When you look at the political atmosphere of music, the post-rock and emo genres aren’t too outspoken when it comes to talking about modern events. Cue The World is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die’s (also known as TWIABP) third full-length album, Always Foreign. With most of the writing for the record taking place during the 2016 presidential election cycle, the transcending lyrics throughout Always Foreign shows a perspective of modern America in its most bitter, honest way.
At first listen, Always Foreign may seem only seem like a reminder that TWIABP is a frontrunner for an indie/post-emo revitalization after their sophomore album was lauded as a “perfect indie record.” Compared to past works, the instrumentation is more laid back even in the higher tempo songs – feeling less energetic as a whole. It’s only when you get into the heavy themes and underlying tropes of the lyrics that you understand what a masterpiece this album is as they examine the state of the world around them while also reflecting on their personal lives.
One of the most personal and emotionally charged songs on the album is “Hilltopper.” Written about the dismissal of former guitarist Nicole Shanholtzer, the song is also a poetic analogy to emotional abuse with some of the harshest lyrics on the album (“I hope evil can see this / And you get what you deserve” and “Can’t seem to erase you/ I threw out all the records you’re on.”)
“Gram” is an exploration into the state of the medical system in the United States. With lyrics exploring the lack of accessible medical treatment and flaws of the pharmaceutical industry, while also addressing the ongoing criminalization of cannabis and the accessibility to alternative treatments during the persisting opioid epidemic, it seems counterintuitive to the beautiful harmonies of the song. This theme continues later with “For Robin,” a story about a friend’s descent into drug addiction as they withdraw from relationships told over a beautifully melancholy guitar performance.
The most poignant themes on the album are understood in “Marine Tigers,” where Puerto Rican-Lebanese frontman David Bello confronts xenophobia in modern society. The song is named after the S.S. Marine Tiger, a class of cargo ship that transported immigrants such as his father to New York City in the 1940’s (as well the name of Bello’s father’s autobiography). “Marine Tigers” illuminates the experiences of living as an outsider in today’s money-hungry society. The introspective song characterizes the hopelessness of capitalism on lower-income and minority communities before a crescendo into “Fuzz Minor,” which is the easily the angriest song on the album. Narrating the experiences of minorities and immigrants living in the Trump era, TWIABP tackles the issues of xenophobia and white supremacy head on with lyrics that are hard to forget (Call me “a-rab” / Call me a “spic”/ I can’t wait until I see you die.”)
Finding the balance when creating political art pieces can be impossible for some to find, but TWIABP found their sweet spot. Even without lyrical content, the musicality of the album changes pace often to keep listeners eager for more and conveys completely different moods from song to song. Where TWIABP thrived with Always Foreign was how they could blend their immaculate storytelling with rhythmic tones to create musical poetry. As we progress forward in the Trump era, it will be interesting to see how other acts choose to address the political climate – but TWIABP brought personal experiences and expertly melded them with the specifics of present politics in a unique way. Always Foreign is the first piece of work from the group that left me thinking that maybe the world isn’t such a beautiful place after all.
Notable Tracks: “Hilltopper”; “Gram”; “Marine Tigers”; “Fuzz Minor”
FFO: And So I Watched You From Afar, Maybeshewill, Explosions in the Sky