Over the past few years, I have found that YouTube has very effective algorithms for helping me find exciting “Midwestern Emo” bands. Midwestern Emo is a subgenre of Emo music that takes more cues from indie rock than the hardcore punk that influenced most early Emo bands. While still being guitar-driven, the guitars are cleaner and less aggressive than those from hardcore punk. The vocals are often whiny and not what would conventionally be considered “good,” though that is made up for by the singers’ earnesty. Despite the genre name, not all the bands are from the American Midwest, with notable early practitioners like Sunny Day Real Estate being from Seattle. As with most niche musical genre tags, you can find scores of Reddit posts with people arguing over what band belongs in what genre. My description would almost certainly be ridiculed by “true” emo fans.
With that in mind, a few weeks ago, after listening to Modern Baseball’s The Thrash Particle on repeat, a song by The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die came on, and I was immediately impressed (and amused by their untenably long and heavy-handed band name). They manage to combine the post-rock ambient of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, with the spacey, quiet-loud-quiet dynamic of early Modest Mouse, and the apathetic vocal whine of Modern Baseball’s Brendan Lukens. The band is a collective of musicians that rotate in and out, all contributing to a majestic and evolving sound that spans a wide range of emotions from regret to hopeful optimism.
The song “Getting Sodas'', from their first album Whenever, If Ever, does a good job of showing the band’s versatility. It is a long track, starting with a memorable baseline, which is then complimented by a clean guitar line, followed by the drums kicking in with the aforementioned whiny vocals. Synths get layered on, and then guitarist Greg Horbal (also known as Shitty Greg) adds his vocals to the song, which quickly descend into screaming, adding an invigorating intensity to the song.
“And when our voices fail us we will find new ways to sing.
When our bodies fail we'll find joy in the peace that it brings.
And when our voices fail us we will find new ways to sing.”
Such lines might come across as a little over dramatic, but the sincerity of everyone involved, really makes it work. The song then moves into its second half, slowly building in intensity, the sound warmly swelling, accompanied by militant drumming and a choir of vocals repeating:
“The world is a beautiful place but we have to make it that way.
Whenever you find home, we’ll make it more than just a shelter.
And if everyone belongs there, it will hold us all together.
If you’re afraid to die, then so am I.”
By the time the song reaches it close, it is with a hopefulness that I do not often associate with the Midwestern Emo that rotates through my Spotify account. Perhaps the world really is a beautiful place, so long as we all are willing to help make it that way?
As a humorous side note, the genre Midwestern Emo is sometimes referred to as “Twinkle Daddies” due to the music’s tendency to have bright, twinkly sounding guitars. This was a term that Shitty Greg helped to popularize as a joke, by adding it to the Last.fm profiles of scores of emo bands.
Buy The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die’s music here.