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Ear Might: The Connecticut Band Who's Bringing Emo Back

The World is a Beautiful Place and I am No Longer Afraid to Die
w/ Football Etc., Dagwood, End of a Year/Self Defense Family. $7, July 1, Popeye's Garage,

That name. It's pretty impossible to ignore. It's almost like a taunt: do you dare take it seriously? Can the band possibly take it seriously? I had a chance to catch up with Greg Horbal, who plays guitar and sings in the World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die (uh, let's call them TWIABP). I asked him how they arrived upon their two-ton name.

"Honestly, it was a bad joke. It came from a joke about how over-the-top post-rock song titles are. Someone said the name and it just stuck," says Horbal. (Notable examples of the trend include Mono's "The Flames Beyond the Cold Mountain"; Explosions in the Sky's album Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever; and the worst offender, Red Sparowes, whose album At The Soundless Dawn is composed entirely of clunkers like "Our Happiest Days Slowly Began to Turn Into Dust.")

The Willimantic-based band describes their music as "atmospheric emo," which is interesting because just a short while ago "emo" meant something along the lines of "mall goth." "Before emo got the negative connotation," says Horbal, "there were bands like Saves the Day, Promise Ring, American Football. Those are bands we associate ourselves with." They've released two EPs on Topshelf Records, and are about to release a split with New Hampshire's Deer Leap.

So, are bands like TWIABP able to self-describe as emo because the general population has ceased misusing the term? Or are these bands cramming the term back into its appropriate space on the big musical taxonomy chart in the sky? It's a chicken-versus-egg argument, but what's certain is that they're part of a much larger community. "We're lucky because there's been this movement developing all across the country. This community has opened up, and there's a lot of great labels that are bringing this music out — Topshelf, Count Your Lucky Stars, Tiny Engines," says Horbal.

Sonically, there are several things that place TWIABP squarely in the emo tradition. Three of the members handle vocal duties with tender, unschooled voices. The songs often feature quiet passages with twinkly guitars and kitschy keyboard flourishes. And, of course, there are emotional lyrics ("You scream out loud like siren sounds/You've reached your final goal which is to have and hold," they sing in "Walnut Street is Dead [Long Live Walnut Street]").

The community of emo revivalists has given the band a burst of speed right out of the gate. "It's been pretty cool to see the response this band has gotten," says Horbal. "Whereas other bands I've been in, it's been a slow struggle to build. This band, from the very first tour people know us wherever we go, and that gets us really excited about it." Their July 1 show comes shortly before they embark on a midwest tour that goes as far as Chicago, and they're playing with a wild spectrum of underground bands, from punk rock to sludge metal.

In fact, Horbal and company seem to be omnivores when it comes to underground music and culture. "I remember being in high school and getting a Blink 182 CD, and then someone showed me Bad Religion, and then Descendents, and then Against Me!," he says. "There's more appreciation of music in the underground, and when you find it, it's this whole huge world."

So what in particular hooked Horbal? "I didn't really go to parties that much," he says. "When I was in college, shows were where I would go to feel comfortable." He reminisces about seeing Against Me! often. "Those shows were some of the wildest things I'd ever seen. The entire crowd would get on stage and whatnot. And with national acts, you wouldn't really see that. But when I started going to local Connecticut band shows, I would see that happen way more often. And at first, I would just sit back and watch that wall of people jump on top of each other and sing at the top of their lungs."

And, like most underground enthusiasts, it was only a short leap from watching the wall of people to leaping in, and then to actually creating the music. And in true underground tradition, Horbal insists that anyone can do it. "It seems ambitious, because on this tour we're going to Chicago. But the thing is, I know any other band could do it too, if they wanted to and they put their minds to it."

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