Upon my first real listen to Whenever, If Ever, I was overcome with extreme fatigue. As lethargia crept over my body like a warm blanket on a rainy day I pondered if this was The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die’s plan all along. It’s slow to the point of being an emo lullaby, with even it’s faster moments feeling like swimming in maple syrup. Their sound is informed by the likes of Sunny Day Real Estate and bands that call themselves ‘atmospheric’ and ‘post-rock’ that I would rather pretend don’t exist. It all adds up to drooping eyelids and full yawns. I’m not quite sure if that’s a good thing or not, but in a way I can appreciate it. I have trouble falling asleep sometimes, so shit– I’m totally down with a band filling that void in the music scene. That alone gets me dangerously close to feeling some goodwill for this band, but then, as quickly as it comes, it goes when I remember that fucking name.
The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die.
I’m going to try to keep this review as much about the music as I can, but I can’t ignore that word-crime against humanity. So please, allow me this detour. A band’s name isn’t just a throwaway combination of words meant to label a brand, it colors the entire experience, and for many listeners it’s their first exposure. So how does this unwieldy name color their music? Honestly, it makes enjoying Whenever, If Ever way more difficult than it needs to be. It’s a constant reminder that illuminates all of the albums worst problems; an unfortunate mirror to their pretentious and cumbersome music. In a different world, The World Is… could’ve gotten away with being called meditative, ethereal, and progressive. Unfortunately, Whenever, If Ever lands on bloated, neutered, and self-impressed instead.
The album opens with an instrumental track called “Blank #9.” Opening an album with an instrumental is a daring thing, especially for a band rooted in punk rock (albeit far removed). It essentially reminds the listener that the people who made their music consider themselves musicians. “Blank #9” is one of those hypnotically tiring songs that seems hell bent on coaxing yawns from its listeners, but thankfully it’s short and when the cello comes in it manages to break away from its own pretentiousness and reach something akin to beauty. “Heartbeat in the Brain” exposes the listener to a broader sonic palette with a touch of screaming, singing, and keyboards. The palette broadens again with the incorporation of trumpet on “Fightboat,” which marks the first time I’ve heard the instrument in emo, for good reason. My first reaction was “oh shit–ska,” but as I was proven wrong it became clear that its inclusion was a jarringly bad decision. “Fightboat” also features some prominent keyboard riffs, finally answering burning questions regarding the fidelity of a Sunny Day Real Estate/Owl City collaboration.
“Picture of a Tree That Doesn’t Look Okay” is a faster song with a driving beat and more obvious punk influences, but even this shot-to-the-arm isn’t able to offset rigor mortis as Whenever, If Ever still feels rather lifeless. The album’s droning sameness is perhaps its biggest fault, encompassing the slim range of very slow, slow, and half-hearted screamo. The latter of which actually comes across pretty well on the final track, “Getting Sodas.” At over seven minutes, this is the type of song that’d usually draw ire pretty easily from me, but it’s actually one of the best paced songs on Whenever, If Ever, containing riffs that pop, a more urgent vocal delivery, and a less eye-rolling combination of the ethereal and aggressive.
I imagine The World Is… wanted to craft a record filled with the melancholy musicality of second-wave emo in the context of a post-rock soundscape, but the whole album comes off as so distant it’s hard to do more than appreciate it as soothing white noise. Overlong, pretentious, and boring, Whenever, If Ever is like listening to paint dry, and then having the paint say, “You just don’t get it.”