Album Review: Sorority Noise – Joy, Departed

“What does it mean to be happy, and am I getting better?” muses Sorority Noise’s Cam Boucher on ‘Mononokay’. It’s a theme he returns to time and again throughout ‘Joy, Departed’ but never so succinctly as those two perfect lines.

With themes of identity, personal struggles and addiction it’s a ranging album that wants you to think and contemplate as well as emote. That Boucher – also part of the excellent Old Gray – achieves this with room to spare on Sorority Noise’s follow-up to last year’s ‘Forgettable’ suggests they could follow in the footsteps of Modern Baseball (with whom they share a lot of common ground and who contribute guest vocals on a couple of tracks) as the next big emo breakout.

Joy, Departed by Sorority Noise

If you’re expecting a ‘Forgettable’ MKII, however, be warned. The rough and ready charm has been replaced by a top class production job that has smoothed the edges and made ‘Joy, Departed’ fizz and pop on the likes of ‘Corrigan’ and ‘Art School Wannabe’ and sound sumptuously beautiful on ‘Flourescent Black’ and ‘Fuchsia’. Yet the heart of Sorority Noise still beats true and hard.

It all means that there’s a breadth to ‘Joy, Departed’ that was missing from the hugely enjoyable ‘Forgettable’. Instead, the sadder songs are infinitely sadder, the pop songs are insanely infectious and the epic songs – songs which would have felt out of place on ‘Forgettable’ – shows burgeoning confidence. It means ‘Joy, Departed’ never feels one-dimensional or a sonic rehash of an earlier idea. Instead, this is an album that shows growth in every possible department.

However, perhaps conscious of a larger audience, the fuck-you, bitter irreverence of ‘Forgettable’ has been replaced with sincerity (something Boucher is successful in conveying, despite its trickiness) and is further evidence of the growing maturity of Sorority Noise.

The humour and dark lyrics are still there in abundance, however, and it’s these flashes of inspiration that get you firmly on side. For example, if you can find no enjoyment from the self-deprecating ‘Art School Wannabe’ (which surely falls into Community level meta-analysis), then maybe Sorority Noise aren’t the band for you. Indeed, there’s always the danger that the lyrics could feel self-indulgent, but Boucher ensures he comes across as open, honest and engaging throughout. It means, despite the content, ‘Joy Departed’ never feels morose or overbearing.

“Maybe I’m my own greatest fan? / Maybe I’m just scared to admit that/ I might not be as dark as I think / Maybe I’m not the person that I never wanted to be” Boucher muses on ‘Art School Wannabe’ – tongue firmly in cheek, especially considering the lyrical content of songs such as ‘Using’. Indeed, considering the output of Old Gray, in which Boucher explores some highly personal topics, he probably should be commended for his willingness to poke fun at himself, even if he does have anxieties about his abilities as an artist.

Of course, he should have no real concerns. On every release, be it Old Gray or Sorority Noise, there’s been progression either musically or lyrically. The orchestral arrangements on the gorgeous ‘Your Soft Blood’, and the understated majesty of ‘When I See You (Timberwolf)’ are just two of the jumps forward on ‘Joy, Departed’.

“I’ve gotten better at getting better / I’ve gotten better at being me,” concludes Boucher on ‘Mononokay’. ‘Joy Departed’ may be only Sorority Noise’s second full-length, but it’s clear Boucher now has a clear handle on the sound and direction of a band that started out as a side-project. His personality and vulnerabilities are right at the fore, and as he continues to learn more about himself, the chances are Sorority Noise are only going to get better.

All of this means we’re looking at an album that’s a clear improvement on its predecessor. To give you an indication as to how good, last year’s ‘Forgettable’ edged into my personal top 10. I expect ‘Joy, Departed’ to do even better.


‘Joy, Departed’ by Sorority Noise is out now on Topshelf Records.

Sorority Noise links: Facebook|Twitter|Bandcamp

Words by Rob Mair (@BobNightMair

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