It’s hard to appreciate or describe the output of Connecticut indie/emo-rock nonet the World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die without getting too weighed down in complimentary language. And, honestly, who would blame them?
Despite spending just shy of five years as a band, the World Is… has already built quite the following, producing a consistent output of new material, shifting styles and changing lineups—all for the sake of creating a personal, palpable product for the music-hungry public. While the band has released their fair share of material over the years, their last LP Whenever, If Ever is widely remarked as their strongest release to date, mixing their sprawling, always improving indie/rock hybrid with the heft of their wistful, nostalgic lyrics.
Fans shouldn’t have to hold their breath any longer, thankfully, as the band’s latest and Epitaph Records debut Harmlessness keeps good on the assumption that the band’s latest offering will continue to push the boundaries of capability—both as musicians and songwriters.
The strongest moments on Harmlessness come early and late into the record, acting as both warm-ups and bookends to the masterwork they’re about to withhold. What makes its beginning so remarkable is that, for a band so epic in size and scale with its slow-building, emotionally fueled atmosphere, the first song on Harmlessness is “You Can’t Live There Forever”—a lo-fi, acoustic-driven number that knocks you on its ass, mostly just by being so unexpected. On the track, we hear the modest, soft-spoken vocals of guitarist Derrick Shanholtzer-Dvorak start to come through, pondering how “we think the world is alright,” when there is still so much that requires attention from the public at large. The track slowly swells up into the dissonant sounds of “blank #11,” which leads to “January 10, 2014”—not only the first single released off of Harmlessness, but what also may just double as the best song of the year.
One could go on and on about how the song rises and falls with excellent precision, giving the listener room the breathe and absorb every note handed to them—one could also go on to describe how the performances on this track are as strong as the band has ever sounded. What’s especially praiseworthy on the track, however, are the progressive, perspective-shifting lyrics and structure.
The song encourages retribution against sexual predators, specifically detailing the story of a character named Diana, loosely based off the real life tale of a Mexican woman whose sexual assault claims went unprosecuted and ignored. It makes it all the more fascinating when the song shifts halfway through to Diana’s perspective, who’s destined to “make evil afraid of evil’s shadow.” The nearly six-minute epic is undoubtedly some of the best work the band has crafted, pushing the limitations of what they’re truly capable of as both songwriters and as a thriving, forward-thinking force in their genre, not only hearing the side of the oppressed, but actually listening to what they have to say.
Even with such an incredible build-up, Harmlessness’s strengths continue to make appearances at every turn. The energetically pleasing “The Word Lisa” embraces the many quirks and oddities that life has to offer, while the pair of “Rage Against The Dying Of The Light” and “Ra Patera Dance” complement each other quite nicely. The former is an atmospheric, mood-shifting anthem marking the subtle, lasting impressions of life, while the latter details the struggle of finding a positive outlook on life, specifically in its darkest places.
A lot of these general themes and ideas come up frequently throughout Harmlessness, showing how the band comes to grips with internal dilemma (“Mental Health”), moving on from where one grows up (“Wendover”) and climbing our way out of the holes we dig ourselves into (“I Can Be Afraid Of Anything”). The band’s ability to move from topic to topic with such cohesion is truly a spectacle to behold, and a benchmark for any band in this genre.
Even in retrospect, there’s very little report with what’s wrong with Harmlessness. Its flaws of being a little top-heavy at times, or sometimes lacking more summation of basic thoughts is excusable when their output is this consistently strong from start to finish. Both lyrically and musically, The World Is A Beautiful Place has crafted a complex, thrilling and deeply moving album that will be cherished for years and years after so many lesser offerings are long forgotten. Harmlessness is a timeless treasure that deserves your undivided attention.