There is something eagerly fussed-over about Whenever, If Ever. Maybe it’s because the World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die, Connecticut’s reigning space rock champs, have spent so long working in miniature: to date, they’ve released three seven-inches, been featured on seven- and 12-inch splits, and contributed to at least one compilation. These early releases showed a band taking time with their songs, focusing on tempo changes and mutations and piling parts on one another. In this primordial-basement-ooze gestated something really, truly new.
Whenever is, essentially, a maximalist extension of this early approach. Where previously songs had one or two voices, they now have three or more: “Ultimate Steve” backs its melody with just about every singer in the band, past and present. When “Picture of a Tree That Doesn’t Look Okay” builds, it brings a cacophony of overdubs and snare rolls. Early records sounded like a group of dudes recording themselves, but by function of new members and label backing, they have grown into something snarling and joyous.
And entertaining. These are songs you shout along to in crowded basements, at all-ages venues, or—like I saw one kid do—while desperately holding onto a light fixture as the crowd you were surfing tries to drop you. As their online presence and song titles (“You Will Never Go to Space”; “Wait… What?”) suggest, this is a band of people who don’t seem to know how to take themselves too seriously. It works for the record, of course, because these songs bleed emo and pop-punk, with chord progressions that give you a head rush and get people in the front row bobbing. In “Fightboat”, the band somehow craft a good fake ska song, and the muted picking that opens “Heartbeat in the Brain” seems designed to kick-start a set, priming the listener for whatever comes next.
At a clean 35 minutes, about a fifth of which is contained in its last song, Whenever doesn’t waste space. That aforementioned fussing is most noticeable here, as every tempo change, every reverb-y interlude, every build works to make the whole thing flow together. Listening without looking, you can’t determine a clear break between “Picture of a Tree That Doesn’t Look Okay” and “The Layers of Skin We Drag Around”, two songs later, despite having about three distinct sections in each. Pinging guitar lines and reverb-heavy swells open and close many songs, even the most straightforward. There are almost no discernible verses or choruses, just undeniable forward movement at many speeds, and the band rarely stay on one idea for too long. On a longer record, this could lead to listener confusion. But The World Is… display a sharp sense of concision, developing ideas in one or two minutes, never allowing the self-aware post-rock heroics to go too far. Simply, they’re good at what they do.
Of course, they throw it all away for the record’s final two tracks, “Low Light Assembly” and “Getting Sodas”, sprawling for ten minutes across Pinback harmonies and melodic hardcore touches. For all the self-invented online genres this group has been pigeonholed as (“Twinkle Daddies” having taken on an especially terrifying life of its own), they are ultimately a punk band, if one composed of a few more Weakerthans fans than most. So there are shouts and screams, power chord riffs and big, hit-the-distortion moments, but they coexist with cello and swirly synth melodies.
The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die is still a young band, and while their tendency to fly all over the place can be thrilling, it can occasionally dead-end whatever momentum they’ve built, as it is in those forward charges that their music destroys basements/crowds/the world/etc. Nevertheless, in its unique ebb-and-flow, this is the best possible first LP to follow all those one-offs and short EPs. While not long, it spreads out along record sides, stretching its legs. This group has always had the power to make something very new, and hopefully, in their evolution into bigger and brighter places, The World Is A Beautiful Place… only expand more and more.