Every single thing about The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die is intimidatingly large. The Connecticut band’s name is an obvious example, but it holds true for other aspects of the group as well: nine different band members appear on their new LP Harmlessness, one person less than the amount featured on their 2013 full-length debut Whenever, If Ever. These nine members have put together an album with a total runtime clocking in at just under an hour, and the record is- both musically and lyrically- incredibly dense. There’s no doubt that Harmlessness confronts the listener with a lot to unpack, but the result is one of the most rewarding albums you’re likely to hear this year.
When the band released their first LP in 2013, The World Is proved themselves to be one of- if not the– emo group to watch in the coming years. Whenever, If Ever was as heavy and emotionally draining as it was infectious and life-affirming, and the album ended up being one of the year’s most promising debuts. It’s safe to say that The World Is have avoided the infamous “sophomore slump” by a good margin with Harmlessness, a record that finds the band perfecting the best parts of their previous releases and getting rid of the worst. Throughout the album, they prove not only acutely aware of their growth, but eager to show it off. The title of the album itself is a reference to the band’s first EP Formlessness, originally released in 2010- a decision made, perhaps, to highlight just how much their sound has progressed in the past five years.
Harmlessness is filled with countless moments that call back to the band’s earlier work, yet are more effective than anything they had attempted before. The end of “January 10th, 2014,” for example, finds The World Is revisiting their fondness for group vocals, but in a way far more controlled than on previous releases. This time around there are less voices, more clarity, and a far more satisfying result than anything found on Whenever, If Ever. The bright, loopy synth sound that they employed in the past makes a triumphant return on tracks like “The Word Lisa” and “Ra Patera Dance,” only benefiting from stronger songwriting. At multiple points throughout the record, the band’s songwriting skill is laid bare; the opening track, “You Can’t Live There Forever,” consists only of a fingerpicked guitar and vocals for most of its duration. On most songs, however, they sound far more cohesive instrumentally, creating beautiful walls of sound that envelope the listener in the catharsis The World Is creates throughout Harmlessness. This rich and powerful instrumentation is only aided by lyrical content that carries a similar weight.
The band’s debut was full of many lyrical themes that still run rampant across the new record: mortality, finding meaning in life, coming of age, and living in a world as fucked up as ours. “Getting Sodas,” Whenever If Ever’s last track that quickly became a fan favorite, ends with a chilling group chant- “The world is a beautiful place, but we have to make it that way… If you’re afraid to die, then so am I.” Although it may read as simplistic, the delivery of these (and other, similarly powerful) lines struck a chord in many listeners that helped the record become dear to them. Harmlessness continues to channel that brilliance. “You Can’t Live There Forever” once again finds that band grappling with their own mortality, asking, “What can you know about life if you’ve never died?” Throughout the remainder of the album they continue struggling with different aspects of this question: trying to leave an impact on the world (“Ra Patera Dance”,) dealing with aging (“I Can Be Afraid of Anything”,) and attempting to fix the mistakes of those that came before us (“We Need More Skulls”.) It’s no surprise that this record feels intimidating- themes such as those don’t allow themselves to be taken lightly.
With Harmlessness, The World Is a Beautiful Place have made a record that defies any expectations one could have had for the band. They have reaffirmed that they can’t be pigeonholed as just another “emo revival” band, a label that does a disservice to the scope of their sound. The group has made not only an extremely worthy follow-up to Whenever, If Ever, but one of the best and most impactful records you will hear this year.
Written by Ben Weinstein