The World Is A Beautiful Place, “Always Foreign”
Politics and music have long enjoyed a tense equilibrium, like an aging couple too far into old habits to change. The hostility is mutual, though it unfolds in different ways. Politics controls the purse-strings, and will threaten starvation when the debauched music starts making too much noise. When politics over-polices, music in kind has a bottomless bag of rotten tomatoes, ready to be hurled at stuffy organization men.
It’s no surprise, then, that Trumpmania has turned the recording studio into a botanical garden with a tomato infestation. The most recent yield is locally sourced, from Willimantic, Connecticut, where The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die (TWIABP) formed in 2009 as a post-emo rock collaborative. The band’s third studio album, Always Foreign, is a blast of fat red pulp aimed at the whitest house on the block, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The record rehashes the last ten months in Washington with a mix of anger and schadenfreude. “Gram” decries the ongoing criminalization of cannabis, which “locked up our fathers for twenty” and “should never have been a crime.” “Dillon and Her Son” is a punk rock anthem for the post-truth age. “Is this our real life?…Is this a movie?” shouts a crowd of voices not willing to put up with twenty-four-hour cable-news nonsense. The song slides seamlessly into “Blank #12,” a ghostly soliloquy of spoken word anxieties from a young adult vainly planning for whatever madness the world tosses his way next.
Rage is the record’s default, but not its preference. Tracks like “Marine Tigers” temper despair (“Can you still call it a country? / If all the states are broken?”) with cautious optimism (“there’s nothing wrong with kindness / there’s nothing wrong with knowing / we’re here”). The album’s most memorable track, “The Future,” makes clear that “the present was awful / and it’s all past now. / Let it float away / dancing on its grave.”
Always Foreign affirms that music, and those on its side, can still enjoy the grave-dancing, however dour the funeral. It’s poetry disguised as a polemic, with lyrics that graze xenophobia, white supremacy, and the whirlwind of culture wars with a soft yet powerful touch seldom found in the pull-no-punches cage match of modern politics. Though TWIABP’s music can’t help but respond to politics, which benefits from first-mover advantage, the tense relationship holds to enjoyable effect.
(September 29, Epitaph)