Published Apr 20, 2016So far, Sorority Noise have been a pretty instantly gratifying listen when it comes to buoyant, emo-tinged pop-rock, at least among fans of the style's early practitioners, like Brand New circa Your Favourite Weapon. But this Connecticut group's latest recording, the four-song, unplugged effort It Kindly Stopped for Me, makes for a less instantly gratifying record that may take a certain kind of hurt to really understand.
Devotees who are familiar with the band's deeper cuts, like the 2013 two-song EP, Quiet Hours, ought to recognize this side of Sorority Noise. So it's unclear whether It Kindly Stopped for Me marks a permanent stylistic shift to a more placid, brooding acoustic sound, akin to recent work by contemporaries like Foreign Tongues, or a temporary sidebar to the band's two more sparkly, energetic LPs. While those previous releases can be slotted among uppers like the Front Bottoms or Somos, this one's a definite downer, at times even resembling something like sulky indie-folk act Sun Kil Moon (see: "Fource").
Frontman Cameron Boucher sings in not much more than a whisper, and each instrument (there aren't many) is played ever so gently, from the fingerpicked classical guitar line that kicks off "Either Way" to the restrained percussion that slowly builds in "XC."
The steady, dispiriting "A Will," a piano-based, atmospheric cut, sets a heartbreaking tone both musically and lyrically: "Everything that I love and all that I held dear has disappeared / My time is now, I fear." That palpable expression of loss and loneliness continues on "Fource," which reaches an almost uncomfortable level of intimacy, as we hear Boucher walking along, singing lazily and solemnly to himself, then devolving into dour, croaking spoken-word: "Today was an off day… I've had a few," he concludes, after a sequence of mourning, existential ramblings. "XC" conjures a light at the end of this dark tunnel, but the song ends before reaching it. Call it an on-theme artistic choice, or call it an unfortunate lack of catharsis — it's up for interpretation.
The pervasive feeling that comes from It Kindly Stopped for Me is a sense of dreary moodiness that's emotionally draining, yet without being all that poignant at any given point. Thematically, the four songs seem to form a short, simple story: hope, disappointment, despair and (possibly) recovery, or at least acceptance. It might be that neither song on its lonesome will make a lasting impression, but taken together, they make a short album worth making — if not just as a bridge to an even more impassioned album later on, then maybe as a crutch for some lonely, vulnerable soul. (Top Shelf)