status. I think the album can be best summed up by my three favorite songs, which are presented here, along with some of my thoughts on what makes each one so spectacular:

Space Ghost Coast to Coast:

This is the first big moment on the album and one of my favorites by far. The intro starts with a deep, heavy strumming and a clappy beat that is so incredibly catchy and dark, it immediately grabs your attention. Then Dave (the lead singer) comes in with slightly filtered vocals in his rich and gentle style that creates this moody, atmospheric sound that complements the instrumental so well. Then halfway through there’s this amazing build up, then a crisp and hypnotizing beat breakdown that is absolutely perfect. It reminds me of monsters and cold Halloween nights, alone in the dark. The plot of the song is also notable: it’s the story of a childhood friend who goes down a dark path, and the themes of the story are exactly what the song needs. This is completely different than anything Glass Animals has released before, both in its instrumentation and its themes, which makes it extremely exciting as a Glass Animals fan. Overall it’s a perfect song, I just wish it was longer.

Tokyo Drifting  ft. Denzel Curry:

I have to be up front: if you’ve been reading my column for awhile you’ll already know this, but I’m a huge Denzel Curry fan. His style is absolutely unique and incredibly intense, and I always get so hyped when he starts a verse. It seems like Glass Animals understands the effect that Denzel has, and that they crafted this song around that same energetic and electric feeling. The synths they use are large and brassy, overlaid with one another to create this whole symphony of punchy rhythms. The lyrics and vocal delivery by Dave are subtle and cool, which perfectly align with the themes of the songs. This song also nails its transitions: there are so many spots where the song sets itself up for an amazing drop, and then totally obliterates the landing. The build up to Denzel’s verse is a stellar example of tension, and of course when Denzel comes in it’s insanely cool and perfectly executed. It’s easy to see why it’s such a great song, and I don’t think nearly enough people have heard it.

Waterfalls Coming Out Your Mouth:

This song starts with another incredible intro, featuring a plucky guitar and punchy percussion. Overall, the percussion on this album is one of its greatest achievements: each song is a completely different experience, unlike anything I’ve heard in other music. Then Dave starts singing and it’s like all the pieces fall together and the atmosphere of the song is revealed. It’s over-the-top and not afraid to experiment with multiple styles, changing instrumentation often and contrasting light vocal passages with intense responses. Halfway through the song is one of the best moments on the entire album: everything goes soft and timid, there’s a gradual build up with some carefully placed effects, and then suddenly it’s pure, outrageous insanity. I absolutely love the palette of this song and how well it demonstrates the stylistic freedom of Glass Animals. You have to give it a listen, not even just these three songs, but the entire album. It’s not a perfect project, but it’s certainly a hidden gem.

Good News by Mac Miller

Anybody who has been a long-time reader of my posts knows how much I care about Mac Miller and the musical legacy he left behind. Underappreciated during his time and recently discovered by many after his passing, there has always been more to him than people assumed. Even when I first started listening to his music and went to a concert on his Divine Feminine tour in 2016, I was under the impression that he was vulgar and overly explicit, and that his music left a lot to be desired. Looking back now, my first impression wasn’t entirely off, especially considering that The Divine Feminine is one of his raunchiest and most shallow albums. However, I eventually listened through his discography and found something strange; there was an innocence and relatability to Mac Miller, and a story that was more complicated than first realized. Eventually he released Swimming, his last album before passing, which was a somber and existential monument to his musical talent. Just recently his producer released the posthumous album Circles, which was well received by critics and fans alike. In my opinion, it didn’t encapsulate the personality of Mac Miller like Swimming did, but it gave the world his final gift: Good News. Released as a single before the album, Good News is by far the shining star, and is a tear-jerking farewell to the life of Mac Miller.

The simple, plucky instrumental that introduces the track is catchy and subtle, and is followed up by the gentle voice of Mac Miller himself. Immediately the tone of the song is set; it’s an intimate and vulnerable look into his emotional state, with a focus on his voice and lyricism. The words themselves are devastating:

Why can’t it just be easy?
Why does everybody need me to stay?

Good news, good news, good news
That’s all they wanna hear
No, they don’t like it when I’m down
But when I’m flying, oh, it make ’em so uncomfortable
So different, what’s the difference?

Well, so tired of being so tired

Mac so perfectly conveys how tired he is with his mental state, fighting his inner demons and the pressure of being in the public spotlight. It’s a feeling of giving up, which is even more tragic considering he was only 26 when he passed. On one hand, it seems as if he has finally resigned himself to his fate, and on the other hand there is a feeling of hope and nostalgia, a reason to keep living. One can’t even begin to imagine what he was struggling with, or how his life led him to this point of existential questioning. He used to be an outrageous and energetic performer who didn’t care about public opinion, but now it’s obvious that he was much more complex than he portrayed. These final few lines are some of the most gut-wrenching and self-aware in musical history:

If you know me, it ain’t anything new
Wake up to the moon, haven’t seen the sun in a while
But I heard that the skies still blue, yeah
Heard they don’t talk about me too much no more
And that’s a problem with a closed door

There’s a whole lot more for me waiting on the other side
I’m always wondering, if it feel like summer
I know maybe I’m too late, I could make it there some other time
Then I’ll finally discover

I’m not exaggerating when I say that the world cried listening to these final words. What a punch in the heart; how could he be so prophetic and aware of his fate, and yet welcome it with open arms. He finally stopped fighting himself so that he could be at peace. I would argue that these words leave no room for another album: these are the words of a man who has nothing left to say and has realized and come to terms with the meaning of his life. I have so much respect for him and everything that he made, especially at the end when it was clear that he was struggling. He managed to write his own eulogy, and in doing so left the world with his greatest gift, and for that I’ll always be thankful. Rest in peace Mac Miller.

Salvador Dali

I recently finished Dali the Paintings, an amazing collection of Salvador Dali’s works accompanied by commentary and an interesting account of his life by Robert Descharnes and Gilles Neret. I’ve written about my particular interest in surreal art before, and Salvador Dali was one of the most influential leaders of the movement; as he said himself, “the only difference between me and the Surrealists is that I am a surrealist”. He was well known in popular culture for being eccentric and arrogant, and many of his works are iconic today. In reading through his biography, I was surprised by how much depth there was to him as a person, and how much his personality and art style changed throughout his life. I definitely recommend reading Dali the Paintings if you have the time, even if you aren’t typically interested in art history; the story itself is stranger than fiction. However, instead of reviewing his life, I thought I would highlight some of the most interesting paintings, provide some context, and explain why I find them so fascinating.

Atavistic Ruins after the Rain, 1934 by Salvador Dali
Atavistic Ruins after the Rain, 1934

One of the first paintings I ever saw by Salvador Dali was Atavistic Ruins after the Rain, and it is easily one of the most memorable. I was struck by how different it was from the fine art that I was used to; it was strange and other-wordly, with a feeling of gravity and oppression that was completely unusual. After learning more about surrealism and Dali, I realized that I enjoyed the ominous and unexplainable atmosphere of surrealism just as much as the amazing technical mastery. Most of my favorite works by Dali were made around this time, when he was 30 and leaving his group of surrealists for popularity in America. I find these paintings to be the most haunting, with similar landscapes based on the Catalonian cliffs of Spain where Dali grew up. Many of his motifs were first introduced during this period, such as the crutch, the standing figures, and the soft, melting architecture. In general, this painting represents to me what makes Dali great, not only as a painter, but as an artist of atmosphere.

The Elephants, 1948 by Salvador Dali
The Elephants, 1948

Another iconic painting by Dali is The Elephants, painted in 1948. There is a lot of important context needed in order to understand this painting relative to Dali’s life. Firstly, Dali was greatly affected by the bombings of Japan in 1945; he turned to mysticism, and adopted a unique belief in the atom and nuclear physics as the closest representations of God. These new beliefs led to prominent religious imagery in his paintings and a new form of atomic surrealism. This painting in particular has a nuclear feeling, with its red sky and barren landscape, and the elephants carry giant religious obelisks. Dali was also affected by the death of his older brother who died before Dali was born. His brother’s name was also Salvador and they bore a strong resemblance; as a result, Dali often said that he felt as if he was already dead. This feeling comes across in paintings such as this; even the decay and fragility of the elephants induces anxiety.

This is an incredibly brief introduction to Dali and it’s only the tip of the iceberg as to why I find his work so fascinating. I will definitely be writing more about surrealism in the future, but in the meantime I encourage you to explore the movement yourself. I recommend learning more about Dali and his works as well; he was prolific and each painting is an entire artistic universe.

Dark Souls III

Video Game Photography

Video games are undoubtedly a work of art: they combine immersive graphics, impressive design, originally composed music, and complex writing and storytelling to create a cohesive masterpiece. Of course every game is different, and each has its strengths and weaknesses, but overall they’re one of the most unique and interesting ways in which many different art forms can come together. Surprisingly, I had never consciously acknowledged the cinematic qualities of video games, but I always found myself taking screenshots of amazing moments, or lining up the camera in just the right way to show off an impressive view or landscape. It could be argued that I’m a bit overly sentimental, and that’s probably true, but there is something so powerful about a cinematic picture of a great game and the associations that it creates. I’m not the only one that feels this way; many games have even added photo modes, allowing normal players to take stunning pictures in-game and share them with other players, plus the PlayStation 4 has both a snapshot and screen recording feature, testifying to the popularity of saving favorite gaming moments. I find this trend interesting, especially as games get more and more realistic. Is there a potential future where video games become a dominant medium for photography? Is it possible that video game photography could be its own art form? And who gets credit for the artistic value of the photo; the game developers who created it, or the photographer that took it? Regardless, here are some of my own video game photos as inspiration, and perhaps to get you thinking about the artistic value of the medium:

Shadow of the Colossus
Shadow of the Colossus
Journey
Journey
Bloodborne
Bloodborne
Dark Souls III
Dark Souls III

Reviewing Music

I often write about new albums and songs, giving my subjective thoughts and opinions on the production, content, and presentation. When I write about a certain album, it’s because I have strong feelings about it that I can’t help but share, whether they’re extremely negative or positive. The result is a volatile review system, where it seems like I either love something or hate it, and more often than not it seems like I love everything, since I usually write best about the songs and albums that I love. I find myself overthinking this often, especially when I’m writing; I start to question whether or not the review is objective, and what makes a valuable review for the average reader. In examining these questions about music reviewing, I find myself turning to YouTube’s self-proclaimed “internet’s busiest music nerd” Anthony Fantano, who is notable for his frequent album reviews on his channel theneedledrop.

I only started watching Fantano’s reviews a few years ago, and hesitantly at first; I didn’t believe that music could truly be judged, since it is inherently subjective, and I often disagreed with his reviews of my favorite albums. However, there was something fascinating about his approach to reviewing, specifically the vast amount of musical knowledge and terminology he used when examining albums. He is able to fill a ten minute video entirely with thoughtful musical opinions, grounded in absolute reasoning. He certainly has biases (easily seen by genres he prefers), and always reminds his viewers that he is just sharing his opinion, but he always approaches new music and genres with an open mind. I still disagree with some of his final ratings (especially the 3/10 he gave Mac Miller’s Swimming), but I find it hard to argue with him; nothing he says is factually wrong, and at the end of the day it just comes down to a different taste in music. For example, he says that Mac Miller’s singing is off-key and mediocre, with a weak presentation, but I hear the same thing and find it intimate and endearing. It just comes down to a subjective interpretation of objective musical facts, and I find that relationship so fascinating in reviewing music.

After thinking about what makes Anthony Fantano such a fair and interesting critic, I narrowed down great music reviews to two important things: understanding and discussing music objectively, and being passionate about the review. With only objective facts you have a boring and generic review, and with nothing but passion you have an intellectually shallow review that offers no value to the reader’s understanding of the music. With these two thoughts in mind, I look forward to writing more music reviews in the future; thankfully there is no shortage of new and interesting music.

Unlocked: Denzel Curry and Kenny Beats

Denzel Curry is a versatile musical artist with a distinct style that breaks genre boundaries, and Kenny Beats is one of the biggest up-and-coming music producers in the industry, working with a wide variety of artists such as Vince Staples, JID, and Ed Sheeran. Although an unlikely pair, the duo recently released a short music project titled UNLOCKED, only 8 tracks long with a run-time of under 20 minutes. However, it makes the most of every minute: it’s gritty and experimental, combining the aggressive and powerful style of Denzel and the innovative and off-kilter production of Kenny into a thrill ride of an album.

UNLOCKED by Denzel Curry and Kenny Beats

There is no unifying concept to the album (although there’s a great accompanying music video about the two having to recovered the leaked track files in an animated, cartoon-style universe), but the album cover gives a great idea of the overall aesthetic. The art is brutal and objectively cool, with an over-the-top presentation and self-aware attitude that lends itself perfectly to the music. My favorite tracks are Take_it_Back_v2, Lay_Up.m4a, and DIET_; each one is a great representation of what makes the duo so great, featuring clever wordplay and dynamic production. I’m always left speechless when I pay special attention to either Denzel or Kenny; when I focus on Denzel, I’m blown away by his energy and clever lyricism, and when I listen to Kenny’s production, I always find new depths to the instrumentation and sampling. It’s honestly incredible how well the two styles complement each other, and I think a lot of the credit goes to Kenny. He seems to perfectly understand the aesthetic Denzel is working to achieve and makes it a reality.

Although the project is short and lacks a unifying concept, I think it works as an amazing example of the experimental power of this musical duo. Each song packs its own unique punch, and even after listening to the album at least 30 times, I’m still constantly surprised by its style and production. Considering this was only a small project, and that Denzel is known for releasing few full albums, I’m really hoping that he takes this style and runs with it, and maybe even works with Kenny Beats again for his next project.