Deer Leap + The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die Are Here To Help You (2011)
What are Deer Leap and The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die here to help us do?
People who live outside of this state don’t really believe me when I tell them that Connecticut has a great music scene. In fact, most of the people inside this state don’t believe me either. I guess this isn’t a phenomenon that’s unique to Connecticut. Even now, with the internet having completely changed the way we share and listen to music, making it pretty much available to anyone with an internet connection, the underground is still underground, and a scene is still just a scene. I still find out about new local bands by word of mouth, talking to people at shows, and getting copies of demo CDs. I still talk to people outside of the scene about my favorite bands inside it. Maybe this is just the way punk works, but some things never change.
The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die means more to me than just about any other band from this state, and they’re always the first group that I bring up to support my claims about just how wonderful Connecticut’s music can be. When I heard it for the first time back in December, their debut 7” Formlessness resonated with me, and it quickly became one of my absolute favorite releases of last year with subsequent listens. I’ve listened to that record, in addition to its brief followup EP Josh Is Dead, their 2010 demo, and various bootlegs, so many times that I sometimes forget that their entire discography (prior to this split) only totals about 37 minutes. I also forget just how new this band is, having only formed last year and finally solidifying their lineup in the past few months. The truth is, I’ve been so satisfied with TWIABP’s music that I haven’t even really been waiting for more of it. To be honest, until I heard about this split, I was content to just go on listening to Formlessness a few more dozens of times. That says a lot about its replay value, which can’t be understated.
When I did hear about this split, however, I was pretty excited. I had considered the prospect of a TWIABP full length record before, which could potentially be amazing, but never thought about what was really the logical next step for the band: A split record. On this 12” split, which will be released on vinyl by Topshelf Records in the coming weeks, The World Is… hooked up with their friends Deer Leap from New Hampshire, a lesser-known band that I’ve been keeping tabs on for a while, mostly due to their association with TWIABP. I actually saw them live opening for Grown Ups along with The World Is… last month, and while I wasn’t hugely impressed by their performance, their new songs stood out as having a lot of potential. As it turns out, some of those songs appear on this split. Since their tracks take up the record’s first side, I’ll talk about them first.
Deer Leap is a trio who plays complex, atmospheric, indie emo, which seems like a pretty difficult thing to do as a trio. This probably explains why I wasn’t blown away by their live show, but thankfully they make up for their lack of live dynamics on the record. With the exception of a brief, 46 second intro track, their contributions are all fully fleshed out compositions that play out like post-rock songs, but with all the heart and tortured soul of the best emo songwriters coming through in the lyrics and vocals.
Although the three major songs that Deer Leap contribute here average over 4 minutes each in length, their lyrics are only a few lines at most. The heavy and emotional nature of the music often serves as a lead in to their lyrics, which vary in theme from harshly critical to surprisingly honest and almost sweet. On the intro track “Learned In People,” singer Keith Galvin covers both in the span of two lines. “Nothing I ever do is true / All I do, I do for you”. “Learned In People” fades without warning into “We Are Not Who We Are”, my favorite song from Deer Leap’s side. Its mood swings wildly throughout the 4:20 duration, and the song takes on many different faces as a result of this. It starts out as an aggressive math rock song with confusing and complicated intertwining riffs, only to switch to a classic twinkly emo track a minute later, and then finally into an Explosions In The Sky-reminiscent guitar-based anthem with a huge melodic crescendo once the vocals fade out. The beautiful vocal harmonies that bridge these two sections could be seen as yet another notable piece of the song, as they add an entirely new feeling of atmosphere to the song. You would think that all this variation in such a relatively short timespan would make the song feel disjointed and unfulfilled, but the band pulls it off admirably. Because of the brevity, “We Are Not Who We Are” never feels boring either.
The next song, “To Moscow And Quickly”, focuses more on the post-rock aspect of the band’s sound. Lyrically, it targets an unnamed “You” with one of the most biting lines I’ve heard recently: “There’s space at the root of all our problems and you’re to blame.” While it isn’t as much of an exciting listen as “We Are Not Who We Are”, it’s a little longer and a lot more focused. It’s good to see that the band can stand on solid musical ground when they choose to.
Deer Leap’s final song “Coffee and Keys” threw me for a loop though, because it bares little resemblance to any of the previous songs on the split both in terms of lyrics and music. Not only are there significantly more lyrics to this song than the previous ones, but they also seem to be composed differently. The lyrics of “Coffee and Keys” are a lot less abstract and vague than those of other Deer Leap songs, detailing specific events and the feelings that came from them. Maybe this is why it works so well as a closer, because it has a feeling of tangibility and realness that is absent from their other songs. It also seems to be a more musically simple track, with a repetitive guitar riff that plays throughout most of its length and slowly fades into the background as the song ends.
Deer Leap’s side of the split is great because despite the musical and lyrical variety of the songs, their are certain sounds and emotions running through all four that produce an undeniable feeling of cohesion. It was great seeing this band prove themselves on such a high profile release. Although most of my interest in this split was generated by TWIABP’s presence on it, I was surprised and impressed by Deer Leap’s contributions.
Of course, there’s a difference between being impressed and being blown away, which was my first reaction upon hearing the second side of this split. I know that I’ve hyped up The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die half to death, and that has no chance of stopping now. The four new TWIABP songs on this split simultaneously dispel any reservations that I’ve ever had in praising this band and reenforce everything that I like about them, all while demonstrating the group’s collective ability to evolve and adapt. They have done so brilliantly on this split, the four songs of which are easily the most impressive that they have released thus far.
Their half begins with “I Will Be Okay. Everything”, which perfectly sets the stage for the following songs with its stunning opening line. “No, we aren’t ghosts. Even ghosts have a home to haunt.” After this, the song explodes into something truly massive, rivaling Formlessness closer “Eyjafjallajokull Dance” in terms of sheer weight of sound, but outpacing it in emotion and pulse-pounding excitement. The band recently added a new member Chris Teti on guitar and trumpets, and you can definitely hear that they’re is a six-piece on this song. In addition to Tom Diaz, who has handled lead vocal duties on all of the past TWIABP releases, guitarists Greg Horbal and Derrick Shanholtzer are featured prominently on vocals. On “I Will Be Okay. Everything”, the three are all featured singing in quick succession, playing off each other and utilizing their distinct vocal and lyrical styles to produce something truly unique. It’s amazing how the combined work of three very different lyricists is more moving on this split than the single effort of any one of them could possibly be.
The strength of TWIABP has always been this sense of community that flows through their songs, and that has not disappeared at all on this release. In the complicated, emotional lyrics and communally sung/shouted vocals of all these songs, there is a feeling of strength in numbers. If you’ve ever shouted along to “Gordon Paul” at a TWIABP show, you know what this feels like, and the band does a great job of producing similar moments on this record.
If the previous song was that which set the stage for the new and improved TWIABP, then “Mega Steve” is a celebration of it. Here, Horbal harmonizes with Diaz while a powerful musical undercurrent flows beneath them. It’s the catchiest thing that they’ve ever put out, and also possibly the most joyous, at least until the song slows down and Shanholtzer takes over vocal duties. His rough-hewn shouted vocals sound from the distance, repeatedly urging the listener to “Remember when you were young”. Teti’s trumpet adds to the dark nostalgia that those lyrics conjure up. The ending adds a lot of depth to what would otherwise just be a joyful and upbeat (but still fantastic) song.
While both of those songs are great, I think “Bread For Brett” might be my favorite on the split. The track begins as an atmospheric mid-tempo piece with a militaristic drumbeat, but quickly transforms into the most uniformly upbeat song on the split once the vocals come in. Diaz and Horbal trade off verses almost playfully, working off each other yet again to produce a cohesive whole. The best moment comes when Tom emotively wails “Tear down your billboards, and all your streetlights!” right before Greg heads into his next verse. At the end of the song, as if it wasn’t great enough, they bring back the final shouted lines from Formlessness opener “Victim Kin Seek Suit”, giving them a new melody and a newfound sense of purpose.
The final track on the split is also the longest, and actually the longest song that The World Is… have recorded to date. “Wait… What?” is over 6 minutes long, and while some might expect a massive post-rock anthem as the closer, the band takes an alternate route. “Wait… What?” is melancholy and relatively low-key for the first few minutes, and only explodes in the traditional TWIABP fashion towards the end. Horbal and Diaz trade off verses again until Shanholtzer injects a needed aggression into the mix. At the end, the group finally brings the record full circle. “I will be okay,” Diaz sings in his particularly defeated sounding voice, before the rest of the band shouts back at him “EVERYTHING!” Wait what? Don’t think about it too hard. That’s how you close a record.
For Deer Leap, this is going to be the record that puts them on the map, in part because of the connection with The World Is, but mostly because their side is genuinely good. For The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die, the split shows that they’re not just another band with one (or two) great seven inches, but that they’re actually on their way to becoming a great band — the kind that some people are going to really care about for a long time. If you ask me, they’re already there, but I’m just some kid from Connecticut.