The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die Balance Anger and Ambition on 'Illusory Walls'
Published Oct 06, 2021The world is an ugly place and we are constantly afraid to die! Billionaires retreat to mansions and yachts while millions of people toil below the poverty line, overworked and underpaid. Private healthcare insurers and pharmaceutical companies count their profits while patients go bankrupt in overcrowded hospitals or die of preventable disease. The rich enjoy endless comforts while the tired and hungry make impossible choices. It's the dirty secret of the American dream — the road to success paved with the blood, sweat and bodies of the poor.
The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die, ironically, deliver this message (paraphrased) more directly, exhaustedly and angrily than their name may imply. It's a message that rang even louder during the year they spent recording their fourth album Illusory Walls, in the midst of a global event that unprecedentedly exacerbated and illuminated these systems of inequity, exploitation and unnecessary death. Consequently, Illusory Walls is easily the Connecticut-based group's most angry, cynical and hopeless record — but at the same time, it's also their most joyous, ambitious and hopeful record.
This contrast comes up both lyrically and musically: Illusory Walls steps effortlessly between quietly contemplative, rambunctiously upbeat, furiously heavy and rousingly cathartic. Similar to recent efforts by Foxing and Manchester Orchestra, it's a sprawling, thematic rock record that finds TWIABP letting their ideas run freer than ever. While 2015's Harmlessness has frequently been held up as The World is a Beautiful Place's crowning achievement, that may soon change. Illusory Walls has to be the band's most diverse and dynamic work yet.
For one thing, the band's seething anger has brought out a previously hidden taste for metal. Lead single "Invading the World of the Guilty of a Spirit of Vengeance" is a six-minute storm of downtuned, distorted guitars, high-flying shredding and a pulverizing rhythm section as singers David Bello and Katie Dvorak rage against the rat race. "Your Brain is a Rubbermaid" is a dark, thundering march with a dramatic string arrangement, an ominous-sounding cut that could fit into a Russian Circles setlist or even the soundtrack to a suspense thriller.
At other times, Illusory Walls is remarkably vivacious. "Never get better and never do anything," Dvorak sings with wry glee on "Queen Sophie for President," a satirically sprightly power-pop tune that takes aim at the complacency of status-quo lawmakers. Later, the booming major key and easycore riffing of "Trouble" make it sound celebratory, even as the song pointedly laments the way that societal ills are treated as the failings of individuals rather than the product of a rotten system.
Miraculously, it all sounds like it's of a piece, thanks to a strong creative vision and a signature sound they've established over the last 10-plus years. Throughout this record, TWIABP display a finely developed sense for combining slow-burning atmospheres with explosive, propulsive power. There's a yearning mysticism throughout "We Saw Birds Through the Hole in the Ceiling" that persists even when they shift from steady ambience to quick, punchy riffs. And there's a haunting sadness to "Died in the Prison of the Holy Office" that remains even after its mounting suspense finally bursts into a frenzy as Bello tells of a character left to constantly, hopelessly struggle amid the false promises of drugs, religion and self-help gurus.
Then there are the final two tracks, which account for more than half of Illusory Walls' 70-minute runtime. With a plaintively wandering bass line, playful synths and a perfectly placed xylophone, "Infinite Josh" is a fittingly sentimental mini-epic about watching time go by: "Our dreams get drowned in a river of present needs / The years float by like fallen leaves." And finally, the big finale "Fewer Afraid" feels like the emotional payoff of every The World is a Beautiful Place song they've ever recorded, recapturing some of the sound from their early years as part of a 20-minute post-rock odyssey complete with personal memories, universal truths, freestyle poetry, political satire and, finally, a splendid easter egg that should put a smile on the face of anyone who's been enjoying the band since their debut Whenever, If Ever. It's a magnum opus within a magnum opus, setting out TWIABP's ethos in four sentences — a collectivist message that better is possible, but only if we all work toward it together.
Illusory Walls is a going-for-it album from a band that has never been known to hold back anyway. TWIABP are even more audacious than they were when they first emerged on the emo scene with a reputation for the grandiose and weird — their name, their song titles, their numerous band members and, of course, their music — but now they have more than a decade's worth of experience to make those grand ideas into a grander reality. On Illusory Walls, The World is a Beautiful Place give a lot and only ask for some of your time, patience and attention in return. At every interval, they make it worth your while. (Epitaph)