After months away on a whirlwind tour, you return to your hometown for brief respite. While there you decide to visit your mate – possibly your best friend as a teenager – who you haven’t seen in an age. It’d be good to catch up, exactly what you need after such an exhausting stint on the road. You pull up outside his house, and are withered by the screaming remembrance that he’s been dead for a year.
This is the genesis story of ‘No Halo’, our introduction to the naked tempest of Sorority Noise's latest full length You’re Not As ____ As You Think. The record’s initial teaser trailer proffered viable answers to that gap – alone, empty, invisible, pathetic – but the space itself is immaterial, it’s what bookends it that matters. Whatever shade of despair has consumed you, no matter how profuse; you’re not alone, and you can get better. You will get better. You’re Not As maintains the lineage of medicinal emo albums, music which glares depression, grief, loneliness, anxiety, and existential futility, in the eye so that we – the taciturn few – don’t have to. The cathartic, altruistic release between artist and listener is reciprocal. Only, the album’s more complicated, and immense, than that.
You’re Not As somewhat manifests as a culmination of emo revivalism, wedding the eloquent, unsparing ruminations on depression and loss which typifies the greatest of this movement, to an affecting idiosyncrasy. It’s partially a continuation of Cameron Boucher’s diarising his coping after the death of his friends; last year’s EP It Kindly Stopped For Me explored the propinquity of grief, which Old Gray – his highschool band – sustained on December’s Slow Burn. If mourning is a process of stages, then Boucher is architecting its physical incarnations. You’re Not As fundamentally asks what is the faculty of grief after a year? And how has its stranglehold impaired someone with a prior history of mental health issues? Its investigation of grief as a prolonged, perhaps permanent, disability is both devastating and enlightening.
Furthermore, Boucher circumvents emo’s secularism with the open transections of his worldly despairs with his spirituality; how his belief system has been both a crutch and an impediment to his coping facility. Believing in an afterlife allows him to keep some fragment of optimism warm, that his friends still exist in the abstract. Inversely, suffering the lowest of lows inevitably challenges even the most resolute believer in a benevolent power; “It’s been a while since I’ve seen God and I’m not trying to lead him on/ But he’s always trying to fuck me to the tune of my favourite song.” It’s interesting and moving in manifold ways; the juncture of amalgamated human misery with theological debate spreads an additional layer of pathos, and frankly a spiritual element to emo music is something we’ve not heard since The Devil & God Are Raging Inside Me, which was more stormily polemical than comparable to Boucher’s thoughtfulness. The intersectionality of emotion and ideas is leavened by their mutual intersection with art.
As if to verbalise its pertinence, ‘A Better Sun’ references Julien Baker’s “sprained ankle” and Modern Baseball’s uplifting anthem ‘Just Another Face’; while the title coyly plays on Rilo Kiley’s ‘A Better Son/Daughter’, a pivotal gateway for collapsing taboo about mental health in music, and one of Boucher’s favourite songs. This intertextuality is important, as it suggests the import of these tracks – besides music generally and art broadly – in Boucher’s coping. Like a self-help playlist, these songs and albums are triumphant independently, but collectively they form a vanguard, a community predicated on altruism and empathy. This album helps us get better and move on, but is equally a celebration of albums which help us get better and move on.
Musically, it’s arrestingly imaginative and incessantly satisfying. Deploying the well-honed craftsmanship of Brand New producer Mike Sapone, there’s a stunning unity between narrative and sound. The wistful, melodious guitars of ‘No Halo’’s verses collapse into tumult during the chorus, capturing the dichotomous turmoil of cavernous, masochistic grief – Boucher outpours “So I didn’t show up to your funeral/But I showed up to your house” – interceded by spells of pensive reflection. Likewise the funereal wallowing of ‘A Better Sun’ and ‘Leave The Fan On’, and the instrumental scarcity which accordingly foregrounds Boucher’s meditations on both ‘Letter’ tracks. It succeeds in juxtaposition as well, the shared rollicking jitteriness of ‘A Portrait’, where Boucher laments “how great it would be if I could make the tightness in my chest go away,” and ‘Disappeared’ – conceivably the most explicit addressing of his friend’s suicide – is an aural purging, a sprint towards okayness.
I have a theory about emo’s fourth wave, which I have iterated on here , that since its arrival it’s been characterised by one seminal record each year. As young as 2017 is, it’s difficult to escape the instinct that You’re Not As ___ As You Think is our latest paragon. It’s emotionally rich, and intelligent, and purposeful, and firmly cohesive; that such divergent realms of ideas not only coagulate but conduce is truly remarkable. Even when donning my beigest critical hat; in the execution of concept, it’s still ineffably special. But far more meaningfully, this an album which will mean a great deal to a lot of people, including myself. On the surface and on a symbolic level, it's a salient reminder that music matters.