There is no doubt that Harmlessness, the sophomore album from The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die(TWIABP), is one of the most anticipated albums of the year. TWIABP are arguably the leaders of the emo revival currently gaining steam thanks to bands like Modern Baseball, Into It. Over It., You Blew It!, The Hotelier, and, tourmates, Foxing. Harmlessness will be the first major release from TWIABP since the departure of “Shitty” Greg Horbal who provided the band with the “screamo” vocals that were present on their fantastic 2013 debut, Whenever, If Ever. In the absence of Horbal’s harsh vocals is a nearly exclusive vocal performance from David Bello with the help of Katie Shanholtzer-Dvorak, wife of guitar player Derrick Shanholtzer-Dvorak, an addition to the ever-changing lineup. The cleaner vocals and a poppier sound give Harmlessness the chance to reach a broader audience while still maintaining the surging style that made their debut a classic in the genre.
Due to the band’s eight recording members, Harmlessness is an album with lots of moving parts. The scope and theatre of the album make TWIABP the Arcade Fire of their genre. Despite all the instrumentation, the cohesive sound of the tracks on this record over the 54-minute run time never breaks. Every track is a piece of collection that is very self-aware of the message it is trying to send. This is truly an album. Much like their debut, there are tracks on Harmlessness that sound like several different song ideas pieced together into one. Almost all songs on the album feature one or several points in the track where the sound changes to something completely different. TWIABP has been seamless in executing transitions in their songs since their debut EP Formlessness. They continue to showcase that strength on this record.
"January 10th, 2014" is a great example of the breadth of emotions the band can convey packaged with their new, cleaner sound. Following the ambient track “blank #11”, this is the beginning of a major part of the album. The track starts with Bello and Shanholtzer-Dvorak swapping lines over a sweeping guitar riff that builds in a dark and powerful direction that is not pushed towards much on this album. The vocals cut off to give way to a violin-heavy instrumental interlude that gains more members as the band builds to a stunning payoff. Bouncing guitar gives life to a line than would sound mundane on most tracks: “I am several women”. The song is telling a tale of aforementioned Mexican vigilante Diana, Hunter of Bus Drivers. (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/03/mexico-killer-vigilante-diana-bus-drivers) The track is capped with Bello screaming a message to help with overcoming suffering prevalent throughout the album: “make evil afraid of evil’s shadow”. It is the standout moment on an album that has many candidates for that title. It is the song where TWIABP showcases all of their strengths and sounds.
Several other tracks on the album, “Haircuts For Everybody” and “I Can Be Afraid Of Anything” specifically, make use of the band’s talent to drive a song up to an unforgettable moment, reflecting the message of change. Eight minute album closer “Mount Hum” is a driving track that again, finishes in a brighter light than it begins. The track ends with references to lyrics found on debut album highlight “Picture Of A Tree That Doesn't Look Okay”. This nostalgic moment gives credibility to TWIABP as an institution that is building a true body of work. Harmlessness was not a chance to depart from their last record but the opportunity to evolve from its sound. The ever-changing group does not forget their past work and what made their last record so great.
It is inevitable that, with the departure of their screaming vocalist, the media attention surrounding this new release, and the increased interest in the genre, TWIABP will, deservedly, draw more fans with their latest album. Horbal’s departure has given Harmlessness a different sound than their previous releases, but did not change their style. The band still focuses on sharp instrumentals that set the mood for atmospheric lyrics that build to a climactic moment. While TWIABP had a great opportunity to capitalize on their position and change their style to reach a broader audience, they instead worked with their current lineup and made the terrific record that was meant to follow their genre-defining debut.