Connecticut octet The World is a Beautiful Place and I Am Not Afraid to Die was in a house in Texas — it looked like the Alamo, jokes drummer Steven Buttery — at the end of June when its members found out their debut full-length, the effervescent Whenever, If Ever, released by tiny Boston-based indie Topshelf Records, had landed on several Billboard charts: No. 3 on the Heatseekers; No. 66 on the rock chart; and No. 196 on the granddaddy of them all, the Billboard 200.
"It was awesome seeing all eight of us calling our parents in hopes that they would care," jokes Buttery, via email. "We literally were only on it for a week, and just barely squeezed into the list. Kanye's album came out the same day and totally trumped us."
In the modern music industry, it's not surprising to see artists outside the major-label ecosystem crack Billboard charts. But two things make The World is a Beautiful Place's chart performance especially impressive (outside of the fact that it's a group from a tiny Connecticut town with an unwieldy band name). First, the band toils, and has since forming in 2009, largely in the underground, frequenting house shows, churches, vet's halls and other DIY spaces much more than it does rock clubs.
Second, the band has become a cause célèbre for the rising fourth wave of emo bands, a cadre of earnest oversharers reclaiming "emo" as a viable, visible genre of independent rock music rather than a pejorative adjective. (Third-wave bands like Dashboard Confessional and My Chemical Romance metastasized plastic mall-punk from the emotive hardcore of second-wave, flyover country heroes like Braid and American Football.)
TWIABP was named by Stereogum as one of the most crucial bands of emo's fourth wave; a significant chunk of the other bands are, like TWIABP, signed to Topshelf Records, the standard bearer for the new wave of emo.
But TWIABP doesn't strictly worship at the altar of the Kinsella brothers. Nor, really, does it fit in with other named contemporaries like screamo revivalists Touché Amoré or the knotty Crash of Rhinos.
"The whole scene that we're a part of doesn't seem like it's limited to one genre or style," Buttery says. "We don't exclusively play with 'emo' bands, and I still don't totally consider us to be strictly an 'emo' band. The bands that we play with are all incredible friends of ours though, and that's cool as hell."
Whenever, If Ever takes flight by utilizing post-rock and math-rock tricks, building its songs on shifting tempos and sweeping crescendos, buoyant horns and airy synth lines buttressing its jangly guitar lines and yelping vocals. Its closest sonic contemporaries are Appleseed Cast, not American Football and Six Parts Seven, not Sunny Day Real Estate.
Whenever, If Ever is as variegated as it is intense: The eight-piece band can get delicate, like on the wistful, graceful ballad "Low Light Assembly." It can also get rowdy, like on the angular and nervy "The Layers of Skin We Drag Around." Closing "Getting Sodas," though, is the best display of TWIABP's broad palette, moving through lock-step indie-pop, shredded-vocal scream-alongs and tense, snare-rolling swells in a seven-minute suite before climaxing in a mass of tremolo-picked guitar, feverish cello and intertwining vocal lines.
Its expansive sound, wide-screen but endearingly intimate, makes for interesting touring pairings: It plays The Milestone with Americana-punk band The Menzingers, but in November, it tours with top-flight instrumental post-rock bands 65daysofstatic and Caspian.
"It's actually really cool that we can get away with touring with whoever we want," Buttery says. "Shows get really boring really quickly if all the bands sound the same. I'm up for touring with whoever, whenever, as long as the band isn't a pack of turds."