REVIEW: The World Is A Beautiful Place – ‘Whenever, If Ever’

Whenever, If Ever

Artist: The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die
Album: Whenever, If Ever
Genre: Emo, Post-rock
Label: Topshelf Records

For two months, I have been waiting to tear a record apart. I have taken extra time to do reviews because I had mixed feelings, and deeply wanted the positives to shine through and give a fair review despite an urge to rip something to shreds. For two months, I have wanted to destroy something someone else thought was beautiful, because that someone else was wrong. I have wanted this for two months because I had a conscious realization that many reviews’ scores are influenced by other reviews’ scores, and it all seemed to wash away in uselessness.

I realized that the music I grew up – Queen, Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Incubus – was held to a higher standard than smaller bands, and I realized it wasn’t fair. I would call Pearl Jam’s Ten an 8.5 out of 10; was Muse’s new record really an 8.5, too? I think of my favorite Say Anything record as a 9, but all the reviews of the new rarities collection seem to think it’s about a 9, too. How is that fair? For two months, I have waited to be hypercritical of every aspect of a single record. I have waited for a band that I wouldn’t care if it failed, an “artist” so minor in power and scale that I could shit on them with a credible honesty and no malicious intent. Surely, a record would come along where I could just outright say how I feel. When would that time come?

Whenever, If Ever.

A blurry photo of a band member, Greg Horbal, is the album cover. Greg is nicknamed “Shitty Greg.” I don’t know how he got this pet name; I assume he ticked off the other guitarists in a band practice, or forgot to ship shirts to the correct address, or just some stupid band issue once. “Shitty Greg” can’t sing well. It’s really shitty, actually. He’s not the lead vocalist, though; he’s a backing vocalist, with the main singer being David Bello. David Bello isn’t the strongest voice in the world either. His intonation is never perfect; his tone, always nasally. This man will never audition for The Voice. He will never be a judge on American Idol. I’m not sure his parents would believe he’s the singer for a band that has a record that somewhere out there, people actively want to steal online. His voice is often awkward; his words, often whiny.

Every lyric on this record is wrapped up in an over-the-top emotional layer that I highly doubt most people actually feel, let alone most people in the band. Is no one ever happy? Everything on this is either sad or nostalgic, and it’s mostly both. Listening to Whenever, If Ever is like living a Shakespearean tragedy; every beautiful moment is fleeting, everything negative is someone else’s old melodrama. The most profound statements fly by, mixed under some of the echoing guitar play that comes when you have three guitarists in a band that’s clearly listened to a Godspeed You! Black Emperor record on a turntable before. Is burying an occasional voice in the mix intentional? It’s surely not what I grew up on.

TWIABP’s collective history is composed of everyone being in multiple bands; many members are seemingly extra and unnecessary. Doubt me? Go ahead and ask yourselves how many members of the band there are. Are there 7? Is it 8? Is it 10? Is the ex-vocalist still a vocalist? He appears on the record, what’s the deal? This changing of lineups is sometimes apparent on the record, and sometimes isn’t; the track listing and album mastering are done in such a way that every track moves into the next one smoothly, but also presents itself so that if you shuffled it, it wouldn’t always come off as the same band. Multiple harmonies as the focus of a song? Sure, listen to the end of the album. Instrumental post rock? Listen to the first track. Even in songwriting, it’s clear that these songs were written over years, and not a few weeks.

And what of singles? What of “strong tracks”? “Picture of a Tree That Doesn’t Look Okay” premiered well before the album leaked, and wasn’t the strongest song the band’s done. Is it really the best song on the band’s first album? Probably not. It’s a relatively inaccessible song; it clearly has references to specific moments in a life I have not lived. Musically, it’s almost like this post-rock-meets-emo band’s attempt at writing a radio single. That’s probably why it was the lead single, if there is such a thing in 2013 for a Topshelf Records band.

This whole record is dense with self-referential work. You don’t know TWIABP? You don’t have all the records? Well, then you wouldn’t have known that Greg Horbal is “Shitty Greg” until I told you, but did you know that drummer Steven Buttery was “Mega Steve” on an EP by the band, but on here has apparently evolved to “Ultimate Steve” like a second stage Pokemon? What about guitarist/trumpet player Chris? Did you know he used to play in legendary Connecticut band My Heart To Joy? Did you know that guitarist/vocalist Derrick is married to keyboardist/vocalist Katie?

I was afraid to write this review because I know all this. I toured with Finch and met these people. I traded PBRs for Heinekens with them, a trade that I still don’t think makes any sense. I’ve seen the band leader storm out of a gig that I, if it was for a band I was in, would’ve considered important. I’ve planned to go to shows that this band has cancelled on the day before. I’ve seen these guys rock the fuck out on a stage in Hartford with 10 people singing along and I’ve seen them stand still in nervousness in front of a thousand people in Chicago, something a band like the ones I listened to growing up would never do.

Robert Plant wrote “Rock and Roll” because Rolling Stone Magazine accused him of no longer being able to rock after Led Zeppelin III. I know this because Led Zeppelin IV was, at one point, my favorite record. I know this because I used to read and trust Rolling Stone Magazine, and found myself questioning it. How could the words of Rolling Stone be wrong?

But The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die aren’t Led Zeppelin, and I am not Rolling Stone Magazine. This isn’t 1969, nor 1970, nor 1971. I told myself I wouldn’t go over a thousand words but I just really don’t care. If you’ve even bothered to check out this band before (or ever considered it), you know both that being flawed doesn’t prevent something from being perfect, and that music criticism is always subjective.

My objective understanding and subjective opinion of how the band got their name is this: there’s some lyric by some artist at least one of them likes that I haven’t heard of, from a song that you will never hear, that goes something like “The world is a terrible place but I am still afraid to die.” Contradict it, and boom: band name. That seems like a crappy way to name a band, much like naming songs after nostalgic activities is a seemingly crappy practice.

There’s a lyric on the final song, “Getting Sodas,” the most obvious example of said practice. It’s self referential, but it is in a way about TWIABP that you don’t need to have inside jokes and memories with them to understand.

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.
And if everyone belongs there,
It will hold us all together.
If you’re afraid to die,
Then so am I.

I encourage you to listen to this album once through, waiting for those words to finally stop you. I encourage you to do so as critically as possible. I encourage you to actively seek out its flaws and take them in. I encourage you to say how you really feel after several of the band members chant to you the underlying message.

I know how I really feel after listening to it for the umpteenth time. Fuck anything holding this album back, in critical reception or sales or anything at all. Fuck anything that holds this down. Fuck all of its problems. That’s how I really feel.

I hope you feel informed about all of the flaws of Whenever, If Ever, from its low-fidelity album cover of the infamous member of the band no one publicly claims to like, to its ups and downs in style and its awkward combination of 90s post rock and first generation emo. I hope you can see what I dislike about it. I hope you don’t hold it against me. I hope you buy the vinyl – not because of a higher sound, nor because I want this ten-track emo album to chart. I hope you buy it because I bought it on vinyl, and I want to share this. I hope you buy it because you can get it for free, and that’s not how I’ve gotten it. And I want everyone to belong here, to hold us all together.

Flaws will never stop some things from being perfect. You can all go to hell if you say otherwise.

If you’re afraid to die, so am I.

SCORE: 10/10

Review written by: Dan Bogosian (Twitter)

Dan Bogosian

I finished school with a music theory degree. Before I finished school, I was a janitor. You really should apologize to all the janitors you've ever had. You hurt them. Seriously. You did.

But, now that we've cleared that up and you called your high school janitor, know that I quit being a janitor to pursue writing about music. So here I am, and here you are, and hey how are you?
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