The World is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid to Die’s New Album Will Make You Have All the Feelings

Phillip Morgan ‘18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Copy Edited By: Lindsay Simmons

Image Credit: TWIABP&IANLATD’s Bandcamp page
Image Credit: TWIABP&IANLATD’s Bandcamp page
Pretty much everything about The World is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid to Die screams “epic.” The absurdly long name. The instrumentation (two vocalists, three guitars, bass, drums, keyboards, violin, and sometimes even trumpet). The sizable amount of collective facial hair. But the Willimantic, Connecticut, emo collective never seems satisfied. Even after their 2013 debut album Whenever, If Ever brought them well-deserved national attention, they still strive to push the boundaries of what emo is capable of. In the two years since, they’ve teamed up with a spoken word artist, released an anti-New Year’s EP, perpetuated an internet hoax, allegedly solved the punk subgenre crisis, and put Ryan Gosling on their merchandise. Yet, somehow they caught most of their fan base completely off guard with their new record’s first single “January 10th, 2014,” featuring their multi-perspective take on the story of Diana, the Hunter of Bus Drivers as well as a massive step-up in production quality courtesy of their recent jump to Epitaph Records and guitarist/trumpeter/producer Chris Teti’s intimate knowledge of the band’s strengths. Harmlessness is TWIABP shifting into maximum overdrive and daring you to call them bloated, only they’re talented enough to make it work. 
[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mVg0lBtzgQQ[/embedyt] Following the departure of guitarist/co-vocalist “Shitty” Greg Horbal shortly before the recording of Harmlessness, keyboardist Katie Shanholtzer-Dvorak steps up to the mic and it turns out that not only is she the superior singer, but her duets with front man David Bello are above and beyond simply picking up the lyrics where the other left off. Instead, the pair operates on two separate but parallel channels, sometimes joining for intense, cathartic final choruses, other times shifting into a conversational style that is most prominent in “January 10th, 2014.” In an album chocked full of exceptionally strong, challenging lyrics, this song stands out not simply due to its dark subject matter, but in how the band chooses to handle it. Initially they stand firmly on the side of the victimized woman, saying, “This is a duel and she won. Congratulate her, send her thanks. ‘How great that someone’s doing what many of us should have done,’” but then swiftly acknowledge the glorification of a suspected murderer with, “Put up a statue of the new killer out of chains in the waxing moon.” However, Dvorak closes the song speaking for Diana herself with, “But don’t you quiver. I am an instrument. I am revenge. I am several women,” implying that while TWIABP acknowledges that while Diana’s actions are problematic, the bus drivers who abused their female passengers and those who looked the other way ultimately brought this terror on themselves.
[embedyt]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iX9l5rl3CE0[/embedyt]
That’s not to say the rest of the lyrics are subpar; they just don’t quite reach that multi-layered, cerebral level on the other songs. Still, there are some captivating and emotionally devastating moments throughout the album. The howling gang chorus, “Change your life. Please change your life. Change my life. Please change my life,” coupled with Bello’s background musings, “We spent the last twenty-three minutes hallucinating over the phone. I kept both my hands still while we saw the same building explode,” that close out “Haircuts for Everybody.” The juxtaposition of daily apathy, “You’re harmless in your mind. You’re formless in the night. And that’s alright,” with the final rebuttal, “Formless shapes in the darkness. We are as harmless as the thoughts in our heads. Drinking poison and chewing on concrete, burning holes in the sheets on our beds. We think that the world is alright. And that’s a lie,” on opener “You Can’t Live There Forever.” Pretty much the entirety of “Ra Patera Dance” and the penultimate epic “I Can be Afraid of Anything.” The territory of social anxiety, depression, and the struggle to keep relationships afloat are all familiar subjects for both the band and the genre they inhabit, but that doesn’t make what Bello and Shanholtzer-Dvorak have to say any less mesmerizing.
[embedyt]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lA0PvnqxV1g[/embedyt]
Aside from the lush, slick guitar textures afforded by the production upgrade, the rest of the band hasn’t deviated too far from their typical methods, though that’s hardly a disappointment. Steven Buttery is still an absolute monster on the drums, shifting at the drop of a hat from the subtle atmospherics to some of the most ferocious drumming we’ve heard all year. Josh Cyr has grown into one of punk’s most inventive bassists, managing to stand out even while backing seven other people. Meanwhile, guitarists Derrick Shanholtzer-Dvorak, Chris Teti, and newcomer Dylan Balliett refine their tri-fold riffs, melodies, and sonics to peak clarity (there are no screams from Shanholtzer; Teti only whips out the trumpet a handful of times as a strictly textural component). The three are almost always on their own wavelength while simultaneously trading duties with fluidity that many bands can’t match with two guitarists switching off power chords. But if anyone’s winning a “Most Improved” award among the instrumentalists, it’s violinist Nick Kwaś. On Harmlessness, there isn’t a single moment where he sounds like a synthesizer add-on or an excuse for TWIABP to rack up quirky indie cred. This time, there’s a sense that his absence would leaves holes in most of these songs, as he often takes on the primary melody himself rather than constantly hanging in the background.
[embedyt]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-wjAYRKW2c[/embedyt]
However, while Harmlessness never loses steam at any point during its 13-track, hour-long runtime, there are some creative missteps here and there. “Blank #11,” while an expected continuation of their running gag of pointless atmospheric tracks, feels even less substantial than its predecessors, like the band is deliberately wasting the listener’s time (Why couldn’t they continue the tradition of a Steve-titled song instead? Omega Steve? Alpha Steve? Maximum Over-Steve?). “Mental Health,” though well-written, is a pretty forgettable folky acoustic tune that seems to exist solely so the band didn’t pass out from exhaustion during the recording process. “We Need More Skulls” is an admirable attempt to steer the record towards a darker tone for a bit, but quickly runs out of substance and gradually dissipates into nothing, as if the band is just trying to run out the clock until the next song. Luckily, the strength of the other ten tracks, especially the grand finale of back-to-back epics “I Can be Afraid of Anything” and “Mount Hum,” are so wonderfully breathtaking that such bumps in the road are quickly forgotten.
[embedyt]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y0SQHtlGA28[/embedyt]
The song “The Word Lisa” ends with the notion that “Life will always be weird,” and in a sense it’s a pretty strong reflection of the band’s mentality. Regardless of what they or anyone else does, life will always throw in some uncomfortable obstacle to throw them off balance. So they might as well respond in kind with bizarre musical arrangements and a tongue-in-cheek band persona to match. But underneath the ridiculously long name, wacky online hijinks, and delightfully non-sequitur merchandise themes, The World is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid to Die is one of the most eclectic and captivating bands in the current emo landscape. Harmlessness is one of those records that embraces emotional and intellectual complexity, rejects pop conventions, and still inexplicably burns every moment into you brain. It doesn’t look or sound nice, it just demands to be heard in all its glory, and you’ll find yourself discovering new moments that surprise or amaze you with every listen. TWIABP may still be considered one of the stranger, more experimental groups on the indie/emo circuit, but now they’re the band to beat, as well.

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