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The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die - Always Foreign (Album Review)

Wednesday, 04 October 2017 Written by Jennifer Geddes

Photo: Shervin Lainez

The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die really bring home emo’s ethos that the personal is political on their third album, ‘Always Foreign’.

Half the album was written in the wake of the election of Donald Trump and that influence is clear on several tracks. The son of two immigrants, frontman David F. Bello has a very personal take on the current political climate in the US and here he feels the need to explore his own identity through his lyrics in a way he hasn’t before.

Marine Tigers is a delicate, sprawling track that builds to a much darker climax. The title is a reference to the S.S. Marine Tiger, the boat that brought Bello’s father to New York from Puerto Rico and which later became a nickname for Puerto Ricans in their neighbourhood.

Bello’s father, Jose, who’s written a memoir with the same title, and his mother, whose maiden name was Moses, are both mentioned in the song’s lyrics: “There’s nothing wrong with José / There’s nothing wrong with Moses / There’s nothing wrong with kindness.”

The track explores how immigrants, including Bello’s own family, are made to feel unwelcome. It is a sentiment echoed on the discordant Fuzz Minor, with Bello confronting his own experiences of bigotry and finding that catharsis is yelling the words that were used to discriminate against him.

The slow-building Gram, meanwhile, is about the band’s frustrations with the pharmaceutical industry, US healthcare system and the opioid epidemic, which is a big problem in Bello’s home state of West Virginia. “You had to work four jobs and used two phones. / But the drug store still ends up with our money,” he sings.

He’s witnessed first hand the destruction of communities and lost friends to addiction, something he explores in For Robin. The stripped back song compares national heartbreak at losing a celebrity to the intense personal grief Bello feels after the passing of a friend. Its intimate lines have a deep emotional impact. “In October, I saw / How he crashed head-on / With beer for blood and no seatbelt / We kept the notebooks / He left under his bed,” Bello sings.

Not all the tracks on ‘Always Foreign’ have such obvious political meanings. Hilltopper refers to the bad blood between the band and former member Nicole Shanholtzer. Dillon and Her Son features guest vocals from mewithoutyou’s Aaron Weiss and speaks out about older people resenting the young, but The Future is a hopeful track that urges listeners: “There’s a place for you/ The world has just been lying / but I know it’s true / so just hold on until the phantom’s gone.”

Here, their sound is still a combination of post-rock-influenced post-hardcore bands like Brand New and the Appleseed Cast and orchestral experimental indie-rock in the vein of Broken Social Scene. They have reined in some of their extravagances, though, and there is less layering of sounds, especially on For Robin and more condensed moments like The Future, Hilltopper and Faker.

There already are, and will be many more, albums that reflect upon the current political turmoil in the USA and the world at large, but ‘Always Foreign’ is strengthened by Bello’s willingness to explore from such a personal place. His stories have the ability to resonate in a way others might not.

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