Marked by songs that played like a louder, spunkier Bright Eyes or Death Cab for Cutie, Sorority Noise's second album Joy, Departed may not have sounded like it at first blush, but it marked a turning point in singer Cameron Boucher's struggle with addiction and mental illness.
His wry, self-critical lyrics described his lowest moments and greatest fears, then went looking for — and ultimately found, it seemed — a sense of agency and rehabilitation. But sometimes, just as things are getting better, they get a lot worse. Boucher lost "a lot of friends" to suicide in the time following Joy, Departed, a devastating string of personal losses that would leave just about anyone with grievous survivor's guilt, let alone someone who had only just recently managed to avoid the same fate.
While last year's It Kindly Stopped for Me reflected brokenness and bereavement, with Boucher sounding like he barely had the will and energy left to even speak, let alone sing, You're Not As _____ As You Think marks the beginning of yet another long recovery. That EP seemed a natural and inevitable stylistic shift, with results that were mixed; here, though, Sorority Noise come out swinging with frenetic energy underscored by quiet, solemn vulnerability. From its exploding opener "No Halo" to its tranquil ending "New Room," the record is so full of raw emotion that it can barely be contained.
With an aching, plainspoken delivery, Boucher contemplates faith and mortality in the face of tragedy and mourning. Some of the band's best moments occur in "First Letter from St. Sean" and "Second Letter from St. Julien," the former a slow-burning account of tragedy that finds a way to be soothing amid the heartbreak, the latter a spirited farewell that mounts to a rousing climax. The band have made huge gains in songwriting and composition; they rise to towering peaks, screaming from high above, and then settle gracefully into lush valleys for a bit of quiet contemplation. It's a journey that reconciles life and death, confusion and clarity, sadness and hope — and not without a tinge of offbeat humour.
Recorded with Mike Sapone of both Brand New and Taking Back Sunday fame, the album has a lot in common with the former's Deja Entendu. It's also another fierce entry in the more recent catalogue of young and earnest bands like the Hotelier and Modern Baseball who are pushing a similar message of hope in the midst of struggle. Unlike a lot of what has often clogged the emo genre, the sadness here is certainly genuine — but Sorority Noise refuse to wallow in it. As they've said before, it's not a fashion trend to embrace as part of a music genre's aesthetic, but an obstacle to overcome and to help others overcome as well.
While the album's title stresses the importance of keeping things in perspective, a line from You're Not As _____ As You Think's second song, "A Portrait Of," may summarize it best: "I'm not trying to say it's easy, but I'm trying to say it's fine." (Triple Crown)