What is emo? A classicist view may lend itself to sounds like The Promise Ring’s Nothing Feels Good or Weezer’s Pinkerton, which gave way to second-generation icons like Brand New. While The Promise Ring and especially Weezer never really quite built on the successes of their early records, Brand New began as a yawpy pop-punk band that suddenly transformed into a wiry, textured post-punk punk act that felt a little less emotional and a little more devastating with each release. It’s this template that has given birth to bands like Sorority Noise, whose third album You’re Not As _____ As You Think just arrived on Triple Crown Records.
The Hartford, CT band are often mentioned in the same sentence as artists like Modern Baseball and Julien Baker, friends that they reference casually in both press and in songs. Together, these artists are part of a new wave of punk that shows a staggering propensity to grow quickly musically and lyrically with each record. Sorority Noise’s 2014 debut Forgettable is a clever (but not inaccurate) name. It only offers a preview of the promise the group – Cam Boucher’s early lyrical prowess and a few guitar atmospherics. This was refined on next year’s Joy, Departed, a record that seems less like a band with something to prove, sounding a little road-tested, adding texture to songs and having more than a few killer tracks, including the hooky self-doubt of “Art School Wannabe”.
You’re Not As _____ As You Think represents another evolution – it seems to be a little less about relationships and self doubt and a lot more of contemplating loss and death and questioning the existence of God. (Of course, there’s also ‘look-how-far-we’ve-come‘ moment for a 31-year-old reviewer, even referencing the Gaslight Anthem’s “The ‘59 Sound”. It’s always going to feel too early for that.)
Opening track “No Halo” details Boucher experiencing the loss of a friend, skipping his funeral but later on driving to his house forgetting he had passed away. “Disappeared” is straight out of the playbook of Modern Baseball’s Jake Ewald – wordy verses with something that sounds like a hook but the secret is that it’s not quite one. The most intriguing tracks are the two “Letters” songs that feel a little more like interludes – “First Letter from St. Sean” and “Second Letter from St. Julien” that Boucher uses to further the loose narrative. “Sean” talks about the emptiness of loss, while “Julien” – an obvious reference to his friend and practicing Christian Julien Baker – sounds like he’s letting us in on a personal conversation and it’s not pretty – “You say there’s a god/And you say you’ve got proof/Well I’ve lost friends to heroin/So what’s your god trying to prove?”
With maturity and a willingness to confront tough subjects on record, it’s clear that You’re Not As _____ As You Think is the best offering from Sorority Noise to date. For a band whose median age is 23, it’s an impressive record that is part homage to the bands that inspired them while also working to take chances with their sound a little more quickly than expected. It’ll be exciting to see what they come up with next. It probably won’t sound anything like this.