I got my daughter’s report card last week. It listed out all of these qualities, “Attention to Detail” “Drawing inside the lines”; and all down the line, the teacher checked “Meets Expectations.” The only category that got “Exceeds Expectations” was “Sits Quietly in Class.” A chip off the old block. It got me thinking. “Meets Expectations” is good. There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s normal. Now let’s consider this theory in the context of Sorority Noise’s third full length, You’re not as ___ as you think. After having “Forgettable” on heavy rotation, I have certain expectations. As far as sound I’d say SN is 3 parts Say Anything, 1 part each of Conor Oberst, The Promise Ring, and Brand New; throw the whole thing in a Chicago Meat Grinder and enjoy. So what were my expectations for You’re Not…? I was expecting the band to clean up the low-fi aesthetic for something a little more polished, the usual for a maturing band. I also figured SN would move away from the relationship/cigarette/stale beer-soaked angst into some more introspective subject matter. I got all of that, but I got more, a lot more.
Sorority Noise hails from Hartford Connecticut. After listening to their earlier work, I would have sworn they were from Chicago. It just feels like the recording process took place in a run-down apartment in the dead of winter with stale beer and cigarettes permeating the air. The opening track of You’re not, “No Halo”, does a hell of a job clearing the air. Gone are the Say Anything-esque drunken hooligan chants. The smashing guitars replaced by piercingly-clean notes accentuated by harmonics. When frontman Cameron Boucher hits the chorus, “So I didn’t show up to your funeral, I showed up to your house…” the guitars come crashing in reminiscent of that stagnant apartment in their not so distant past. The lyrics most definitely have matured as the band tackles existentialism, loss, religion, and depression. On the second track, “A Portrait Of” we get it all thrown into one. At this point in the record, the tempo shifts, the dynamics, the choruses bring reminders of Brand New and/or Taking back Sunday, the reason for this? Mike Sapone who worked the boards for both of those bands is at the controls on You’re not.
The life and death theme continues in “First Letter from St. Sean” where Boucher wrestles with the loss of a close friend. “A better Sun” rises next to drive away the darkness… or not. Did I mention introspection? “And it’s hard. So hard. And breathing, it just makes it worse. And it’s bad. So bad. That it hurts.” If you hadn’t noticed, Boucher is in some pain on this record and he lets it all bleed out. “Disappeared” touches again on the loss of his friend Sean, and the pain of looking in the mirror and contemplating your own existence. The drunken hooligan chants make a not-so-triumphant return, this time serving more like angry voices conflicting in his head “I let my hair down today and I took a shower for the first time in what felt like weeks.” The themes of loss and its effect on our lives and relationships continues through the record. The music, like raw emotions, gets stripped down to the bone. By the end we are left with more questions than answers. When you experience loss and the depression that follows; the only solace to find is in giving up on both the answers and the questions and just living.
My conclusion… some records don’t meet or exceed expectations, so I crossed those choices out, wrote “defies expectations” and put a check next to it.