Currently inhabiting the emo-slash-post-rock scene as an eight-piece with the addition of another vocalist and a cellist, The World Is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die don’t take their art very lightly. At least not in the sense that they spent a tense year attempting to write and record their debut LP under the weight of expectations not only from their growing fan base, but from themselves as well. But obstacles aside, the band’s first foray past splits and EPs is a dynamic and emotional, but also quite conscious melding of their twinkling past with many a dive into textures of post-rock, pop-punk and layered melodies from a barrage of instruments. Though it isn’t a full realization of what this band is probably capable of, the ambition heard on these tracks is quite appreciated, as Whenever, If Ever makes for a more than solid embodiment of what the band has already done while still managing to push themselves as musicians from start to finish.
A somewhat telegraphed start in “blank #9” of swelling feedback, moving cello and graceful guitars leads up to the buildup of “Heartbeat in the Brain.” While the guitars are definitely there, this track relies heavily on percussive hits across the instruments – a notion brewed early in some pushing, but fun drumming underneath synths and whispering guitars. But more importantly, the dynamic balance between loud and soft, deliberate and subtle make their way into just about every track of this record. The pop-punk tinged “Fightboat” shout-sings its way into your brain via emotional lines and catchy riffs before spiking the punch with Motion City Soundtrack-esque synth lines and self-reflective lyricism. I’ve already discussed a bit about “A Picture of a Tree That Doesn’t Look Okay,” but it makes even more sense in the tracklisting considering how, er, poppy this record can really be.
Keeping the cyclical idea of both the band’s writing and musicianship intact across even releases, “Ultimate Steve” is perhaps the biggest marker of cohesion and dynamics on the record, akin to “Victim Kin Seek Suit” in the category of the suspension of guitars that punch with something anthemic in the middle. The group vocals here are also among the best arranged on the album, not only because of the execution but also how they meld with the ascension of the music behind them. “Gig Life” follows a similar idea but in a less obvious apex and a seemingly much more personal lyrical slant. Musically, it shows what this band is truly best at doing – creating dynamics that engulf our senses – though perhaps not at the full-tilt of “Ultimate Steve.”
Vocally, TWIABP balances a wide range of approaches that accomplish different things and resonate on different levels. Sometimes, the shouting works better than the singing, other times a slightly off voice does the trick. I think that as a band, the experimentation left this portion of the record a bit raw and unpredictable. At times, the voices come together for something that hits right on the head. Other times, you would almost wish for a different approach – but such is the case in a band that has multiple vocalists and eight people in it. While this record definitely builds a strong foundation for the band as a collective unit, it also shows some opportunity for growth in the hope that their supposedly already started LP #2 does in fact come to fruition.
Whenever, If Ever is exactly what it sets out to be – a beautiful, but challenging emo-rock record that taps post-rock and experimentalism in ways that might be tough to swallow at first, but can be embraced as you learn the band’s quirks both musically and vocally on their debut LP. After finally getting to hear this record following a lengthy amount of time the band spent on writing and recording it, I have no problem saying this – it was well worth the wait.