Hello emo, my old friend. I thought for a while there you had died in the early 2000s, but listening to more recent bands like Algernon Cadwallader and Modern Baseball proved me wrong. You went through a “revival” of sorts, and produced some great artists. And now this, Sorority Noise’s Joy, Departed.
Like all bands in this scene, we first must determine whether they indeed fit this definition of “emo”. Does Joy, Departed have hooky choruses with lots of overdriven guitars and power chords? Absolutely. Is it a dramatic and emotional listen, front to back? Of course. Does it have the shouted/bleated intensity of many Midwestern emo bands (Algernon Cadwallader I’m looking at you)? Wait… not exactly. And lastly, does this album have generally self-deprecating and lovably whiny lyrics? Sometimes.
That lack of an “always” answer to that last question is where Sorority Noise prove that they have potential to be a unique force among their peers, albeit not capitalizing on this uniqueness very much throughout Joy, Departed.
While this album begins with a string of songs that feature instrumentation and song structures somewhat “out of the box” for a band like this, they ultimately rest on sing along choruses, whined vocals, and somewhat sappy lyricism. Yes, the string section in “Blissth” is nice, and lyrics like “let me be the heroin that keeps you warm” hit hard, but they don’t add up to enough to be more than a simple distraction from predictability.
The next few songs continue in this vein, and the self deprecation continues in songs like “Nolsey” with lyrics like “It’s always been my dream to be empty”-which doesn’t resonate nearly as much as when Pavement said similar in “Gold Soundz”. The tone remains serious and sad and has refreshing touches and flourishes but not enough to distract me from the pretty bland songs that lie underneath.
And then comes “Art School Wannabe”. A much needed reprieve from the preceding themes, this song is a celebration of introspection that doesn’t discover something sad, dark, or awful. This song flips genre conventions on their head and uses the same self-examining tendencies of emo that often result in self-pitying rumination to instead find a glimmer of hope beneath a façade of darkness. Yet, it uses the blasting, hooky choruses and intense vocal deliveries of the genre to prove it’s potential as an unparalleled vehicle for this kind of soul-searching honesty.
Like “Art School Wannabe”, the song “Using” reflects the theme of honesty and coming to terms with yourself despite years of self loathing. Sorority Noise approach topics ranging from drug use to smoking to depression with a celebratory tone that realizes honesty is the first step to healing. It’s also got a hell of a chorus. And even though I feel slightly used hearing the classic key change for the final chorus, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Joy, Departed is an album from a band that has a lot of promise. At it’s best, it manages to present a refreshing attitude among bands of its kind and uses the rulebook it plays within to break the rules in the best possible way. At it’s worst, it plays it safe, descends into the forgettable-ness of mediocre lyrics, and doesn’t provide enough variety to show that the band is willing to commit to truly being an anomaly among their peers. Unfortunately, the sheer number of songs of the second type outnumber those of the first, but I can’t help shake the feeling that there’s real promise in Sorority Noise in the future, if they take the leap to fully expose it.