The exceptionally unique and always difficult-to-acronymize seven-piece Post-Emo group The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die have, over the course of their eight-year-long career and three-year-long tenure on Epitaph records, carved out a spot for themselves betwixt the very popular Hardcore and Emo styles represented by most Epitaph bands and the more serious and recondite contemporary Post-Rock scene. And by “carved-out,” I really mean they’ve always conceived of their peculiar intersection of genres as just enough effort to justify their existence—nobody else does quite what they do, not even the other big Post-Emo bands like The Hotelier or Modern Baseball, and that’s fine. If you don’t like it; no one’s asking you to; TWisBP&IaNLAtD isn’t annoying anyone (as long as you don’t have to type out their name). But for those of us who enjoy their strange difference, myself included, TWiaBP occupies a compelling space in our hearts between our remaining teenage angst and our desire to mature into grown-up music listeners. They can write prosaic Pop-Punk anthems just jaded enough to listen to without laughing, but still puerile enough to avoid quoting on Facebook.
The newest TWiaBP record, Always Foreign, doesn’t exactly reinvent their wheel, but it expands upon their typically brooding, intimate subject matter by including political and communal messages—it’s essentially billed as their anti-Trump, pro-Globalist album. Musically, it reflects that expansion from personal to social by incorporating more Pop elements, with a few tracks coming dangerously close to Pop-Punk. Always Foreign works best when it reconciles these new elements with their core sound—but at times it loses the classic TWiaBP spark.
Take, for instance, “The Future.” David Bello sits out on vocals on this track; instead we hear another male member sing—a completely unexpected move for the album’s most straightforward song, and TWiaBP’s most Pop-Punk moment to date; in fact it’s so unexpected, it’s hard to connect it to any other moment on Always Foreign, let alone any previous TWiaBP album. It’s a weird, sonically discontinuous moment very close to the album’s beginning. That said, the album’s concept lends itself to putting more members in the songwriting, lyric writing, and singing spotlight, and it’s by no means a bad Pop-Punk song—that is, unless you possess the surprisingly common opinion that all Pop-Punk is bad.
But only two tracks later we hear a classic The World is… moment of Post-Rock bliss on the tragic, heartrending “Faker,” an indictment of the collective lying and hatred committed by Donald Trump, American Republicanism, and the Alt-Right, which doubles as a possible break-up song or a song against betrayal in general—the lyrics are just delicate enough to sound inclusive of multiple narratives without coming off as just a vague, cookie-cutter Pop song. Almost impossibly, it does all of this without sounding hateful itself—it’s a song about love, community, and being genuinely upset when someone breaks the bonds of friendship. Its layering and instrumental addition reflects that narrative: as its lyrics become more inclusive of the composite anger of the speaking “we,” the “we” gains the power of more voices, more instruments, more layers. It’s the quintessence of The World is a Beautiful Place.
Another highlight is the delicate “For Robin,” which reverses the idea behind “Faker” for a quiet moment of communal compassion for the individual. It impresses a story of a group of friends reuniting after one of them dies in a DUI car crash. Musically there are only a few voices, not a whole community, singing together in mourning, and gaining some strength from their togetherness, but the track never gains the same power as “Faker,” and dies away as the friends go their separate ways.
“Marine Tigers” adds another dimension to their sound; it’s creeping, eerie minor key nicely puts TWiaBP in the same sonic territory as Hail to the Thief and its lyrical fixation on paranoia and fear of government. When its horn section enters, it comes closer to “Life in a Glass House.” In spite of these odd nods to Radiohead, it retains the sing-along choral countermelody at the heart of most of TWiaBP’s extended tracks, and meanders oddly before its central escalation.
Generally, Always Foreign’s moments of experimentation come as welcome changes and give interesting and necessary variation to TWiaBP’s classic sound, but the album as a whole feels inconsistent and lacks the flow integral to most of their earlier work. Consequently, it’s a disappointing record, though not a bad one by any means—if this were any other band’s debut we would be expecting great things from their future output. But coming from the typically consistent The World is…, it’s only pretty good. That said, it’s well-executed, redirected lyrics signal a promising maturity from the band, and their ability to harness their best qualities to complement those lyrics confirms their brilliance, even if it doesn’t make for a brilliant album.