For anyone with knowledge of the modern emo scene, The World Is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die is a familiar name. Their numerous splits and EPs gained them attention, but their 2013 full-length, ‘Whenever, If Ever,’ really established the band as one of the genre’s torchbearers. Its genre-defying mix of emo, post-rock, post-hardcore, and even pop, at times, became genre-defining, and it’s heralded among the best current emo records.
The band sidestepped expectations by following it up with the eight-track ‘Between Bodies,’ a collaboration with spoken word poet Chris Zizzimia. The album was released to relatively lukewarm reception, but it only worked to heighten anticipation for the band’s then-yet-to-be-announced official sophomore album.
‘Harmlessness’’ first single, “January 10, 2014,” generally speaking, won back every fan that might’ve been unsure following Between Bodies, and then some. Over arpeggiated riffs and rapidfire drumming, David Bello and Katie Stanholtzer-Dvorak trade off lyrics. After a variety of tempo and mood changes, the song slows into a dreamlike lilt, courtesy of some soft guitars and punctuating piano strokes. The song picks up again for two more movements, running through a noodly emo bridge with some of the album’s most intricate guitar playing before the song’s climactic finale. “Our hands on the same weapon,” sing Bello and Stanholtzer-Dvoak together over crashing drums before commanding, “Make evil afraid of evil’s shadow.” By far the best song on the album, not to mention of the very best this band has ever released, “January 10” is as close a sampler of the record as you can ever get with an ever-diverse The World Is album. It showcases both their more upbeat and softer sides, as well as offering up some of the collective’s best lyrics in a catalog of great lyrics – this isn’t even to mention how beautiful Stanholtzer-Dvorak’s voice is, especially when coupled with Bello’s.
Moments on the song, such as the tremolo guitar in the first verse or the ambiance underlying the instrumental bridge, really capitalize on the band’s post-rock tendencies, even more so than moments in songs prior. Harmlessness really takes these times a step further, propelling the band from an emo band with a post-rock edge to an arguably post-rock band with an emo edge. “Rage Against the Dying of the Light” and “Ra Patera Dance,” for example, are bona fide post-rock songs, a la The Appleseed Cast (only with more synth). Another, perhaps chief among them, is “We Need More Skulls,” which is a far more ominous sounding song than any the group’s recorded before, calling to mind perhaps a more immediate Godspeed You! Black Emperor song.
At other times, the band turns the dial the other way, penning some of their quietest songs yet. Opener “You Can’t Live There Forever” is minimalistic, featuring only guitar and vocals until the bridge, which features strings and drums. It’s altogether a gorgeous song. Elsewhere, “Mental Health” is similar, but, I daresay, with a healthy dose of folk influence. Even the last half of “Mount Hum” contains some of that folk influence, but dressed up with luscious strings and a catchier chorus.
Through all of this, The World Is contort themselves in every direction, stretching themselves so far you might expect it all to wear thin. But you’d be wrong, and through it all, Steven Buttery is the hero. His drumming is at no points overpowering, but always propulsive; he’s the only other drummer in modern emo I can think who can rival Pianos Become the Teeth’s David Haik, another drummer known for always providing a perfect backbone to any song. Whether it’s the drum rolls on the Modest Mousey “Wendover,” the hi-hat barrage on “Rage Against,” or whatever he’s doing on “January 10, 2014,” he’s always keeping the band right on track, and doing so in the most impressive and interesting way possible.
But while I may have singled out Buttery, every member of The World Is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die deserves to be commended for their work. Harmlessness may not overtake Are Here to Help You as my favorite of their releases, but it’s impossible to deny the quality of the group’s work. I know I said ‘Whenever, If Ever’ was the album that The World Is became known for, but mark my words: ‘Harmlessness’ is the one they’ll be remembered for. 4.5/5