Words: Jordan Gorsuch
I’m tired of the endless discussion on how we should be classifying The World is a Beautiful Place and I am No Longer Afraid to Die. Genres are important to a degree, but classifying them as “post-emo” or “emo-revival” or arguing that calling them “emo” at all is doing them a disservice; it just serves to distract from the stellar album they have created.
Harmlessness is TWIABP’s strongest album yet, the band looks outward on issues of women’s rights and the justice that must be taken (“January 10th, 2014”) while also looking inward into our own being (“I Can Be Afraid of Anything”). The album’s production sounds warmer and the lyrics reach further than ever before.
The instrumentalization follows suit: bombastic drums, expressive guitar lines, lush strings, quirky synths, and horn arrangements fill out the background. The album wisely bounces from big, grandiose songs dealing with huge universal themes to these sad, personal, often times beautifully tragic anecdotes that ground the proceedings in mimetic reality (“Willie”). Complex song arrangements go from quiet tender moments to loud, almost operatic soundscapes. The lyrics never balk from discovering the pain and beauty in life.
The seamless transition into “Ra Patera Dance” is one of my favorite moments on the album. Another return to their signature campy synthesizer, which then gives ways to smooth strings. “Today we are superheroes, tonight we’ll just be tired,” David Bello sings over colorful synths. There’s this abstract quality, almost imagist approach to the lyrics but the listener always has some emotional response to a line in each track.
“Stop Crying” the singer sings pleadingly over soft, basic acoustic drums and a gentle soundscape on “Mental Health”, backed by lush strings and acoustic guitar plucking. “You are normal and healthy to forgive yourself,” Bello sings soothingly. “Wendover” possesses this wry, sardonic smirk throughout the whole song. It transitions subtly into one of the darkest cuts on the album, “We Need More Skulls.”
Keyboardist Katie Shanholtzer-Dvorak lends incredible backing vocals for the powerful “Haircuts for Everybody,” the cathartic buildup to the rousing mantra at the end is bliss: “Change my life. Please, change my life.”
“I Can Be Afraid of Anything” is the first in the one-two punch of tracks to close out the listening. It’s about wanting to get over depression for loved ones and moving on with life, but it demonstrates just how simple willpower won’t just allow that. “Here, I’m in hell. I’m carrying this empty bucket, I wanna empty myself,” Bello guts the listener. There are several allusions to trees and hell in this album. Trees are often symbols of unwavering resilience, and these tracks are often about our ability to get through the most catastrophic storms, climbing out of holes that we dig four ourselves. Greek myth describes oak trees as so strong that their roots dug into the underworld. Our strength leads to our hell, but that same strength is the only way we can overcome our personal hells.
The album concludes with a simple notion, “we’re all gonna die.” It’s that last line that fuels everything they are creating music for. Death is their muse, which sounds cheesy, but hell, a lot of the best things in life are. There’s a lot of suffering, oppression, and hate in the world - but there’s also a lot of joy, acceptance, and love. This band knows how to walk the line between both dualities and create something amazing.