Glass Animals single ‘Heat Waves’ embodies stripped-down melancholia

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Glass Animals continue to wax thematic nostalgia in “Heat Waves,” the fourth single from its anticipated studio album, Dreamland, which has been postponed to August 7 out of consideration for the Black Lives Matter movement. The single is the latest iteration of faith to the group’s recognizable brand of psychedelic pop, and yet it offers a newfound integrity. Those familiar cooed vocals and gooey transitions are cleaner. Those blurry cadences, sharper. A certain mist has been lifted, and the song features a more honest melody than the band’s usual storm of reverbed percussion and woozy choirs. 

The track begins with samples from the song’s chorus. The muted voice collides with the group’s signature bass-heavy melodic line, which then gives into a dystopian, pitched-down overlay of that first chorus. Each change snaps like the handing of an Olympic baton — the tempo is uncompromising and faces forward, lending a comfortable ache throughout the track. 

The overall mellowness is reminiscent of old hits such as “Season 2 Episode 3,” but the similarities are overshadowed by the stark confidence of the vocals. Frontman Dave Bayley breathes life into the pleasant sterility at the 40-second mark, and in a rare turn for the British four-piece, the vocals are prioritized over the addictive, dancey beat.

Typical Glass Animals lyrics are fantastical, munchie-oriented punchlines — “People standing in line to buy whatever the McFuck they might want,” “Peanut butter vibes,” “Pineapples are in my head.” But “Heat Waves” is broken into repetitive stanzas, blunt blocks analogizing road mirages to mirrors to screens. In the echoing bridge, Bayley sings breathlessly: “I just wish that I could give you that/ That look that’s perfectly un-sad.” The absence of the usual lyrical easter egg is salvaged by the intriguing concept of an “un-sad” expression, as well as the crushing tenderness with which Bayley sings the word “June.”

Bayley contextualized “Heat Waves” and its accompanying music video via Instagram captions. The song was recorded with the intent to communicate loss: “It’s about realizing you can’t make everyone happy. And realizing it’s ok to be defeated by something,” Bayley says of the song. He explained that the music video is a reflection of the particular loss from the lockdown restrictions: “The Heat Waves video is a love letter to live music and the culture and togetherness surrounding it. It was filmed at peak lockdown in my neighborhood in East London by the lovely people who live around me, just using their phones.”

A festival darling since its early success, Glass Animals forged a reputation for adventurous live shows that rework the tracks in active symbiosis with live audiences. The band’s performance of “The Other Side of Paradise” at Red Rocks in 2018 (forever immortalized on YouTube) has a supernatural edge: The roaring crowd, the torrential downpour, the strike of lightning as Bayley sings, “My thunder shook him down.” 

The “Heat Waves” video is an homage to that relationship — the relationship cultivated between the atmosphere of breath and sweat, between sound and touch. As Bayley walks down the street with his concert equipment in tow, he’s recorded from doorways and windows, via the very smartphones that would document a Glass Animals live show. The video is interspersed with footage from the phones — grainy and wobbly, the all-too-familiar cinematography of a concertgoer. There’s a palpable loneliness in this part of his performance. Bayley arrives at an empty venue and sets up. His bandmates play on the screens of old TV sets, and he performs the tail end of the song. The video closes on a mock-up “sold out” poster of the canceled Dreamland tour. For all intents and purposes, this music video was a live show. 

With Dreamland, Glass Animals will be reoccupying a space that hasn’t been touched since their last studio album in 2016. “Heat Waves” suggests they’ve emerged from the bog with a sound that is at once both familiar and vulnerable. 

Contact Katherine Chen at [email protected].