The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die — Harmlessness
Despite being at the forefront of the “emo revival” over the past five or six years, I’ve never been able to get into this band. Wonderfully cumbersome name aside, The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die (or TWIABP, for short) has never clicked for me. Either way, that name is an exclamation mark or two shy of being a Sufjan Stevens song title, so they’ve always done enough to catch my attention and at least warrant a cursory listen or two.
Harmlessness had me from the start. Both pre-album singles were something that instantly drew me in and had me coming back after my cursory listen. This feels much more accessible and user-friendly than their previous releases, but still holds enough nuance and exploration to keep things exciting. That said, it really does feel like a departure, at least from my outsider’s perspective as a new fan. For that reason, I wouldn’t be surprised if TWIABP alienates some older fans with this album. I’ve been that fan, so I understand that.
The band is made up of nine members, which is obviously a big group. It pays off though, because much of this album has a scope to it that’s enamoring. Bands like Explosions In The Sky are famous for their overall grandeur and anthemic sound, and parts of Harmlessness give me the same vibe.
The lead single, “January 10th, 2014″ feels epic. Epic the adjective, and epic the noun. If you count the preceding interlude that functions basically as the intro to the song, you’re looking at a nearly 7-minute power ballad. Rousing instrumentation and rising and falling guitars serve as the backdrop for the story of Diana, The Hunter of Bus Drivers, a woman who murdered two bus drivers in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico to avenge for a string of un-prosecuted sexual assaults. In the song, Diana vows to “make Evil afraid of Evil’s shadow” over crashing guitars. If it doesn’t get you amped up, you are dead inside.
Diana’s story was made popular by the radio show This American Life, which ran a segment on her back in 2013. As a huge fan of TAL and host Ira Glass, I can say that listening to that show is my preferred way of finding out about anything. It’s awesome that TWIABP did the same thing.
The whole album feels like one big “finally fighting back” story, played out in multiple ways. One of my favorite tracks is the second single, “I Can Be Afraid of Anything”. It’s a tale of beating depression, beginning with the struggle: heavy buckets, empty parking lots, anhedonia, and being left in the dust, before showing a triumphant glimmer of hope.
I really did dig my own hole, and I’m climbing out.
I really did dig my own hole, but I can see the top.
I’m climbing out.
It’s not all soaring and yelling though. The album finds time for pondering on the opener, “You Can’t Live There Forever”. After warm, restrained whispers about tiny worlds and distant skies, the song blossoms into something more in line with the rest of the album.
Where is the action?
Where are the streets that take you to bed?
What is your name and what do you do here?
We have the same thoughts clouding our heads.
It’s always fun when you find something and have the thought, “This is really good!” It’s especially exciting when it’s from a band you’ve never felt that way about before. Every year I make a stupid list of my favorite albums from that year, and every year there’s usually one or two that come completely out of left field. Harmlessness is one of those for 2015. This album is great. It makes me feel strong, and it makes me think happy thoughts. Butterflies, waterfalls, sunsets, etc. The world really is a beautiful place, huh?
Originally published at fromloveland.com, October 20, 2015.