I’ll be honest: I completely forgot DMA’S were releasing a new album in the second week of July. Epic fail for a music blogger, I know. Thankfully, social media never sleep. So when I was surfing on Twitter last Sunday morning (two whole days after the album dropped!), I came across Louis Tomlinson’s tweet, praising the newest baby in the DMA’S catalogue.
With this sort of recommendation, I pressed “play” right away. And I haven’t stopped listening to it since.
PART 45 OF “AM I EVER GONNA SEE YOUR FACE AGAIN?” A RANDOM COLLECTION OF UNKNOWINGLY OBVIOUS FACTS ABOUT AUSTRALIAN MUSIC SCENE
THE GLOW – DMA’S third studio album – was released on 10 July 2020. A few singles from the record preceded it in 2019/2020. “Silver” even made it to the triple J’s 2019 Hottest 100 countdown at #20.
Apart from that, what you need to know about Tommy O’Dell (vocals), Matt Mason (lead guitar) and Johnny Took (acoustic guitar) is this: they’re from Sydney, play indie rock, have been around since 2012 and are Coachella-certified already. Maybe also that their cover of Cher’s “Believe” is one of their most “popular” records to date, although DMA’S original songs are much more deserving of that merit. On top of that, they appeared at the MTV Unplugged Australia in 2019. So it’s beyond me to understand why they’ve never won an ARIA Award yet. (They will in 2020, guaranteed. You heard it here first.)
Despite their considerable success in Australia and solid international following (currently they have over 1 million monthly listeners on Spotify, for instance), DMA’S are a pretty grounded, humble and shy trio. I reckon they’re just too nice to behave like they’ve earned it. That’s why Louis Tomlinson’s tweet is totally on point: the Sydney “lads” recorded a pretty darn good record. And they should be told that, straight-up.
Actually, it wasn’t good at all that I found out about the Brit’s opinion first. For two main reasons:
- I had really high expectations of the DMA’S album before even hearing it. And it can totally twist your perspective, especially when you’re trying to objectively make up your mind for your music blog’s sake.
- If I disagreed with the British music “royalty”, it would mean that one of us didn’t know anything about Aussie music. Or music at all, for that matter:)
Tough cookie, right? So when I finally hit “play” on the album, I was a bit nervous, like it was me being “assessed”. But after taking it all in now, I can give you at least five (fairly) unbiased reasons why you should find the 41 minutes in your busy, work-from-home, pandemic life to fully appreciate THE GLOW.
1. Tommy’s vocals and the lyrics
Like, it’s still Tommy’s voice but it sounds different, more open. The timbre somehow feels warmer and more polished, too. Perhaps Tommy approached his vocal abilities in a more heartfelt way on this record. Or the songs are more melodic than before… Or maybe it’s all those elements together.
“Silver”, “Appointment” and “Criminals” are where you’ll spot those new subtle vocal shades. In the first case, it’s the simple melody, sung only over the guitar at the beginning that intensifies with the track’s build-up. In the second, it’s the singer’s fragility and profoundness of the lyrics at the same time that resonate with me (“And if it even matters / You told me it was over / But I could wait for hours / ‘Cause you are not for anyone / But forever.”) And on “Criminals” I really liked the vocal ornaments that served their purpose but were not overdone.
The majority of the songs were written way before the (live music) world ended in March 2020. But it feels like Tommy sings exactly about what I need to hear right now. It’s the first argument that speaks in favour of this album.
Take the delicate ballad “Learning Alive”, for instance. It has a beautiful, hopeful message, “I just want to hold it together / How can I tell you we’re getting better with time? / And I’m on your side, I’m on your side.” I’m certain this honesty will help THE GLOW resonate with the old and new fans alike.
2. Listen to the whole album or deconstruct it
In other words, treat it like Netflix’s The Witcher. It’s a pretty coherent piece of work. So you should definitely experience it in its entirety to get the whole picture. On the other hand, each episode (or song in this case) is potentially a stand-alone story. So it’ll still make sense when you just pick a random chapter to check out (and there are eleven on the album). It doesn’t happen all that often for a record to have that many dimensions.
Interestingly, in a recent interview with the UK’s Radio X, Johnny said of the record in general, “There’s parts of it that old-school DMA’S fans might not like, but I reckon in six months or whatever once the album grows, they will”. I’d say it’s pretty accurate.
When I heard “Life Is a Game of Changing” for the first time, I thought it was a DJ remix of the original that, somehow, was included as a bonus track with the record. That’s because the band used a bunch of new effects, steering their sound towards a dance/electronic direction, with more complex, layered arrangements. And whilst I was slightly surprised, this new daring vibe doesn’t take away from THE GLOW‘s overall quality.
But it’s not all new territory. The opener, “Never Before”, is a much simpler track. Johnny admitted that “the song’s 10 years old, and it’s only two chords and the truth.” There are some other DMA’S-que (is that even a word?) tracks on the album that would fit more into the indie rock category, too (like “Strangers” or the fast and loud “Hello Girlfriend” and “Round & Around”).
3. Hit after hit, after hit… but in a good way
You know that feeling when you’re listening to an album, waiting for that good song to happen? THE GLOW is full of this sort of tunes – potentially successful, stand-out singles. And it’s also mostly because they go a little beyond the “usual” DMA’S sound.
“Silver”, for instance, is this monumental, epic anthem (still, below the 4 mins 30 secs mark) that hits home with me when Tommy sings “How do I redefine all my love for you? / I guess I look to the sun with you.” It was actually the first single from the album (and rightfully so). When it was premiered in 2019, I had it on repeat for days.
On the contrary, the title track is the quickest and most straight-to-the-point one on the record. The upbeat tempo and catchy, easy to remember chorus lyrics (“This is the end of all”) make “The Glow” an instant hit.
Or another example: “Life Is a Game of Changing” was chosen “Record of the Week” on the UK’s Radio X. I guess that speaks for its quality and potential “likeability”.
To be clear, I don’t consider the number of released singles to be the only serious criterion in measuring a record’s success. It’s more validation of how good the band’s flow at the time of songwriting was and how well they can suss out their fans. Not every band is good at doing that or has the courage to take musical risks to this extent.
Funnily, when I was listening to the album one evening, my mother (who normally disapproves of my taste) asked me “what this pretty nice music was” for a change. If this is not a sign of THE GLOW being a universal blockbuster for diverse audiences (my mother is nearly 70), then I don’t know what else is.
This is a quote from the band’s Spotify and it’s really hard not to agree with it.
Every band has a breakthrough moment; sometimes it’s their first record, sometimes it comes much later. THE GLOW has the potential of becoming that (even wider) door-opener for the Sydneysiders. So if you’re a newcomer to the DMA’S world, you’re in luck – you’ll get their most interesting stuff to date at the very beginning of your journey. And buckle up because those songs will have you hooked all the way through.
I don’t think that making this record so “big, bold and bright” was a deliberate, audacious move on the band’s part, though. It sounds as if it had come to them effortlessly and naturally. And that’s exactly what makes it that much more believable, too.
Just to be clear, the 11 tunes are not all happy/carefree songs. But the way they’re packaged and delivered sonically and lyrically, they end up being optimistic and just very pretty and melodic in the end.
5. Because Louis Tomlinson said so
I’m dead serious.
DMA’S are considered a new wave of Britpop in music, aka Britpop Revival. There aren’t too many other non-UK groups representing this sub-genre who have been noticed and acknowledged by the prestigious and opinion-forming BBC Radio 1. Plus, the band have already played the one-and-only “Glasto” (Glastonbury) which is the object of desire of pretty much any band in the world.
We all know where Louis Tomlinson comes from, so his acclaim actually validates the album a little more. But even if it wasn’t for his words, THE GLOW deserves the recognition for being DMA’S most adventurous one to date.
If I was to be very picky and critical, I’d maybe have closed the album on a different note than “Cobracaine”. Don’t get me wrong – it’s another great song (whose shape and form, by the way, were partially influenced by… you guessed it – Louis Tomlinson). I would have just wrapped up THE GLOW with a calmer tune 🙂 But that’s a minor note and my very subjective perception.
There is really no better way to sum up THE GLOW than quoting Louis Tomlinson again. So, “Congrats to the DMA’S lads on another great album” indeed.
Produced by: Stuart Price
Label: I OH YOU
Released: 10 July 2020
If you’re in Oz, DMA’S are playing a few gigs in New South Wales and Queensland in July/August. European fans can see the band in Ireland/the UK in October. Provided the COVID-19 situation doesn’t impact the shows in both cases.