It's no secret that a listener's expectations for an album can be paramount in how that listener first reacts to a piece of new music. I've argued before that expectations are intrinsically baked into our own personal bias as music listeners; no matter how professional a music critic conducts herself or himself, that critic is still going to feel something heading into an album. It's only human nature, and music as a creative medium is filled with much too much emotion to be empty whilst experiencing it.
This can go many ways, of course, but we can water it down into two categories: You have high expectations for an album and it doesn't live up to the hype, or you have no (or negative) expectations for an album and you're surprised at how much you enjoy it.
In either case, you wind up falling harder to one side of the spectrum than you normally would. In that first situation, you probably wind up being overly critical of an album that, if it were written by a band you've never listened to before, might get the benefit of the doubt from you a bit more. Either way: There's nothing wrong with the expectation existing in the first place. Bands earn those expectations one way or another.
The World Is A Beautiful Place And (inhales) I Am No Longer Afraid To Die find themselves on the opposite side of that spectrum for me, personally. Their 2013 LP Whenever, If Ever was praised as a sort of milestone for the emo revival that I never really understood; it could rest solely on the shoulders of the vocals, which I was never really able to grow comfortable with, but at the end of the day it was an album that I never much enjoyed. It wasn't even a case of, "Ugh, do we have to listen to this again?" It was more a case of, "Can we please turn this off immediately? No really please."
The group just released a new album, Harmlessness (stream), which didn't register a blip on my radar in its marketing as I had no sort of anticipation for it given my reaction to its predecessor. The fact that this 58-minute immediately grabbed me and wouldn't let go, from my first listen, is my biggest musical surprise of 2015. Harmlessness is incredibly well managed, which might be the characteristic I credit most for its successes: Songs ebb and flow incredibly well into one another, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that no single song is willing to remain rooted within just one genre. It doesn't hurt that the vocals are now much better, and that the entire band (I think there are about 17 members now) have each respectively improved in big ways.
This record is ambitious but not pretentious, sprawling yet purposeful, persistent in its quest to destroy the previous genre associations of the band that wrote it. The World Is... isn't an emo band anymore, as Drew Beringer writes for AbsolutePunk, but a band that is creative and capable enough to expand into quite a few different subsections of modern rock music. These realizations, for me, show that Harmlessness is more than an album I'm overreacting to due to lack of high expectations; I don't think I'm in a honeymoon phase with it, I just think it's phenomenal.