Given their sprawling lineup and geographic disparity, it’s perhaps not surprising that the one unifying characteristic that defined the first two records from The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die was the diffuse feel of them, both musically and lyrically.
That’s no longer the case on their third LP, Always Foreign, despite considerable off-the-field turbulence during the making of it, both within the band - guitarist Nicole Shanholtzer was fired last year - and outwith it, not least in terms of last November’s U.S. presidential election. The Philadelphia outfit weave both those issues into their lyrics, with “Marine Tigers” and “Fuzz Minor” both scored through with a sharply polemical strain that’s new for the group. The words to “Faker”, meanwhile - “if there is a hell, it’s ready and waiting for you” - suggest that describing Shanholtzer’s departure as an acrimonious one would be putting it mildly.
In spite of all that, though, Always Foreign feels like a unified effort. That’s not to say that ir doesn’t revisit the compositional anarchy of old when it wants to - “Marine Tigers” spans seven minutes and involves everything but the instrumental kitchen sink - but elsewhere, as on opener “I’ll Make Everything” or the heart-rending confrontation of America’s opioid epic “Gram”, this is a more streamlined The World Is a Beautiful Place, one that places melody front and centre and uses the guitars more for colour and punctuation than anything else. They feel more effective now that they’ve found a way to write as a focused beam rather than a eclectic lineup of individual musicians, and long-term followers will be thrilled by the album’s back half, which retains their well-established experimental bent.