The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die did some heavy lifting in helping to expand the breadth of fourth-wave emo. Their first LP Whenever, If Ever was a speartip for the revival itself, with its palpable anxiety and memorable compositions acting as a propellant, and in some circles, a template to be imitated. Further releases found the group consistently adding to their sonic blueprint, yet squarely remaining concrete in their soundscapes of turmoil, vulnerability and awe. On their fourth LP the band find themselves moving further away from the carefully curated sprawl of 2015’s Harmlessness and its slickly produced follow-up Always Foreign to explore bombast and abstract in equal measure.
Often lost between twinkly beauty and crushing weight, the album works well within the contrasts that have come to define the sound TWIABP are most closely associated with. With a fastidious grace and intense compositions, every track feels curated and managed with a keen sense of maintaining an intensity throughout. That heaviness, that gravity has never been so fully associated with the band, but on tracks like “Invading the World of the Guilty as a Spirit of Vengeance,” they’re leaning into a more persistent sense of crushing weight. Marked by a husky bass played expertly by original member Joshua K. Cyr and tremendous echo, the song cascades with plasticine guitars as immense chords engulf the track, creating a surface tension throughout as its reverb increases to dizzying heights. Drummer Steven K. Buttery’s performance is rife with thunderous cadences and hits with a force behind every kick drum thump. It’s bombastic, percussive and full of a residual aggression that’s beautiful to see unfold.
David F. Bello’s vocal performance on this outing is the best it’s ever been, strong and resolute while maintaining an exposed sensibility that defines so much of his performance. He trades off vocal duties with Katie Dvorak, and her voice is full of a buttery smooth strength and dignity; the two, when combined, create a powerful complement, used to maximum strength to benefit the nature of the tracks they both appear on, each one a crucial element to the conclusion of the album which uses this duality to magnificent effect.
On every composition, the band carves out a new direction, expertly leading listeners to the thesis of the album through their carefully honed lyrics. Even on “Blank/Drone,” a track that feels like it would be simply an ambient occlusion to provide some respite before the next proper song, the surprising inclusion of profound lyrics cut deep into sentiments of existence that are agonizingly relatable. Bello sings, “Our little box, this tiny room/There’s only room for me and you/… And, how the hell will we survive with $100 give or take?/The mother bee has sold her stake while the price of food is getting steep/We pray the boss, our jobs to keep, but he was not there. He never was.” This is a grim reality that the band explores lyrically throughout, exploring the emotional space and state of the average person under the guise of our current climate. So much of TWIABP’s lyrical themes have been about persistent trauma, demonstrations of resilience against it, and embracing the whole-hearted absurdity of it. The trauma of life, the trauma of the state as a failed apparatus, all come to fruition this time around, providing a synthesis of the two. If this isn’t relatable, count your blessings.
The production, handled by Chris Teti and Greg Thomas, is full and rich, none of its space wasted. There’s a sonic clarity that is afforded by a meticulous production that favors a rich, high to lo-fi spectacle. Maintaining it throughout is an impressive feat, made even more impressive when elevated on “Died in the Prison of the Holy Office,” in which the band leans heavily into the precarious space of post-rock, and they pull it off with grace.
This post-rock direction carries forth what is nearly another LP in it of itself—two towering tracks that together total nearly 40 minutes, “Infinite Josh” and “Fewer Afraid”. Both tracks pay compliment to the band’s increasing and expanded fidelity and instrumentation, with compositions that go between serene, delicate and gentle, to spaced out and utterly triumphant, a sense of light amid the dark. At their weakest, these longer explorations can proceed with a certain languor before reaching their zenith. But at that apotheosis is the purpose, and the intent of it to begin with. Between the more traditional songwriting and the exploratory spaces, there’s a consciousness of the material and immaterial, concrete while remaining keenly experimental. It feels like it’s going to break, like it’s going to push into the ether, and that catharsis is resolute throughout the album.
Illusory Walls is an exploration of darkness, adding definition to the creeping and stalking fears that rattle our ribs and cause us to lose sleep. The anxieties of hearts well worn, sometimes from each other, sometimes from the crushing weight of what feels like a dying planet. In it though, there is a solidarity, a hope, a sense of community that we’re all going through together, as we approach new fears, we put aside old ones to see what’s left. Illusory Walls is a stunning effort of lyrical revelation and sonic rawness in equal measure. While it may chronicle an age of despair in meticulous fashion, it speaks volumes about the potential of who we are, and what we can be.