At the climax of “Getting Sodas,” the final song of their debut EP Whenever, if Ever, the voices of (deep breath) The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die’s vocalists start to blur and expand, a sonic zooming out, an effect of overdub and echoes that makes the emo collective sound even more enormous than they are. And they are that—enormous. When I saw them live earlier this year, I counted seven people on-stage, and their ever-changing and expanding lineup makes them feel, at times, a bit more like a marching band than a rock band. “Getting Sodas,” a song that started with a simple electric guitar riff, travelling up and down a few notes and then back again, has accrued mass and gravity in its seven minute runtime leading up to this point, where, for a moment, it feels like it encompasses the whole world.
This might be the primary gift of The World Is, an ability to layer their emo rock melodies with post-rock instrumentation in a way that creates big spaces to fill with emotion, the ability to conjure space and urgency at will. They are maximalist by definition. Ian Cohen, in his review of Whenever, if Ever, compared the band to Arcade Fire, citing both in early Arcade Fire and in The World Is “an almost frightening will to live, a desperation that strongly suggests the people involved have no other option to deal with what’s inside of them.
“When Thomas Diaz screams ‘let’s hope that this works out/this has got to work out!’ on the frantic conclusion of ‘Fightboat,’ you realize ‘this’ means everything.”
There’s something uncomfortable in this sort of shameless expression, a discomfort that comes to the fore on an initial listening of Between Bodies, the band’s new EP, which they posted on bandcamp Tuesday in advance of its official release later this month. Its eight tracks are the culmination of a long-term collaboration with spoken word artist Chris Zizzamia, and it is almost painfully earnest.
Between Bodies opens with a characteristically The World Is track, “blank #8”, one in a series of slow-simmering, highly rhythmic pieces that are scattered throughout their discography (Whenever, if Ever opens likewise with “blank #9”). These tracks are lyricless, mood music built around bass and drum. After a few minutes, it shifts into “Precipice,” the second half of track one, the transition signalled by the arrival of Zizzamia’s voice. He’s loud, his voice always at a near shout and skirting a nasal undercurrent. “I am standing on a precipice,” he yells through the music, and he sounds like he’s nearly in tears. Earnest. If you were watching this guy live, this is the point where you might be a bit tempted to look away. That level of sincerity always feels like it’s flirting with a breakdown.
Let’s get this out of the way: Zizzamia’s writing is not the high point of this album. As a poet, his writing is unremarkable and sometimes silly, with lines like “the end of everything is the beginning of a brand new everything,” which, to be fair, is not the sort of sentiment that’s out of place in emo music, but its tautological goofiness is a bit more glaring when it’s spoken instead of sung. But like any Pentecostal preacher worth his salt, his voice is at least half as important as what he’s saying. And Zizzamia’s voice, despite sounding like the stereotype of a “spoken word artist” made flesh, has power that settles perfectly on top of The World Is’s insistent, broad melodies.
He functions here as something of a choir leader, a booming presence that goes ahead of the instrumentation, providing focus and momentum. My recommendation is to avoid paying too close of attention to his trains of thought, letting yourself pick out the occasional impressionistic phrase but otherwise just enjoying his voice as another instrumental layer in the striking, flowing mood pieces that still make up the bulk of the band’s sound.
With Zizzamia providing a focusing center to the chaos, Between Bodies finds The World Is a more focused, punchier group than they’ve been before. The tracks are still spacious but they move faster, building from one crescendo of emotion to the next. The vocals here, while more sparse on accounting of the centrality of the spoken word, work better too, harmonizing in condensed, energized bursts. This is a band that’s had a bit more time to work through the harsher edges of its sound, and the brevity of the EP (and for a band like The World Is, an 8-track EP is definitely brief, and despite the length it moves along rather breezily) ensures that the sound never meanders or grows stale.
The highlight is “If and When I Die,” the point where the alchemy between Zizzamia’s voice and the band’s energy reaches its most complete expression, a four-minute rumination on immortality and hope set against the backdrop of supernovas, like all the best parts of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos in song form. It also includes Zizzamia’s best lines, as the track culminates with his cry that, “no one is invincible, everyone is immortal,” insisting that we are all just moving from one form of profound existence to another.
Again, it can be a bit cringeworthy in a culture that prizes a bit more detachment in its yearning, feeling a bit like the scrawling of a busy pen on a high-school notebook, a sentiment that brings us all back to our Myspace days. But there’s something empowering about the earnest urgency of Between Bodies. At its strongest moments, it feels utopian, reclaiming the quotidian moodiness that stereotypically characterizes emo into something transcendent and beautiful, affirming Cohen’s assertion that, for a band like this, there is no alternative to expression. “How could you drown us out?” David Bello sings on “Autotonsorialist,” the sweeping closer. If the output of The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die up to this point is any indication, this is a question wrongly asked. You couldn’t possibly.
Between Bodies is available for download here. The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die’s 2013 LP, Whenever, If Ever is available for purchase via Top Shelf Records and is streaming on Spotify. Jake really, really thinks you should listen to it.
Jake Muncy is a freelance writer, editor, and poet living in Austin, TX. In addition to functioning as Loser City’s Games Editor, his writing appears on The AV Club, Ovrld, and anywhere else he can convince people to post it. You can contact him by email or twitter, where he tweets regularly about video games, the Mountain Goats, and sandwiches. He has very strong feelings about Kanye West.