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TWIABP – Harmlessness
Harmlessness - Epitaph Records
I gave it my best effort to get onboard with The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die back when they still identified themselves with that long winded title. Whenever, If Ever served as my introduction and I just couldn’t shake the thought that the largely experimental emo band was trying a little too hard at being something that they couldn’t quite reach. If they were a painting, the canvas would have been far too busy to communicate their underlying intent. In other words, they were artfully ambitious, but far too overindulgent.
Then something unexpected happened. The band dropped half their name, shortened what remained into the abbreviation TWIABP and signed on with Epitaph Records. But their moment of clarity wasn’t limited to aesthetics. Somewhere along the way they tidied up their cluttered songwriting and in a flash became artful indie pop masters. Their Epitaph debut, Harmlessness, hones the band’s likeable elements while leaving behind meandering tangents and indulgences.
This time around, TWIABP tightens the formula up by leaning more heavily on the pop elements of punk and indie. Vocalist David Bello softens his voice to a Ben Gibbard (Deathcab For Cutie) level volume perfect for the resultant narration. Opener “You Can’t Live There Forever” delicately floats in on a cloud of softly plucked guitar strings and light melody before lifting the mood with violin strokes and full instrumentation for the final third of the way. The vocal accompaniment of Katie Shanholtzer-Dvorak hints at the tasteful back and forth first explored in “January 10th.“ The descriptive and slightly cryptic exposition balances strong minded guitar with thought provoking passages. After an extended instrumental bridge Bello questions meekly, “Are you Dianna, the hunter?,” to which Shanholtzer-Dvorak responds, “are you afraid of me now?” followed by the cheeky reply, “well yeah, shouldn’t I be?” The premise sounds simple, but holds such a listenable quality that it feels unexpectedly engrossing.
Key to success, the band harmonizes a range of influences around a melodic core. Take “The Word Lisa” and “Ra Patera Dance” in which subtle artistic flutters, showy guitar and Motion City Soundtrack-style keyboard-pop all coalesce in a rare confidence that TWIABP has no trouble making their norm. Even the comparatively slower tempoed, emo pacing and whiny vocal movement of “Mental Health” and “Wendover” take minimal effort to slip into place. When they do get experimental in segments like “We Need More Seagulls” with faltering, static coated vocals and feedback glazed guitars, they do so with keen navigation and a purposeful sense of direction that trumps any sense of overindulgence.
If you’ve been on the fence about TWIABP, then Harmlessness should easily push you over the edge. Their Epitaph Records debut stands head and shoulders above anything in their back catalogue and finally presents this roving cast of musicians as the seminal emo act that the community makes them out to be.