Cam Boucher, frontman of the great Connecticut emo band Sorority Noise, also has a hardcore band called Old Grey, and a few months ago, that band released Slow Burn, an absolute gut-ripper of an album. Sonically, Slow Burn was dark and raw and heavy, its quiet moody stretches seguing directly into molten, cathartic howls. Lyrically, it was all about depression and death, expressed in the starkest terms possible. It was the sound of a young man working through some shit. If you didn’t speak English and you listened to Sorority Noise’s new album You’re Not As __ As You Think right after hearing Slow Burn, you might think that Boucher had worked through that shit. Musically, You’re Not As __ As You Think is a big, bright, fun album. It has soaring melodies and singalong choruses and a sense of joyous momentum to it. Maybe that hypothetical non-English-speaking listener would hear the new album as some kind of celebration of life after the end of a long and dark period. But that’s not what the album is. Instead, You’re Not As __ As You Think is just as starkly about death and depression, about missing your dead friends and wondering if you should be among them. It’s heavy stuff, even if the music that contains that heavy stuff is as bright and vigorous as any rock album I’ve heard in recent memory.
“It gets pretty cold when, at 23 years old, you’ve been running from death your whole life,” Boucher sings during “Where Are You?,” one of the album’s giddiest, most charged-up songs. Boucher doesn’t murmur the song, the way you’d expect someone to deliver a line like that. Instead, he hammers it hard. Boucher’s voice is big and burly and tuneful. There are certainly moments where he sounds like he’s retreating into himself, but that isn’t one of them. Instead, Boucher delivers that line like he wants you to sing along with it, like he’s willing it to become a grand moment of catharsis rather than a moment of personal doubt and depression. And that’s how the album functions: It’s intense and inward and questioning and personal and so, so sad. And it invites us into those feelings. It steers right into them.
Boucher wrote the album in response to the deaths of a few friends, especially a guy named Sean, who’d been his best friend when they were kids together in New Hampshire. Boucher mentions Sean’s name over and over, his sentiments becoming more universal because of how specific his lyrics are. Opening track “No Halo” is all about skipping Sean’s funeral and instead pondering his memory by driving by his house. Later on, Boucher considers his own death and considers the burden of staying alive, especially if he’s the vessel carrying the memories of these people. He even imagines the voices of his own dead friends: “There’s so much more to live than the flick of a knife / I’m alive because I’m alive inside you.” And he imagines his friends listening to the Gaslight Anthem’s “The ’59 Sound” — a great song specifically about kids who died too soon — while up in heaven, maybe celebrating their own passing.
That’s a happy thought, but this is not a happy album. It’s not about closure. It’s about crawling into a personal hole and not being sure how to get out: “When your best friend dies and your next friend dies and your best friend’s friend takes his life / You can spend six months on your own because there’s nobody left to talk to.” One of the album’s quieter moments arrives at the beginning of “Second Letter From St. Julien,” and it’s the sort of tortured-Catholic questioning song that we rarely ever get anymore. This time, Boucher really is murmuring inwardly: “You say there’s a God, and you say you’ve got proof / Well, I’ve lost friend to heroin, so what’s your God trying to prove? / You say He’s alive and the spirit flows through your veins / Well, I guess my best friend was just trying to help the spirit escape.” It looks sarcastic on paper, but it’s not. Boucher has structured the song as a sort of one-sided conversation with his friend and peer Julien Baker, who is Christian. And by the time the song ends, Boucher finds himself taking some comfort in the idea that there is a God, that his dead friend can find some comfort wherever he is now: “If there’s a God, do I make Him proud, put a smile on Her face? / And if you’re with God, and I making you proud by waking up each day? / And if you’re with God, well I hope you’re proud, with a smile on your face.”
Boucher might be on an internal quest on this album, but You’re Not As __ As You Think doesn’t sound like an internal-quest album. That’s because Sorority Noise, already a great rock band when they recorded 2015’s Joy, Departed, have only gotten better. The music on the new album is about as urgent and catchy and intuitive as rock music gets these days. There’s some early Weezer in there, in the sideways guitar riffs and the choruses that almost seem embarrassed about how catchy they are. There’s some Smashing Pumpkins in the grand, theatrical guitar flare-ups and fuzzy majesty. And there’s a whole ton of turn-of-the-millennium pop-punk in the speed and immediacy of Boucher’s hooks. He and his band have done something very difficult and rewarding here: They’ve made an album that reads fragile and self-recriminating and broken while sounding powerful and confident and huge. It’ll be a little weird when these anthems of depression become joyous full-room singalongs this year, but I’d like to think that Boucher will get something good out of that, and I know that the kids singing along will.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Drake’s long-awaited “playlist” More Life.
• Spoon’s slick, swaggering, characteristically excellent Hot Thoughts.
• Conor Oberst’s expansive full-band album Salutations.
• Real Estate’s gentle, twinkling In Mind.
• Chilly Gonzalez and Jarvis Cocker’s hotel-based concept-album collab Room 29.
• Rick Ross’ blustery, acquisitive Rather You Than Me.
• Depeche Mode’s vaguely political return Spirit.
• Adult.’s icy postpunk collaboration collection Detroit House Guests.
• Joakim’s buzzing dance LP Samurai.
• The Obsessives’ energetic self-titled indie rocker.
• Ascended Dead’s primordial death metaller Abhorrent Manifestation.
• Synthpop supergroup a Pulse Train’s score to the old movie Tactus Tempus.
• Paul Schaffer And The World’s Most Dangerous Band’s self-titled guest-heavy party.
• ANOHNI’s PARADISE EP.
• Public Memory’s Veil Of Counsel EP.
• Miami Horror’s The Shapes EP.
• Orchin’s self-titled EP.