Sorority Noise, the “side project” of Old Gray mastermind Cameron Boucher, is a band that was pretty easy to dislike early on in their career. Fans of Boucher’s other work criticized it for being too simplistic, others fell back on the argument that he was trying to hard to sound like scene counterparts Modern Baseball by trying his hand at short, smart pop-punk tunes with a bit of an edge (the style on which MoBo rose to indie fame). Ultimately, the band’s full-length debut Forgettable proved to be just that in the eyes of many a Boucher fan – the songs just weren’t all that catchy, the lyrics a bit stale, and the record as a whole lacked the emotional transparency and passion of Old Gray’s best work.
With Joy, Departed, however, Sorority Noise seems to be turning over a new leaf. The bouncy pop songs are still there (“Corrigan” and “Art School Wannabe” are the record’s two best examples) but they possess more of a dark side than before, expanding minute-and-a-half ditties about heartbreak and sleeping in into deeper, more personal explorations of self. Boucher does sing about lost love quite a bit, but he relates it back to more deeply rooted issues this time around, such as his mental health (“Mononokay”) and his struggles with drug use (“Using”). It all helps to better paint a picture of a man experiencing many different kinds of pain, often times all at once, just trying to recover from whatever it is that brought him so far down in the first place.
The focus of each track does tend to jump around a bit, however Joy, Departed does offer a great deal in terms of overarching theme. Time after time, song after song, the listener is reminded of the ugly reality of depression, and the relentless effect it has on human beings. We hear Boucher dragged down over and over again by an array of different things, and it allows us to experience the cyclical nature of mental illness with him being tortured by the throes of being unable to “get better”. In a way, it almost makes the album painful to listen to – the listener wants the troubled speaker to find happiness and, well, joy, but it continues to elude him.
Another big change made by Boucher and co. is the instrumentation. It seems as though Sorority Noise has found a new sense of integrity as far as the musical side of their songwriting goes: They seem a little less timid this time around, going out on a limb and trying to do their own thing rather than clinging to what’s worked for other bands in the past. It’s not perfect by any means (there’s a real sense of choppiness in some of the longer tracks on the record), but the effort to branch out a little bit is definitely appreciated. The instrumental progression shines the most, as a matter of fact, when it’s worked into the poppier songs. For example, “Nolsey” combines what could be the best hook on the record with slower, more intricate verses, creating some nice dynamic contrast which makes the track a more interesting listen.
On the whole, then, it’s easy to say that Sorority Noise fell far short of a perfect record with Joy, Departed. However, there are some things the band does extremely well, and it’s those very things (the lyrical and thematic aspects of the record being the biggest examples) that lead the audience back to an important truth – while there was some doubt after Forgettable, it’s easy to see now that the band’s heart is in the right place. While it may stumble (and even fall) in certain spots, Sorority Noise’s sophomore effort has finally proven that the band can be endearing as well as engaging, and that’s an important step in their career no matter how one looks at it.