The World is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid to Die
If this is your first encounter with The World is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid to Die, I know what you’re thinking. “Are they serious? Did they actually think it’d be a good idea for a band name to contain 14 words? Why such an excessively melodramatic name? Whatever happened to simple band names, like The Beatles?”
Well, I understand your confusion, amusement and possibly even anger. Even though I’ve followed them for a while, I guess it is a dumb band name, and I agree, it does come off sounding mightily pretentious. But their name, regardless of what you think of it, has become more and more inescapable in the American indie-rock and alternative scene over the last few years. I think it’d be cynical, too, to attribute their prominence in the scene entirely to their grand moniker; although it’s probably one of the main reasons people first check them out, word of mouth about their vibrant musicality, powerful live shows and (sometimes annoying) internet presence probably has more to do with their success. The name, in the context of their expansive, emotive music, makes sense – it points towards those moments of clarity that we occasionally experience, which allow us to feel more a part of a world that is often confusing and threatening.
Harmlessness is the second full-length LP from the eight-piece band, following a stream of EPs, 2013’s critically touted Whenever, If Ever, and 2014’s more divisive Between Bodies. Where the latter split opinion with its inclusion of spoken word by Chris Zizzamia against dark instrumental backdrops provided by the band, Harmlessness opts for the model provided by Whenever, If Ever, a conventional (if quite large) band setup with a couple of vocalists. Like Whenever, If Ever, too, Harmlessness delivers emotional guitar interplay, passages of post-rock, punchy drums, and slightly amateurish yet relatable vocals about human relationships and the beautiful, if challenging, world that we live in.
delivers emotional guitar interplay and slightly amateurish yet relatable vocals
Where Harmlessness goes beyond Whenever, If Ever, however, is that it fully commits to, rather than toys with, the idea of an album as a united whole. TWIABP’s (yeah, I’ve shortened it) organic music seems designed for the album format, and almost every song on the LP bleeds in some way into the next, creating a holistic, and very impressive, piece of music. This applies thematically, as well. Whilst I’m not entirely sure the term “concept album” applies here, there are certainly some recognisable concerns that crop up time and time again – the band delicately and respectfully explore struggles with mental health issues on “I Can Be Afraid of Anything” and aptly named “Mental Health”, and also explore the harm that one human can do to another on “You Can’t Live There Forever” and the powerful single “January 10th, 2014,” an extremely affecting track with a narrative regarding sexual violence which invokes the image of Diana the hunter as a vigilante seeking revenge. The video, which may upset some viewers, can be seen here.
TWIABP’s lyrics, for many, will be the primary focus. Often, they are elaborate ruminations on the experience of being human; on “The Word Lisa”, vocalist David Bello invokes a universal “we” to puzzle this dilemma out, optimistic about life but aware of the difficulties that face us: “we’ve got life here. What we call life has to be worked out. Left in dust to carry ourselves out.” The natural world, a theme which perfectly mirrors the fluidity of the music, also makes an appearance on “Mount Hum”, treated as a place of escape and freedom: “We were ghosts even then, errant sunlight on our skin. Sunlight, sunlight. And we drove out to the bluffs, raced each other through the dust.” The folkish “Willie (For Howard)” even seems to compare the narrator to a beloved pet dog, but instead of mockingly, the track treats the animal and the human as equal.
The band, then, are lyrically ambitious, and choose to go beyond the forced catchiness of pop lyrics, instead focusing on substance. This holds true, too, of the music. With eight members, the band are capable of producing both cavernous and near-silent textures, and they are impressively polished; whilst some large bands like Los Campesinos! choose to sound a bit chaotic and messy, TWIABP give us well-composed soundscapes that make the most of the instruments. These shine best on longer tracks such as “Haircuts For Everybody” and “January 10th, 2014.”
Although much of the music pays homage to the skittish madness of Cap’n Jazz and the intense beauty of The Appleseed Cast, these influences are honed and incorporated considerately. The band’s beepy synth is a very welcome addition, as are the delicate strings on the opening track, as they help the band to escape the ’90s emo revival’ pigeonhole that they have unfortunately ended up in. They make take influence from it, but certainly create fresh sounding music that, unless you’re a cynic, doesn’t come off as cheesy or faux-romantic, but instead as genuine, thoughtful and vibrant.
It’s got to be tough living up to a name like The World is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid to Die, but on Harmlessness, the band just about do it. It might be a difficult world we live in, but if we look at it in the early-morning light, it sure is a beautiful place.