|Grrrrrrr, that's a long name|
The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die is often tagged as an Emo band; however, over the course of multiple 7-inches, 2 EPs, an album and a spoken word collection, the ever-growing collective is more accurately some blend of Post-Rock, Chamber Pop, Math and Noise Rock. Live, the band is one big exhale of emotion, members and instruments float in an out, so any given appearance may or may not feature strings, horns, keys, multiple lead vocalists, and long bits of improvisation. Images of nature, home, and shared experiences are frequent themes. Songs can take the form of minute and a half punk-y bursts of energy to 9-minute epics. The lyrics, penned by a number of different members, often revolve around a core question: what does it mean to be human? 2013’s Whenever, If Ever built up the chaos of band’s early EPs, but was oddly ordered and criminally short. In last year’s Between Bodies, collaboration with spoken word artist Chris Zizzamia, the instrumentation crept toward the avant-garde, and the project ultimately came off as sounding unfinished. TWIABP is often name checked as one of the current leaders of the “Emo Revival”, however not until Harmlessness have they produced a cohesive piece of work.
Despite their name, the band doesn’t take themselves too seriously. Their Tumblr is filled with jokes and silly memes. They have a slew of goofy merchandise that includes a giant plastic fork with their logo printed on it and a cassette release of their entire discography playing at once. “Wendover” was even released as a backwards single. Despite these pranks, their new record is clever with words. The title is a reference to the band’s first EP Formlessness and many lyrics reprise older songs.
Through 13 tracks, Harmlessness is more varied and well paced than any of TWIABP’s previous work. Recorded and mixed by guitarist Chis Teti in his own recording studio, the sound quality and production on Harmlessness is a huge step forward for the band. In the past instruments have sounded unnecessarily layered and stitched together. This time Teti lets each instruments have its own space. The keyboards and strings, barely audible in previous recordings, are now high in the mix and drive the songs forward and each instrument has a more purposeful role. With this new-found clarity, Harmlessness comes off as a successful ensemble release, on par with records by Broken Social Scene and Los Campesinos!
The album opens with “You Can’t Live There Forever.” Derrick Shanholtzer-Dvorak plays the opening bass line from “Walnut Street Is Dead” off of Formlessness, but this time on an acoustic guitar. The song builds into a gorgeous chamber pop tune with soaring background vocals and swelling strings. “Forever” is a proper beginning for the album and segues into the first epic on the record “January 10th, 2014,” which retells the story of “Diana, The Hunter” who murdered multiple bus drivers in Juarez, Mexico. It’s a revenge tale adapted from a This American Life episode about all the murdered women in that city. This is the first time we hear Katie Shanhotlzer-Dvorak on lead vocals singing to and beside lead singer David Bello.
|The Band, again.|
Two of the best songs on the album, “Rage Against The Dying Of The Light” and “Ra Patera Dance” work as two parts of a whole. “Rage” is an environmental protest song: Bello proclaims “I am alive, I deserve to be” at the end of the first verse. It’s a rare minor key tune that evokes the feeling of a haunted future. “Ra Patera” is maybe the best song on the record and has a gorgeous bridge, with call/response melodies between keyboard, violin and guitar. The latter half of the track recycles the all too real lyric “Today we are super heroes but tonight we’ll just be tired” from “Eyjafjallajokull Dance,” a track from Formlessness, also named after a volcano.
Whenever, If Ever ended on “Getting Sodas,” which is a thesis statement of sorts for what the band is all about. The lyrics explicitly reference the bands’ name and called upon themselves to make the world a beautiful place and admitting that they are in fact afraid to die. On Harmlessness, TWIABP delivers not one but two 7+ minute closing epics. The first, “I Can Be Afraid of Anything” deals with mental health. Here Bello realizes, “I really did dig my own hole,” only to hopefully add, “I’m climbing out.” It’s this sense of not knowing but striving to be better that pervades much of TWIABP’s music.
The closing song, “Mount Hum” ties the entire record together. It reflects on moving from place to place (the band members are scattered all over the East Coast) and finding some kind balance in life. Through the songs’ 8-minute arc Bello asks questions of himself, like whether or not he will be productive, and how to properly honor one’s past. The song never hits a chorus; instead transitioning through a variety of different sections, both dark and light. It ends with a clatter of drums, shimmery guitars and overlapping background vocals.
|These guys are cool cats|
TWIABP occupies an interesting space in today’s over-saturated landscape of indie bands. They don’t fit in with the general crop of “indie rock” bands, the bulk of whom tend to steer clear of guitar based music these days. Their D.I.Y. ethos, shared with many other bands tagged as “emo revival” reflects indie rock in the 80s and 90s before Urban Outfitters came along and Warner bought half of Sub Pop Records. In an age where genre tags and what record label you are signed to somewhat determines the exposure a band gets in the blogosphere, Harmlessness will no doubt fly under the radar this year to many and dismissed by others who are turned off immediately by the mention of “emo” before hearing one note of music.
©Eliot Larson and the CCA Arts Review