Maybe growing up isn’t so bad after all.
Emo is a scene defined by its youthfulness. Its current revival, steeped in nostalgia for when Déjà Entendu hit revivalists’ ears one sophomore year, seems to be defined by a Peter Pan syndrome. Perhaps that’s because after most abandoned it, all that’s left are the traditionalists. After bottoming out in rock star excess and Liza Minnelli cameos, who can really blame those who passed into adulthood and a bold new world full of Barnes and Noble totes and NPR podcasts? We want things to stay the same, and better yet, we want to have new things just like the old things. Harmlessness, the new release by oft-miscategorized Connecticut band The World is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die, is an excellent counterpoint to that argument, though it can be easily claimed that there really was nowhere to go but up.
Perhaps labeling TWIBP a post-rock band inspired them to batten down the hatches and really hone their craftsmanship; few notes seem out of place or indulgent, aside from having the audacity to place two tracks longer than seven minutes each back-to-back. The atmospherics mostly enhance the scenery and don’t dominate it, and that’s for the best. Aside from a couple of laconic tracks (one can almost hear the pit crews changing the tires during a plodding little song like “Wendover”), there’s plenty to prove that they can create a smooth little pop song. Nowhere is this clearer than on“The Word Lisa,” a short and sweet little song about a relationship gone right that hums along at a breakneck pace.
“Lisa” is a great counter-weight to the heavy material of the album’s previous track, “January 10th, 2014.” This dramatizes the story of a Mexican woman who fought against bus drivers known for sexual assaults (she even murdered two of them). The song has more to it than progressive politics – it features beautiful interplay between the male and female vocalists.
Even without such attention-grabbing material, the album’s greatest strength is in its lyrics, full of the confessional and mundane beauty that emo fans look for but rarely find. The last track, “Mount Hum,” is full of little lines that might sound corny or cheesy out of context, but sting like daggers straight through the heart like Moz back in the day. “The music never changed/ Your heart just quit beating,” Bello whines at a whisper, choking back greater feeling. It’s a shame that the quality of the vocals vacillates so heavily from track to track — more stereotypical emo voices can ruin an otherwise great song by simply sounding so tonally inconsistent with what’s come before.
But that’s the beauty of a record like Harmlessness: every misstep and unwise adherence to emo tradition just makes the moments when it succeeds even sweeter. Maybe growing up isn’t so bad after all, if it brings desperately needed change.