Glass Beach’s long-awaited sophomore album proves to be even more ambitious and boundary-pushing than their debut

Image Source: Run for Cover Records, 2024

By Drew DeBerry

Glass Beach is an indie band that got their start when the band's bassist and drummer discovered music from a project called ‘Casio Dad’ at their local college radio station. The person behind this project was none other than J McClendon, the person who would become Glass Beach’s vocalist and band leader (they identify as non-binary so I’m going to try my best to refrain from gendered terms when referring to them). The trio eventually relocated to the Los Angeles area and in 2019, they put out their first album, appropriately titled “The First Glass Beach Album”.

This debut album became a sort of cult classic in the DIY indie and emo scene, with songs such as “Cold Weather” and “Bedroom Community” becoming minor successes. This album is incredibly ambitious, especially for a debut album. It combines math rock, jazz, indie, punk, and even chiptune elements to make a unique listening experience. I discovered this album in late 2020 during my senior year of high school and from the first two tracks on the album I was completely hooked. If you drove in a car with me during the years 2021 and 2022 there’s a decent chance I was going to play either ‘Yoshi’s Island’ or ‘Bedroom Community’ on aux. They took already established styles of music and their eccentric lyrical style and combined them to make a sound that was quirky, new, and exciting. That being said, I would be lying if I said their first album was a bit of a mess. A lot is going on but sometimes it feels like the band is attempting to try on too many hats at once which makes parts of the album (particularly the middle) feel clunky, disjointed, and a bit long. Sometimes it felt like they wanted to lean more in an indie rock direction while other times it felt like they wanted to go for a more complex prog-rock and electro-rock sound, so the album would give me tonal whiplash. However, this was the album the best songs on the album are still some of my favorite songs of all time. After their first album, the band entered a hiatus that lasted about 4 years leaving me wondering “Are they ever going to put out new music?”. 

Late in 2023, they began releasing singles leading up to their new album “Plastic Death”.So the question arises; does this live up to the first album for me? Well, yes and no. The first Glass Beach album has a lot of songs like ‘Bedroom Community’ and ‘Classic J Goes to Hell Part 1’ that have a very special place in my heart and I don’t feel like there are any songs on this new album that quite reach those heights for me. However, I do think this album is more consistent and had more thought put into how it flows as an album than the band's first outing. Anyone who is expecting a part 2 of their debut will be disappointed as this album steers the band away from the poppier and more commercial tendencies and towards a more ethereal and psychedelic sound. Don’t get me wrong, this album still has moments like ‘motions’ and ‘rare animal’ that show that they can still deliver relatively straight-forward indie rock bangers, but this album demonstrates their range to great effects.

When I heard the first few minutes of ‘coelacanth’ I knew this album was going to be different. The song starts with a looping piano line, some spoken word, and some eerie synths which eventually lead into J’s first verse which displays the vast improvement they’ve made in their vocal abilities. The vocals, soaked in some delicious vocal effects kind of remind me of Julian Casablancas on The Strokes’ new(er) album from 2020, and considering that’s my favorite album of 2020, that is definitely a positive. ‘Coelacanth’ clocks in at almost 7 minutes, but it never feels like it overstays its welcome. As the song brings in more synthesizers and even a marimba (which I was not expecting to hear on a glass beach album) the build-up feels visceral Eventually the song explodes into this killer breakdown with a wall of guitars while J delivers the final chorus and that was when I knew I was in for a treat.

‘Motions’ keeps this pace up with it being another one of my favorites on the album. As I stated before, this song is probably the closest on the album to what I would describe as their signature sound. This song rocks, plain and simple, the energy the song delivers with the pounding drums and inspired vocals is infectious but the icing on the cake is the brass accompaniment. The trumpets and trombones on this song are played by Jer Hunter who has a YouTube channel called Skatune Network where he plays popular songs in a ska style (check him out, he is awesome). This brass serves to make the song that much more impactful and punchy, it never feels like it overwhelms everything else in the song and only serves to enhance what is an already fantastic song.

‘Slip Under the Door’ shows a more subdued and nuanced side of the band that we didn’t get to see much on their first album. The instrumental passage of this song feels very eerie and atmospheric before building into an explosive ending with J pulling out his best screamo impression. While I do admittedly love the screamo section the transition into said section feels so jarring and disconnected from the rest of the song. This is still ultimately a good song. ‘Guitar Song’ is unfortunately one of the skips on the album for me. It’s cute and brief and more or less just feels like an intermission between ‘Slip Under the Door” and the next song, ‘Rare Animal.

‘Rare Animal’ feels similar to ‘Motions’ where it starts slower and builds towards an explosive ending, and while I like ‘Motions’ a bit more ‘Rare Animal’ is still a standout track. I love the bass groove in the first half of the song and the beach rock tone of the guitar. The song then launches into a punchy and upbeat second half with the gang vocals I have come to know and love from the band's first album. This was the lead single for this album and I can see why, as it feels like one of the more accessible and easily digestible songs, while also maintaining the ethos of the album. The song then quickly transitions into ‘cul-de-sac’ a song about embracing and accepting change, even if it’s sad or painful. I like the way they use a ‘cul-de-sac’ as a symbol for feeling trapped as it’s not only a literal dead-end but often can represent the boredom and stagnation of suburban life in the 21st century. It’s a cool metaphor and I loved the way they incorporated it into the song. This song is not only fascinating lyrically but musically too. ‘Cul-de-sac’ has a spacier theme thanks in part to the wonderful synth arrangements and the complex yet melodic guitar parts. I think this song's greatest strength is combining many complicated moving parts into an excellent and cohesive final package. And that guitar solo at the end just HITS YOUR SOUL.

The album then delves into a more ambient track with ‘whalefall’. This song has an 808 of all things and it somehow fits and doesn't feel out of place (we also get the return of the marimba). ‘Whalefall’ is one of the more political tracks on the album as it details oil conglomerates and how majorly they are impacting the environment. The line “in the undertow, feeding on the body of a whale” shows how oil companies are making billions at the expense of killing aquatic life and “feeding off the body of a whale” the way deep-sea organisms do. That being said while I appreciate the more ambitious and cryptic lyrics, the instrumental does lack a bit of the edge that the last few songs had and the climax of this song feels a bit middling compared to that of many of the other tracks on the album.
‘Puppy” is GROOVY. This song comes in and immediately hits you with that funky and percussive bass and guitar combo. This is one of the most upbeat songs on the album and while it's nowhere near the most complex, it still has its moments (the bridge in particular). And sometimes all you need is some scream vocals and a banger guitar line. Also, when looking at the lyrics to this song on Genius there’s a quote from the lead singer that says that this is “their most blatantly furry song” and I just thought that was funny. From there we move on to ‘the killer’ which is another song that hasn’t quite resonated with me yet. It is another subdued song in a similar fashion to ‘whalefall’ and while I feel like the strings that come in near the end of the song are a nice touch, it ultimately doesn’t have enough going on to stick out to me.

‘The CIA’ picks up the pace a little bit and delivers one of the catchier choruses present on this album. I really like the lyrics and the themes of paranoia present in the song as it's something Glass Beach hasn’t done much in their music. I feel like all of the pieces of a great song are here but this doesn’t resonate with me as much as many of the other songs on the album like ‘cul-de-sac’ and ‘rare animal’ that have a similar feel. Something about the mixing feels muddy on this song, the vocals feel drowned out by the guitar and that will happen from time to time on a self-made independent release but this song feels a bit messier than it should be. This song then seamlessly transitions into ‘200’ another ballad with reverb-soaked guitars and a kind of an art rock feel (the instrumental of this song almost feels like it would belong on A Perfect Circle track). This song has a brooding, dark energy that I really enjoy, and the way J’s vocals build toward the end of the song feels so cathartic. This more abstract and ethereal cut is a perfect segue into what is by far the most ambitious song on this album, the 9-minute long ‘commatose’.

‘Commatose’ feels very much like 3 songs in one. The first third is a quiet introduction with some subtle but fantastic strings and some immaculate drumming accented by what I believe is a harp. The song then flawlessly transitions into a more midtempo section with a driving drum beat, looping synths, and what might be my favorite guitar solo on the entire album. There are more technically impressive instrumental passages on this album but the way the guitar solo perfectly complements the other parts of the song is gorgeous. The second section of this section proceeds into chaos before settling back down to another slow and reflective section of the song. This slow section is short-lived as the instrumental eventually builds into a wall of guitars, drums, synths, and basically everything you can imagine. The song then slowly but surely fades out like the rolling of the waves in a very atmospheric way. I honestly wish this was the last song on the album because it is such an epic and impressive note to leave off on, this may not be my favorite song on the album but it’s darn close and it is definitely the cut that I would say is the most impressive.

Our closer is the track ‘Abyss Angel’ and I feel like it’s a fitting way to leave this album. It is not one of my favorites but it has the ethereal and atmospheric moments mixed with some crazy chaos which is definitely a good representation of the album as a whole. Definitely a decent way to end the album.

All things considered, this is a pretty great album. I definitely would not say that it’s perfect, it has a few weaker songs I don’t care for, and at times it felt like certain songs were either too jarring or took too long to get to the point. The first half of the album is also a lot more consistent than the second half in my opinion. The album peaks with ‘cul-de-sac’ and doesn’t quite reach the same heights again until ‘commatose’. However, I think the positives far outweigh the negatives in this case. I think the 5-year gap between albums gave the band a chance to mature and hone in on what they were very good at. The result is an album that is a lot more focused, evolved, and mature than their first record. However, while the bands debut is a bit of a mess there are songs like ‘bedroom community’ and ‘yoshi’s island’ that have a charm and sense of fun about them that I do miss from this album. The closest we really get to this energy is ‘puppy’, everything else on this album feels a lot more serious and dark. While there are a few select songs from Glass Beaches first album that I like more than anything on ‘Plastic Death’, I do think this is a step up in terms of production, songwriting, and performance. I would give this album a solid 8 out of 10.

If you’ve reached the end of this review and still have not checked out this band, I highly recommend that you do, especially if you gravitate toward prog rock or indie rock. They have an exhilarating and one-of-a-kind sound due to their DIY roots and they deserve more of an audience than they currently have.