The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die
by Chad Jewett
Over their very productive five years as a band, Connecticut emo collective The World Is A Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid To Die have evinced an admirable refusal to stay in one place for long. Their first EP was titled Formlessness, and that fluidity has increasingly seemed like a mission statement for the band, whose ranks have expanded from an initial quartet to more than double that number. Along the way The World Is has moved from the scruffy renaissance emo of Josh Is Dead, through the crafted indie pop of a split with Deer Leap, and into the theatrical suite-like subtleties of their sole full length, Whenever, If Ever. If fans clamor for some kind of return to form for the band, what they’re actually doing is choosing some passing instant, some snapshot of The World Is A Beautiful Place’s trajectory. By now it ought to be clear that the band has little interest in that kind of backtracking, even if their narratives are at their absolute best when they’re concerned with hauntings, memories, and past glories.
It’s that mix of reminiscence while moving into newer and subtler registers that defines the band’s excellent new EP, Between Bodies, a collaboration with poet Chris Zizzamia. Further, while the album presents a challenge in its blending of atmospheric, slow-phase indie rock and Zizzamia’s frequently abstract and largely expressionistic narratives, it also feels like an arrival of sorts for the band, as if for the first time we’re getting a solid sense of the art that The World Is can make when it manages to collect itself and direct its own energies. Whenever, If Ever has slowly caught on because of its breathless sense of wonder, but it was also a sort of ad hoc production made in a time of transition for the band. Between Bodies, despite its liminal title, might just be our first best sense of who this band really is.
In fact, it is very much our first real glimpse at what David Bello’s sense of tunefulness and storytelling brings to The World Is. Take “Thanks”, a propulsive pop song that pairs Bello’s buoyant, compelling melody to a silvery, looping synth and the sort of dramatic slow build that defined Whenever, or the short, conversational verse at the center of “$100 Tip,” a brief but moving story that maintains the band’s gift for tying entire songs to singular images and fleeting still-life memories. It is also Bello’s magisterial, compact melody that stitches together the dreamy, waltzing “Space Exploration To Solve Earthly Crises”, serving to add a haunting counterpoint to Zizzamia’s centered storytelling.
Zizzamia, for his part, has an equal gift for melody, and his spoken-word is an almost uniformly apt fit for the emotional effusiveness of The World Is. Take the album opening “blank#8 / Precipice” whose fits and starts and slow-building crescendos are matched by Zizzamia’s own sense of rhythm, so that certain ends of sentences arrive with rhyming drum fills (drummer Steven K. Buttery’s work is excellent throughout), where run-on sentences accumulate as the band swells. There’s a jazz-like instinct for filling in space and leaving other gaps empty that distinguishes Zizzamia’s performance across the record; it’s poetry from a spatial thinker. Elsewhere, Zizzamia begins “If And When I Die” with a staccato sentence (“No. One. Is. Invincible / No. One. Is. Immortal) to match the song’s jabbing, stomped punk. When the song spreads out and a gorgeous keyboard melody, courtesy of Katie Shanholtzer-Dvorak (whose work continues to be the highlight of the band’s dense sonic quilts), rises to the surface, it seems to call and respond alongside Zizzamia, managing the considerable feat of turning spoken-word poetry into hooks, of making pop music out of abstracted post-hardcore.
Indeed, the fact that the band manages such compelling loveliness and its most deeply avant-garde take on emo and post-rock makes it all the more baffling to see the small but loud dismissals that have bobbed up here and there in the album’s wake. One stumbles across Tumblr comments requesting versions of the album sans Zizzamia’s contributions and ponders the odd place that independent music is in right now (and the lack of empathy required to make such a request). Indeed, for those who’ve embraced this renaissance of thoughtful, expansive emo, it’s instructive to remember how knee-jerk backlash affected the work of Saves The Day after their brilliant but unpopular In Reverie, or how The Get Up Kids were arguably stifled by the backs turned against their masterpiece, On A Wire. It’s even more ironic that the album leaked – try squaring that internet snark with the fact that people apparently couldn’t wait another second to have the album on their iPhones. The band has repeatedly joked that fans would hate Between Bodies, but ultimately, it’s depressing that they have to. Because in reality, The World Is A Beautiful Place have likely made their most adeptly constructed and emotionally moving album, a small tour de force of big risks, a fascinating expansion for a band that remains forever committed to the ideas just outside of yesterday’s orbits.