The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die streaming new album ‘Harmlessness’ (listen)
by Andrew Sacher
There might not be any band quite like The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die going right now. They have almost as many members as words in their band name (a name some people still can't get past), and some of those members come and go at will, including lead vocalists. They haven't gone a year since their 2010 debut EP Formlessness without putting out at least one release, and more than one has been classified as "Novelty." Another earned "Musical Parody." (Throughout their discography, they have a series of songs called "blank." One of them, "blank #69," is on that musical parody release. It's a 25-second recording of their cellist playing the riff to CKY's "96 Quite Bitter Beings" and backs a "cover" of John Cage's "4'33"".) The third single of their upcoming album Harmlessness was released as an MP3 file in reverse. But when they aren't satirizing the music world, they're often making cathartic, melodic rock songs. Thirteen of those songs make up their new album, which is by far the best thing they've done in their prolific career.
TWIABP have been linked, pretty much since day one, to the "emo revival," but I hesitate to call Harmlessness emo. Not because it's a bad word, but because save for sometimes-nasally vocals and a few distorted power chords, it doesn't really describe how this album sounds. We recently welcomed the return of The Most Serene Republic, saying we missed hearing pop music that's too weird and complex for the radio but too earnest and ambitious for detached indie rock. If this album sounds like anything, it's that (or any other many-membered Canadian indie band from the 2000s) more so than any band that ever counted Mike Kinsella as a member. Those vibes were already on their debut LP, Whenever, If Ever, but here they're in much fuller force. Unlike their debut, there's no screaming at all this time, and it's not really produced like an emo record either. Their early material had them sounding like a scrappy basement band with ambitions of leaving the basement, but now they're completely out of it. Harmlessness is a bright, warm-sounding record that would actually sound better on a big stage than crammed into a sweaty DIY venue.
Vocals are often handled by David Bello, who replaced Thomas Diaz during the sessions for their last album, and this time around keyboardist Katie Shanholtzer-Dvorak is often a co-lead singer. The male/female back-and-forth gives TWIABP an appeal not unlike Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell in Stars or Jenny Lewis and Ben Gibbard in The Postal Service, an element the band never had before. Like on their last album but bolder in every way, Harmlessness layers walls of guitars on top of synth leads, string and horn arrangements, and furious drumming. TWIABP's lyrics were always vivid, but here they're deeper than ever.
Gone are the references to listening to Rival Schools and mewithoutYou on car rides, and in their places are some heavy issues. The excellent lead single "January 10, 2014" seeks revenge against a sexual predator (specifically it's the story of Diana, the Hunter of Bus Drivers but the message holds up on a more universal level too), though most of the album focuses more on the internal. Like on previous records, their band name is constantly informing their lyrics, and on the first song here they contradict it: "You think that the world is alright but that's a lie 'cos we're afraid to die and that's alright." On a song titled "Mental Health," TWIABP remind us "You are normal and healthy to forgive yourself." On another, they sing "I'm afraid to think of ending it." The fast-paced anxiety-driven "The Word Lisa" sings of freaking out at the supermarket and concludes "life will always be weird." More than one song makes references to trees, something often seen as a symbol of enduring strength. If that's how TWIABP intended it, it suits this album well.
The best moment though, like on Whenever, If Ever, is the colossal ending. That album ended with one long post-rocky song -- the 7-minute "Getting Sodas" -- and this time we get two. The first is the 7+ minute second single "I Can Be Afraid Of Anything," which transitions lyrically and musically from a depressing beginning to one of the album's most hopeful songs. (We wrote about that one in detail here.) Then it's "Mount Hum," eight minutes of dynamic shifts, effected guitars, lush strings, and three lead vocal parts overlapping each other. TWIABP reveal a lot to us in the 50 or so minutes that make up the record proper, and "Mount Hum" ends with a folky hidden track that seems to offer their conclusion to these wild, personal revelations: "And when I tell them what I see, nobody believes me."
The whole album is almost twice as long as its predecessor but it actually feels shorter. There's not a moment where this thing drags; it's all killer start to finish. It probably goes without saying that I can't recommend this thing enough. The album is officially out on Friday (9/25) via Epitaph, but the band just put the whole thing up for a $7 download on bandcamp. You can and should stream the whole thing below.
The band will be on tour soon with Foxing, another band who blends indie, emo and post-rock and has an anticipated album on the way. Support comes from TTNG and Brightside, and the tour hits NYC on 12/3 at MHOW (tickets). All dates are listed with the stream, below...
TWIABP / Foxing / TTNG / Brightside -- 2015 Tour Dates
Nov. 2 - Tallahassee, FL - Club Downunder *
Nov. 4 - Newport, KY - The Southgate House Revival
Nov. 5 - Columbus, OH - The Basement
Nov. 6 - Grand Rapids, MI - The Pyramid Scheme
Nov. 7 - Chicago, IL - Subterranean
Nov. 8 - Minneapolis, MN - 7th Street Entry
Nov. 10 - Denver, CO - Bluebird Theater
Nov. 11 - Salt Lake City, UT - Kilby Court
Nov. 12 - Reno, NV - The Holland Project
Nov .13 - Portland, OR - Analog Theater
Nov. 14 - Vancouver, BC - Biltmore Cabaret
Nov. 15 - Seattle, WA - The Vera Project
Nov. 17 - San Francisco, CA - Rickshaw Shop
Nov. 18 - Los Angeles, CA - Roxy Theatre
Nov. 20 - Phoenix, AZ - The Rebel Lounge
Nov. 21 - El Paso, TX - Mesa Music Hall
Nov. 23 - Dallas, TX - Gas Monkey Bar N Grill
Nov. 24 - Austin, TX - Sidewinder
Nov. 25 - Houston, TX - Walters
Nov. 27 - Atlanta, GA - The Masquerade
Nov. 28 - Nashville, TN - The End
Nov. 30 - Richmond, VA - The Camel
Dec. 1 - Morgantown, WV - 123 Pleasant St
Dec. 2 - Baltimore, MD - Ottobar
Dec. 3 - Brooklyn, NY - Music Hall of Williamsburg
Dec. 4 - Philadelphia, PA - Union Transfer
Dec. 5 - Ithaca, NY - The Haunt *
Dec. 6 - Boston, MA - The Sinclair *
* - no TTNG