The first time I encountered The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die was at a live show, and it was definitely a strange one. The people in the audience weren’t really sure how to respond to this music that was both angry, yet reserved and somber; other than calmly swaying. Yet, the longer I was there, the more I felt the music surround me and eventually it seemed to speaking to some deep seated loneliness I was experiencing. The only problem was that as soon as I walked away from the venue, I couldn’t remember a single song they’d actually preformed. Listening to Harmlessness, I more or less have the same experience.
The album definitely starts out strong. “You Can’t Live Forever” delivers a slow, soothing guitar riff, which is then accompanied by David Bello’s calm, monotone singing of pseudo-philosophical phrases like “you’re harmless in your mind, you’re formless in the night”. By the time a series of violins kick in at the halfway mark, the whole thing feels like a strange lullaby. The song then gets a burst of energy as a drum, an electronic zither, and even a second vocalist, all join the mix. This crescendo continues to build before finally settling down for an aftermath that’s just kind of warm and tingly.
The album is littered with these tonal back-and-fourths, with a song starting slow, only to build up to something louder and more forceful. On an individual song level these progressions almost always works, but they’re also pretty overused. “We Need More Skulls” is bursting with this sense of controlled anger, with phrases like “We set up a safety net, but it was above our heads” being repeated again and again as the guitar shredding grows more shrill and the drums pound even harder. But that a sequence like this feels a little cheapened when it’s mimicked in “January 10th 2014”, and “Ra Patera Dance”.
That’s not to say that none of the songs are trying anything new. “The Word Lisa” has an energetic, really popping beat, that uses the zither to give it this childlike sense of innocence. Meanwhile, the lyrics of the song look back longingly on a long-dead relationship in a way that doesn’t feel bitter, but rather just joyfully nostalgic. But once again, it’s this repetition, along with the minimalist lyrics, that make the songs start to really blend together.
“Mental Health” is a nice exception; keeps it slow and purposeful pace throughout, maintaining a drumbeat at the same pace of a human heartbeat. This calm regularity- combined with lyrics that plead for the listener to be kind to them-self, and remember what makes them happy- creates a tune that just wraps around you like a warm blanket.
The album’s final two pieces, “I Can Be Afraid Of Anything” and “Mount Hum” are definitely the strongest two of the collection, yet their placement feels somewhat squandered. For starters, they’re both immensely long; standing at seven and eight minutes in length, respectively; meaning they pretty much take up over a quarter of the album. What’s really strange about them, however, is that they sort of contradict each-other. “I Can Be Afraid Of Anything” is a song about movement that builds a rhythm that rises and falls a tide. It’s cyclical structure becomes important once Bello starts repeating the phrases “I really did dig my own hole” and “I’m climbing out”. As the song finally builds to its climax, there’s a real sense of triumph as you imagine this character finally escaping the pit of heady introspection he’s spent the entire album trapped inside. However, this sense of achievement is then diminished by “Mount Hum”, which sort of just drones on over the course of eight minutes, with a lot of vague phrases like “the kids you knew that you forgot you knew”. Don’t get me wrong, it’s echoing guitar chords create a interesting dream-like feel, but this, in turn, seems to contradict the clarity that the previous track strove for.
I need to make one final confession: None of the problems I mentioned above actually came with the first listening. During my initial experience I lay in my bed, letting the music guide me into contemplating my own consciousness and how I’ve let memory shape who I am. It was only when I waked away and really thought about it, that I realized most of this was just meaning I’d placed onto the music. Honestly, listening to this album is a little like being on psychedelics; an experience that, in the moment, feels profound and effecting; but once you walk away and look back, you realize a lot of it was just nice-sounding fluff.
3.5 / 5