I have spent the last five years since the release of Whenever, If Ever feeling like I was missing something with The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die. 2015’s Harmlessness was lauded as a “rare feat” and a “perfect indie rock record.” For me, though, it was a good record with a few impressive songs. Perhaps I just didn’t get it at the time; maybe I never will.
However, as the release of the band’s third LP Always Foreign drew closer, my indifference toward the band was tested as I finally was able to connect to songs like “Gram.” All of a sudden, the intricate instrumentals were pushed to the background, and frontman David Bello’s lyrics were pushed to the edge of my conscience as he tenderly sang, “I’m sorry for being sorry because of anxiety.” It’s a lyric that’s so simple, yet undercuts a whole mental state — one with which I am intimately familiar — in just a few words.
Throughout the nearly 45 minutes of the record, The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die cover a ton of pertinent ground thematically and musically, conquering many of the preconceived notions that might have been held by listeners, myself included.
With Always Foreign, The World Is has a story to tell, and they tell it loud and clear. With much of the writing process taking place during the 2016 election cycle, it’s an album rooted in the heaviness of our current reality and uncertainties of our newfound political climate. Many of the lyrics on the record are informed by Bello’s identity as someone of Puerto Rican and Lebanese descent, and the way he and the rest of the band view the race-based prejudices that have been perpetrated by the President of the United States, much of which comes out in his lyrics (“Call em A-rab, call me a sp*c, I can’t wait to see you die,” he sings on the album’s penultimate track “Fuzz Minor”).
Additionally, the album also takes influence from outside the head of the musicians on tracks like “Marine Tigers,” a gorgeous seven-minute epic of a track that takes concepts presented in Bello’s father’s new book of the same name that describes the story of his journey from Puerto Rico to America.
The highlight of the records perhaps comes with its fourth track, the harmonics-driven “Faker” that digs into the remaining distrust of humans, even after everything appears to be OK on the outside. The track deals with issues regarding the current economic system and political climate, calling out the many falsehoods of the current administration. Musically, the track builds and it builds, introducing new instruments as it progresses. Finally, the entrance of the drums marks the beginning of the release, as the tight hi-hat continues to loosen, the build refusing to let you go until the catharsis of the release hits and the sound gets blown open by the full band after guitarist Tyler Bussey whispers, “If there is a hell, it’s ready and waiting for you.”
At this point in their career, is unfair to pigeonhole this band as an emo act. Their sound is much too sprawling, their lyrical content too universal. With this record, The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die has stepped into indie-rock territory, delivering a modern encapsulation of a protest album. It’s a protest against the Trump Administration. It’s a protest against the greed of a capitalistic society. It’s a protest against prejudice and racism.
With Always Foreign, I think I finally understand The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die, and I respect the sh*t out of them for what they were able to pull off here.
Always Foreign is out now on Epitaph Records. Pick it up physically here, or via the band’s Bandcamp page, with all the proceeds being doubled by Epitaph and donated to the Immigrant Defense Project through 10/5.