The World Is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die return with their latest record, producing their most mystical, cohesive work to date. Illusory Walls is an album with enough atmosphere and emotive poignancy that it can’t be fully appreciated without multiple listens.
Based in Willimantic, Connecticut, the five-piece emo/indie rock ensemble The World Is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die has strived through countless releases, maintaining a deeply atmospheric and theatrical presence and keeping the Midwestern emo revival alive throughout the 2010s with 2013’s Whenever, If Ever, 2015’s Harmlessness, and 2017’s Always Foreign. With such an impressive back catalogue behind them, the band seem to be continuing their spacey, dream-like sonic structures, yet they appear to shift towards this more optimistic and buoyant sort of style in their songwriting. Its title originally taken from the video game Dark Souls, Illusory Walls is an empathetic and blissful record moulded through a rich, aural atmosphere that presents itself as illusive, mystical, and oddly warm.
The record’s opening track “Afraid To Die” initially presents this album with a much colder and nihilistic tone, as if to suggest a wave of hopelessness that has been cast unto the world and the ones who inhabit it. The lyrics emphasise a feeling of ease only achieved by the reluctance of leaving one’s comfort zone and the loss of hope of being stuck in a loop: ‘the storm has flattened our wings, we’ve been waiting too long, give us hope cried the strong’. The gentile guitar sections and soothing sonic undercurrent, however, appear to counter this dark tone, conveying that a glimmer of hope could still be achieved. This is followed by “Queen Sophie For President”, an immensely fluid track that is driven massively by Katie Dvorak’s vocals, with the synth and programming elements of Chris Teti create surprisingly warm sense of gracefulness.
“Invading the World of the Guilty as a Spirit of Vengeance” introduces a much more angsty vibe as well as an anti-commercial message from the band. The lyrics ‘take my skin and make something’ and ‘human life and burial is as important as survivors make it’ could be subconsciously interpreted as alluding to the state of the human condition and the consumerist culture that corrupts it, whilst the more naturalist side is alluded to on “We Saw Birds through the Hole in the Ceiling” through the lines ‘burn the oil from the desert, hire a driver so you can get some sleep, by the time they realize we’ve gone, there’s far too many hoops to leap’. The staccato-like guitars and climatic drum builds add anticipation to the track, while the string sections produce a greater range of dimension.
The melodic shifts into more experimental territory can be recognised throughout this track, as the various sections piece themselves together so fluently. As the track ends, this sense of pace and texture is slowed down going into “Blank // Drone”, giving us a chance to catch a breath and become immersed in David Bello’s earthy vocals and the ambient currents that precede to flow. Similarly, the eighth track “Blank // Worker” upholds this illusive sensation through a mostly guitar-driven passage that comes soaked in reverb and accompanied by powerful synth chords and vocals.
Some stand out moments throughout the main body of this record can be further heard in the dense and hard-hitting chorus sections on “Died in the Prison of the Holy Office”, especially within these intense dynamic changes imbued by the drum rhythms and powerful guitar chords. The way this moves so fluently into the ominous “Your Brain is a Rubbermaid” creates a much darker ambience yet continues with that same passionate drive, which is ever so gratifying. On the emotive end, “Trouble” instils this beautifully distressing response highlighting the band’s deep-cut Midwestern emo roots with existential and deeply personal conveyance.
It comes as no surprise, however, that the peak of this record’s triumph is resolved in the album’s climatic final two songs, spanning over 30 minutes combined. “Infinite Josh” is resonant with a distant, fuzzy memory, emphasised through the melodious and soft-hearted sections that lead into more compelling territory. These repetitive elements possess a penetratingly dramatic quality to them in the final few moments of this song, where sustaining chord progressions express an almost meditative sensation. But it is in the final track “Fewer Afraid” where this climax reaches its more progressive stage. The band appear successful in moulding this beautiful soundscape that beckons a journey into the world of their artistry. The bell chimes and warm string sections provide this gentle ambience, whilst the drums and guitars carry the weight of Dvorak and Bello’s enlightening vocal delivery. The song brings an epic conclusion to a highly dynamic and progressive final period of this record, where the final few verses really bring to light the illuminating and earth-like significance of the band’s unique sound. Listen to the final lyrics of this track in particular to get a sense of this life-affirming atmosphere: ‘I can’t live like this, but I’m not ready to die. The world is a beautiful place, but we have to make it that way. Whenever you find home, we’ll make it more than just a shelter. If everyone belongs there, it will hold us all together. If you’re afraid to die, then so am I.’
For a record whose songwriting process was hindered due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to the members of the band recording the album remotely between Connecticut and Philadelphia, TWIABP achieved quite an extraordinary feat with Illusory Walls all things considered. The way in which the band explore some of the world’s darker and problematic traits and connect with them in such a profoundly intimate and personal way really highlights their strong sense of musicianship. For fans of this band, Illusory Walls can be seen as some of the band’s best work by far, and the conclusionary final tracks will undoubtedly go down as one of their greatest accomplishments.