As a genre, the Emo landscape was a fairly baron wasteland in 2013. The last band to make a large impact on the scene was Brand New with their trio of successful albums in the 2000’s, but since their 2009 album Daisy, there had been no bands to make any such impact, that was until the debut album by a band hailing from a small town in Connecticut. The World is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die, to give them their full title, led a much needed revival of the genre with an album powered by their heartfelt and passionate lyrics, rousing vocal performances, melodic song-writing and densely layered instrumentation which all culminated in them making one of the stand out albums of the decade so far.
The album gets off to a very beautiful and slow start with 2 minutes of sparsely played solo guitar in the instrumental track Blank #9. With the minimalistic approach of the track and the atmospheric background noise, the song feels almost like a precursor to the actual album. The song then fades seamlessly into Heartbeat in the Brain which sets the scene for the album brilliantly. TWIABP’s frequent use of a wide range of instrumentation is first shown in this song with guitars, synths and strings all working in perfect unison in the intro and first verse of this one. The brilliant and moving lyricism is shown right from the off as the singer sings of feeling lost and alone following his ex-lover moving across the country. He knows that the promises of “I’ll see you again” are most likely hollow. In the mid-section of the song, the layered instrumentation falls away leaving just a drum beat and a solo guitar, playing a slow melody like the one in the previous track. The protagonist falls deeper into his misery in this section as he longs for the past when he wasn’t so alone. He feels that if this person leaves for good then he’ll have nothing left to live for. As falls deeper into existential despair, the mid-section ends with him desperately singing, as if his life is already falling by the wayside, “It shouldn’t feel like this if everyone belongs here”. In the final third, the song again builds a wall of sound that seems to be growing almost in preparation for another emotional onslaught from the singer but instead just falls away into nothing, empty, mirroring what the protagonist feels his life has become. Heartbeat in the Brain is a true stand out track, deeply heartfelt and moving and is undoubtedly one of the finest rock songs of the current decade.
Fightboat starts with a triumphant concoction of guitar and horns that reflect the hopeful nature of the song in which TWIABP sing of their dreams to break away from their small towns roots and make it big. The layer of horns stays constant throughout the short 2 minute song, alongside multiple guitars all playing different lines but all working so well together as the band sings of their hopes but also their fears that they will become trapped in their small town. They sing of how they will fight with all they have to be successful even as the trees reach for them and look to root them in their place. The self-belief and self-doubt run side by side in this song with the band seemingly contradicting themselves regularly, in a way that perfectly sums up human nature. They’re “earthworms dried on concrete” on moment but then their “dream’s too big to break” in the next. But the overbearing repercussions of what awaits if they are unsuccessful hang over the whole song. They are desperate to avoid a life of small town nothingness that may await and in the final lines they beg “let’s hope this works out, this has got to work out”. For such a short song, it certainly manages to sum up the bands hopes and fears in a brilliant way. And if nothing else, the synth line that runs through the final minute is incredible.
The next three tracks all play out as one 8 minute long piece reflecting on the realisation that life may not be all it’s cracked up to be and dreams really aren’t often all that attainable. As the dreary and depressing backing track to Picture of a Tree that Doesn’t Look Okay plays out, the singer describes a morning of bad weather in which he and his friends are left trapped inside his house and begin to reflect on their upbringing in small town Connecticut. The song begins to gain speed and traction as the guitar begins playing at an increasing pace and the singer realises his life is having no impact on the world, and in turn by him staying in one place it is having no impact on him. Much like an echo slowing fading away into nothing, he sees his life as one just slowly falling away. You can feel the protagonist’s anger at the way he feels he’s wasted his life thus far. He has seen the world progress through screens but never with his own eyes, and now must take any chance to move away no matter how scary or hard that may be. And yet, you get the feeling that while he knows he has to change, he lacks the drive or work ethic necessary to do so, like so many people who see their life pass them by. A very powerful and saddening song that unfortunately relates to the experiences of so many, and so many more to come.
This song fades with no break into You Will Never Go To Space, a song title which again seems to back up the claim of unfulfilled dreams that the previous track covers, which begins with two guitars playing slow lines over one another, with the odd piano note thrown in, before rising into “we sang songs but never learned your words or melodies” maybe suggesting metaphorically that they spoke aloud their dreams but never quite worked out how to bring them into reality. The singer talks of how their setbacks have left them dazed, tired and anxious, and yet somehow still hopeful that the future will bring good fortune. As the drums start playing heavier and faster and the guitars follow suit, the singer bemoans “When I wake will I still be asleep/Can I ever trust anything?” criticising the lies he was told when he was younger about dreams coming true. However, even though he knows now that he will have to work hard to make said dreams come true, his reaction is not to work hard but to instead take the easy but depressing way out and just “let it be”. His toxic attitude towards work is what will inevitably be his downfall, and though he knows this he has no desire to change it. The final act in this three song piece is The Layers of Skin We Drag Around which again follows on in the same ilk with the protagonist knowing that he is powerless to his life passing him by due to the fact that he is such a mess of a person.
For a truly depressing album, Ultimate Steve is arguably the most depressing song of all. The song starts slow with only one guitar playing sparse notes, before another enters at around the 30 second mark but following this drumming enters and builds and builds up to a triumphant collapse before the singer shouts “Our senses wear out/So strike us with lightning”. The song picks up again as the singer essentially sings of his wish to die and end his suffering. He sees that eventually the cruelty of the world will grind him down and kill him so he’d be much better off if he just did it himself now. He refers to his own deterioration in the context of the world’s environment decaying over time before poetically professing “I am the mountains crumbling”. Even for TWIABP this is a pretty dark song. Following this comes the most lyrically basic, but still brilliant, song on the album, Gig Life. Devoid of all metaphors for the only time on the album, the singer sings of having to leave behind his former friends and lovers due to his touring commitments. The most melodically pleasing song on the album, it does rightfully earn its place amongst that track listing here and shows that the band does have the capability to mix it up when necessary.
The final song, Getting Sodas, is the centrepiece of the album despite being the final track. At 7 minutes long, it feels different from any other song on the album in its grandiosity and its differing view on life. The singer documents the death of a loved one and the clearing of their belongings. In the leaving of this person, the singer begins to question life and finds that there is nothing of a person left behind when they leave, just nothingness. “Where’s your tact?/Where’s your grace?” he sings as he considers that these things have left with the person and aren’t coming back. He begins to consider that when we leave the world, we are able to find peace in the serenity of having no worries or fears, he considers the beauty in death rather than the pain. The benefits and calmness it may bring to the person who has died, and he can find comfort in the fact that the person he loved is now in a better place, and one day he will be there too. In coming to this realisation, he is able to see the beauty in the world and is no longer afraid to die. This final song counters pretty much everything else on the album in that it isn’t angry, bitter or depressed, but instead content that life is how it is and maybe that’s OK, and maybe something better awaits. After a few minutes of brilliant musical interlude, in which the full weight of TWIABP’s musical talent is felt, the final act of the album’s closer again deals with being content with the world and your own misery and fear. “The world is a beautiful place but we have to make it so” he sings, again acknowledging the theme of having to work hard for dreams in life, but this time the singer seems willing to put in the hard work. He seems to be singing to someone specific like a lover when he says that they will find a home and make it more than a shelter, and he then finally sings that companionship may be the only thing that can make the world bearable. “If you’re afraid to die, then so am I” the album ends with. You get the feeling that what he means by this is that he doesn’t mind being scared, as long as he has someone to share that fear with, to bear the burden. He’s come to the conclusion that despite all his misery, if he can find someone with which he feels he belongs, he may just become brave enough to battle through this world that he doesn’t quite and probably never will understand.
TWIABP go through a process of self-discovery on Whenever, If Ever. For most of the album, their fears are what play a prominent role, from fear of loss to fear of failure, fear of wasting your life and fear of missing out on your dreams, and ultimately the fear of loneliness. They spend the whole album doubting themselves, cowering from their fears, allowing their fears to control them, before finally realising that everyone is scared but some people have others who comfort them. They find that maybe it’s OK to not leave an impact on the world, as long as you leave an impact on someone, anyone, and maybe finding that person is the real goal of life. Whenever, If Ever is a truly brilliant album which utilises dense instrumentation, inventive song structure and powerful melodies to convey an even more powerful message. A masterpiece in misery that eventually says that maybe misery is OK.