The World Is a Beautiful Place embraces ‘extravagant maximalism’ on new album

The indie rock band returns with the darker, denser ‘Illusory Walls’ and a concert at Ace of Cups on Thursday, Nov. 4

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die

Coming off of 2017 full-length Always Foreign, the third studio album from The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die, guitarist Chris Teti said it felt as if the indie-rock band had started to plateau.

“Personally, I was going through the motions," Teti said recently by phone. “I do like stuff on that record, and it’s not a bad record, but creatively I felt like I was in a rut. We were in that cycle where it was like, yeah, you’re going to tour for two years, and then you’re going to write and record really quick so that you can do your next release tour soon after that, and you can’t take too long of a gap in-between. And we’d written, recorded and toured like that for years, and it had to come to a head at some point.”

So entering into sessions for the band’s fourth album, Illusory Walls, released in October on Epitaph Records, the musicians knew that they wanted to slow this relentless cycle, dedicating more time to writing and recording. And then the pandemic hit, affording the group even more time, of which Teti took full advantage, embracing the extended sessions as a means to help pull him through the bleakest days of COVID-19. “If I had not had working on this record to look forward to, it would have been a much darker experience,” Teti said of the months spent amid stay-at-home.

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Fueled by personal, political and social turmoil, Illusory Walls is a dense, heavy, guitar-driven monster, the songs building to grandly oceanic swells, a couple of which extend beyond 15 minutes. Throughout, singers David Bello and Katie Dvorak paint a dire picture of modern society, where the prices of consumer goods continue to increase as wages stagnate, corporations pollute our environment and a virus ravages the landscape even as the cost of medical care remains prohibitively high for many. “I think the world’s [messed] up and brutal,” guest vocalist Sarah Cowell surmises on the album-closing “Fewer Afraid.”

Rather than letting this line stand as the album’s parting thesis, however, Bello and Dvorak recoup to deliver a final refrain that instills a sense that change is possible as long as people are willing to fight for it. “The world is a beautiful place,” they sing, “but we have to make it that way.”

“If everything is dark and heavy, and everything is one theme, it kind of lowers it, in a way," said Teti, who will join his bandmates in concert at Ace of Cups on Thursday, Nov. 4. "We think of it like peaks and valleys … where the songs will have different moods and different feelings throughout."

Compared with past records, Illusory Walls is a more sonically impenetrable affair, which almost feels counterintuitive considering that the release follows the departure of two guitarists, leaving Teti as the sole remaining guitarist in the once sprawling collective.

The reasons for this dense soundscape, Teti said, are twofold. First, the guitarist and producer said he was able to dedicate more time to building layers into the record as the pandemic stretched on.

“And eventually I reached the point of pure exhaustion where it was like I physically couldn’t add anything else to the record,” Teti said. “And I love really dense stuff, so I felt like if I couldn’t add anything else, then it must be done. I had physically and creatively run out of any hole to fill, so it was like, OK, this record is at max capacity.”

Second and equally as important, Teti said he took it as a personal challenge to step up his playing following the departure of his fellow guitarists, moving away from the more atmospheric parts he had become known for playing in concert and embracing a more muscular instrumental presence.

“I was like, ‘This is not going to sound like a one-guitar band.' I wanted it to blow people’s minds even though the lineup is more stripped back," he said. "There are bands I’ve liked that have gone through lineup changes, and then you listen to the record and it’s like, ‘Oh, there was definitely only one guitarist on that record because it’s way more stripped back.’ But the goal of [Illusory Walls] was extravagant maximalism. We wanted it to be over the top, which is why we have the 15-minute song and the 20-minute song, which is just ridiculous. But I personally needed that, I think, after everything ridiculous that’s gone on the last few years.”