Music is by its nature manipulative. Artists want to make us feel emotions or even lead us to a new school of thought. It is important never to lose sight of this. It’s all too easy for someone to trick you into thinking they’ve unearthed some great unspoken truth, when really it’s sound and fury, signifying nothing.
One of the more curious revivals that our nostalgia-driven culture has bequeathed is emo. Not emo in the 2006 sense of eyeliner, fringes and being “non-conforming as can be”. More in the 1990s sincere-to-the-point-of-parody way. Basically, Mike Kinsella’s American Football. It was a resurgence that few were clamouring for, but, looking at most festival billings, it is one that has exploded. The Hotelier, PUP, Modern Baseball, the list goes on. It’s within this little cultural bubble that Connecticut’s The World Is A Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid To Die reside. They’ve got lots of words, lots of members and a whole lot of feelings. Given the large rotating list of members, they’re more of a collective than a normal band. They have been doing the rounds on the scene for nearly a decade now with two records under their belt, 2013’s Whenever, If Ever and 2015’s Harmlessness as well as a number of EPs. Now, two years later, they’ve dropped Always Foreign, a sort of by the numbers entry into an already unremarkable discography. It’s perfectly acceptable for those who like this sort of music, and there’s no denying that for many, this sort of thing is a real treasure, but when a resurgence of a style leads to a tidal wave of such acts hurtling toward us, the question must be asked: Is the bulk of it actually any good? Do we deserve better than whatever this is, or what it is pretending to be?
There is a lingering unresolved issue with this album, and many of others of its ilk, leading us to ask: How sincere is any of this? By definition, emo is a sub-genre built around a barely contained well of emotion. In an idealised world, it’s a pure definition of a lost soul’s attempt to reach the world without any pretence or filter. They may howl, whisper or roar, but they’re all in pursuit of the same goal, expression and acceptance. And that’s great. In reality though, what it predominantly ends up being is a collection of heavily bearded, overgrown adolescents shredding their vocal chords yelling faux-Morrissey lyrics over straight forward punk rock. It’s hard not to feel that the kind of honesty that these guys (and they’re almost exclusively guys) pedal is canned. Fake. Mimicked from a dozen other artists. Bought and sold many times over. It’s a vocal style as much as growling or sprechgesang. Where they carry the legacy of rage and the avant garde, this carries a neon sign saying “I’m super real. I promise. I have so many emotions. Listen to me, I’m real”. They decry the phoniness of modern society, capitalist intent and money. But lord knows they’re selling a pre-packed, easily digestible version of themselves. There are no uncomfortable truths on this album. There is nothing in the words to which they’ve given so much weight, that you couldn’t infer from a 30 second Wikipedia venture. It’s a ploy to make you care; a persona masquerading as true self. It’s The Clash being used to sell BMWs. Or in a film when the sad music swallows up the scene, telegraphing how you should feel and when you should feel it. It’s cheap and easy and it should be scorned as such. It’s frustrating here too because, TWIABPAIANLATD can muster such genuine feelings when they actually put their hear into it. ‘Marine Tigers’ and ‘Infinite Steve’ have subtle use of space and scope that lets the aptly named David Bello lay down some beautiful harmonies and thoughts. It’s just a shame that everything else feels so wooden and prepackaged.
The World Is A Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid To Die and their latest LP Always Foreign are basically acceptable. They’ll do well with revivalists and magazines like the A.V. Club. They do some bits well. The strings, banjos and synths are nice. They’re a bit spacier than their peers. A little too Mogwai, but it’s still better than most. Primarily though, this album will sit on a shelf and neatly take up space, occasionally being put on for a single spin and then immediately forgotten about. Its sentiment manufactured. It’s ideas generic. It was; it is: manipulative. Will Murphy