glass beach were living the dream. It was January 2020 and their debut album, cheekily titled the first glass beach album, had just received the reissue treatment from Run for Cover Records mere months after its initial Bandcamp release. Potential fans no longer had to follow the right accounts on Twitter in order to stumble across their music. glass beach went on their first proper tour. Then, you know what happened next.
But if any burgeoning band could’ve outlasted the thick of the pandemic, it’s glass beach. The group’s initial trio of vocalist J McClendon, bassist Jonas Newhouse, and drummer William White came together online, after Newhouse and White discovered McClendon’s solo music on their college radio station; staying connected virtually was in their very nature. Thanks to platforms like Zoom, Twitch, Discord, and even Minecraft, the band were able to foster their relationships with their listeners as well as each other, exchanging demos that would eventually evolve into their thrilling sophomore album, plastic death.
With guitarist Layne Smith in the fold, the album officially began to take shape in late 2021 after all the members moved into the same house together. Through persistent practicing and endless jam sessions, it was here that most of plastic death was recorded, an album that feels much more massive than the sum of its parts.
Take opener “coelacanth,” which begins with a gentle, ominous piano arpeggio that eventually morphs into a double-time guitar riff. “Children were singing/ Animals bleating/ Markets and town square/ In dissonant fanfare,” McClendon sings, evoking the grandiosity of a rock opera. It’s the type of imagery that could come off as self-important, but glass beach have the chops and self-awareness to back it up.
That introspection is felt into the overall atmosphere of plastic death, too, which sees the playful maximalism of the first glass beach album evolve towards something a bit more abstract, darker, and proggier. Like Weyes Blood’s 2022 opus And In the Darkness, Hearts Aglow, plastic death hopes to rip off your rose-colored glasses, gorgeously utilizing McClendon’s allegorical references to literature and the deep sea. While the first glass beach album was more heavily concerned with how one’s individual identity fits in to the contemporary world, plastic death explores how the world itself shapes those identities.
In the time that plastic death began taking shape, McClendon was analyzing their favorite experimental music down to its most fundamental components. And while the album does hinge on some of the same mathy pop elements that initially put glass beach under the “fifth-wave emo” umbrella, McClendon’s sharp, analytical ear elevates plastic death beyond the usual fare. “whalefall” places marimba chords over a skittering beat indebted to Aphex Twin, the riffs of “coelcanth” move in a 12/8 sway, “the CIA” culminates into a grating industrial breakdown, and “slip under the door” sounds like it samples the gurgle of a home aquarium. plastic death is a rare case of an album that feels at once meticulously crafted and shockingly imaginative.