On their fourth studio album, Illusory Walls, The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die bring their emo-inflected brand of post-rock to bigger, darker, and more life-affirming places than ever before. The album harnesses the lyrical clarity of 2019’s Always Foreign, the unabashed grandeur of 2015’s Harmlessness, and the spacious post-rock of 2013’s Whenever, If Ever, all while incorporating a prog-rock bombast and studio slickness that serve to revitalize the band’s signature sound.
The first half of Illusory Walls forcefully drives that sound forward with new textures and song structures. Opener “Afraid to Die” transforms from a calm lullaby into a sweeping rock anthem, stuffed to the brim with pulsing synthesizers, dramatic strings, and loud, futuristic-sounding guitars. Later, “We Saw Birds Through the Hole in the Ceiling” takes a similar tack, moving from sleek and mysterious dream-pop toward bristling, shredding rock, while the perpetually shifting “Invading the World of the Guilty as a Spirit of Vengeance” is dense and menacing.
Though TWIABP experiments with these new sounds, Illusory Walls maintains a thematic focus that distinguishes it from the rest of their catalog. “Blank//Drone” and “Blank//Worker” both baldly describe the corners into which working-class folks are pushed by the powerful: “A 400,000-dollar drug versus one more time, my mother’s hug,” Dave Bello sings on the latter, a kind of swaying dirge. Much of the lyrical content here is projected through this critical lens, sometimes with a concrete target, as on the driving “Died in the Prison of the Holy Office,” which builds toward an operatic finish while criticizing the Catholic Church.
These songs are shot through with a sharp disaffection, but it’s often delivered with a yearning for action that keeps Illusory Walls from feeling nihilistic. Big, bold guitars lift up extended, crystalline vocal harmonies that turn defeated lyrics such as “Dissolving in fluidities of dissolving work/Life boundaries/ Are you getting scared?” into rallying cries on songs like “Trouble.” “I barely stood/They rose and shook the blood off,” Bello sings after a guitar solo shifts the song in a punchier, more pop-punk-inflected direction.
During the album’s second half, TWIABP stretches and expands the foundational elements of their music even further, revisiting their history through two monster closing tracks, “Infinite Josh” and “Fewer Afraid,” that together claim 35 minutes of the album’s runtime. And they earn every last second, drawing from the same well as the band’s past album cuts like “Getting Sodas” and “I Can Be Afraid of Anything” but pushing that template to its limits.
“Infinite Josh” in particular twists the album’s penchant for darkness into a more ambiguous meditation on nostalgia and change, Katie Dvorak’s airy refrain wafting in and out alongside the track’s bright, jangly arrangement. Where “Fewer Afraid” successfully approaches its double-digit runtime through consistently shifting phases and somewhat distinct segments, “Infinite Josh” continuously builds on an engrossing and patient repetition of melodies that grow increasingly heady. When the album’s key thematic line appears toward the end of the song—“The objects we’re locked in, immobile and violent/Just fewer like that, fewer afraid”—it feels like the awakening that the band has been building toward all along.