The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die – “Broken Bodies”

Grade: B

Key Track: “If And When I Die”

Nine-member band The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die aren’t exactly known for palpable, conventional music. You can probably tell by staring at their eighteen syllable name. Their mix of emo, ambiance, twee-pop and dissonance has, for a few years now, brought a fresh voice to a scene dominated largely by straight pop-punk. Their new EP, recorded alongside spoken word artist Chris Zizzamia, is even more confoundingly complex and headache-y than their previous works.

The band, who I’m going to shorten to The World Is to avoid carpal tunnel (no offense!), brought on Zizzamia to bring a form of intense narration to their ambient music. They knew it would polarize fans – only the people truly onboard with them would appreciate it, because it is tough to swallow. Zizzamia spits some beautiful poetry throughout the EP, about human bodies making up stars, intertwining, and facing invincibility, all capping off with the beautiful line “I think my name is safest in your mouth” in the finale, “Autotonsorialist.” Another great line, “I like you like I like the dark/Why would I aim to defeat it?” peppers the track “Shoppers Beef.” Zizzamia is an interesting addition to the band – it isn’t just that spoken word works well alongside the band’s music, it’s that his spoken word works well. His flowing poetry, moving through anger, hope and experiment, is told with a spitting clarity and a scathing touch. It’s a strange fit, but that’s kind of the band’s MO, after all.

The band takes pages out of every section of their own playbook on “Broken Bodies.” Through the eight tracks, there’s a long, experimental opening, build-ups to climaxes that don’t happen, a conventional song (“$100 Tip”) that fades out into a multi-minute drum segment, and a track with a full, driving beat (“Space Explorations to Solve Earthly Crises”). They hit all their own notes. There are actual vocals throughout the album, in a few tracks. Some are just Zizzamia, some are both, and occasionally we get them simultaneously.

The fault in the EP’s experimentation is that it doesn’t have quite the same cohesiveness that their full-length, “Whenever, If Ever,” had. The EP flows, but each song is it’s own distinct being, where the tracks on their album all need each other to work. Still, spoken word alongside experimental emo makes for a very unique listen, like a sadder version of the Moody Blues’ “Knights in White Satin.” The World Is have already proven themselves to be one of the strangest, most difficult and original bands we have today, and “Broken Bodies” just extends this. This would probably never work for a full album, but it’s a consistent and consistently ambitious work, one that takes a few listens and aims for both the heart and the head.

Give them yr money and download it here.

If you like this, try: I don’t know, Pink Floyd? drugs?

-By Andrew McNally

Owen Pallett – “In Conflict”

(Photo Credit: alpentine.com)

Grade: A-

Key Tracks: “I Am Not Afraid” “The Riverbed”

Although quick enough to be mistaken for an interlude, my favorite song off of Owen Pallett’s 2010 album “Heartland” is “Flare Gun.” The song, reflective of the album as a whole, sounds ripped out of a carnival. It’s got nearly a full orchestra behind it, and an almost sickeningly catchy rhythm. The song, and the album, is pop music, for sure. But it’s a puzzle. Pallett’s music has always been layered and difficult to grasp, and it’s what makes him the talented force he is today. “In Conflict” represents a drastic departure from “Heartland,” looking a whole new direction, with equally great results.

Pallett is, occasionally, described as “baroque pop.” It’s fair to say this isn’t really a popular genre of music today, and indeed, a Wikipedia search of the genre lists a number of very famous, very long-gone bands (Beach Boys, Moody Blues, and, confoundingly, the Beatles). But Pallett’s use of a wide number of instruments sets him aside from other alt-pop acts of today. On “Heartland,” he used those instruments to create a whole universe that he didn’t let the listener into. It’s a fun album, on the surface, and one whose storied lyrics gift many re-listens. But on “In Conflict,” his fourth solo album, he lets the listener come inside the puzzle and see the man inside. And he manages to do this without sacrificing any of the ambition.

The immediate thing to notice on “In Conflict” is a notable turn towards darkness; this album is gloomy, rarely offering anything promising. While “Heartland” sounded like a cryptic carnival, “In Conflict” resembles the longest night of the year – sure, things will get better, and there’s good things happening, but it isn’t enough. The album’s first song, “I Am Not Afraid,” mixes calming piano over industrial beats, starting off a bit unsettling. There’s fewer instruments, but they’re just as effective. Pallett goes for strings and synth rhythms to convey some convoluted moods. “On a Path” and “The Passions,” for example, use string sections to hit melodic, ballad highs. “Song For Five & Six” and “The Sky Behind the Flag,” meanwhile, benefit from their use of synth rhythms and space-y moods to add a bit of uncertainty to the mix.

The lyrics on “In Conflict” really help to open the album up to the man behind the music. Early on the album, he sings about growing up without a heart. Later, on “The Passions,” he invites the listener into the bedroom with him, solely as a viewer. “In Conflict,” on it’s most immediate level, shows Pallett as a human that never existed on “Heartland.” It’s dark, sure, but what’s to be expected of a man who can pull off baroque pop in 2014?

It’s also worth noting that, to go along with the album’s theme of pulling away the curtain and revealing the wizard, Pallett offers more vocally. He really shines on “On a Path,” but his voice is more present throughout than it was before. Whether he’s delivering some sort of devastating lyrics, or merely singing pitches – he’s more apparent on this album, more upfront and more available. His vocals add a personal force throughout; stronger and more frequent.

“In Conflict” isn’t the album for people looking for something fun. Its title sums it up pretty well – there’s a lot of conflicting emotions going on here. Ballads are interspersed with forceful tracks. It’s all personal, and ambitious, but humanly so. If “Heartland” was a puzzle the listener could never crack, “In Conflict” is one where Pallett has himself given up and left it to the listener to complete. It’s moodier and more contemplative, with effective music to go alongside. On “In Conflict,” Pallett fully proves himself as an ambitious alt-pop force who can’t be reckoned with, even if he wants to be.

If you like this, try: I’ve never shied away from a chance to promote Dirty Projectors’ last full-length, “Swing Lo Magellan.” It’s in a similar vain or something, just listen to both.

-By Andrew McNally