Sorority Noise’s March 2 release — YNAAYT — is almost entirely composed of stripped-down songs from their 2017 release You’re Not as _____ as You Think. Many bands have released essential demo, remastered or acoustic albums. Some present wholly new takes on fan-favorite songs. Others let listeners peek behind inside the recording process and hear the band play around with yet to be finished tracks.
YNAAYT doesn’t provide any such insights or revelations. It feels rushed and underdeveloped, lacking new melodies and interesting ideas. At the end of last year, a Spotify recap told me that I listened to Sorority Noise more than any other band in 2017, largely thanks to You’re Not as _____ as You Think. So I’m certain that something other than songwriting prowess is amiss on YNAAYT.
The main problem with the album is Sorority Noise’s deviation from an approach that worked consistently. Since their 2013 formation, the emo quartet has excelled at pairing angst-ridden lyrics with crushing riffs. Consider “Using,” one of the band’s biggest hits from their 2015 release Joy, Departed. Vocalist/guitarist Cameron Boucher sings about going back to smoking and abusing drugs, but also learning how to “love more myself before anyone else / Become more than just a burden.” Boucher concludes the song with a declaration of self-love: “I know I’m more than worthy of your time” over a high-energy emo arrangement.
Sorority Noise hit their stride on You’re Not as _____ as You Think. The album kicks off with the anthemic “No Halo” (a song title I’ve been on the fence about getting tattooed for months), and only pauses its breakneck pace with “First Letter from St. Sean” and its lo-fi conclusion, “New Room.”
The album’s best moment, however, comes just after the two-minute mark in “A Better Sun.” The band repeats an ebbing beat for the first half-or-so of the song. Boucher shouts out some of his emo contemporaries, alluding to Julien Baker’s “Sprained Ankle,” Modern Baseball’s “Just Another Face” and Into It. Over It.’s “P R O P E R.” Then, after an anxious and hilarious line — “This is the part where I did cocaine / To impress every one of my mouth breathing friends” — a massive hole turns into the sky out of nowhere, raining down volcanic ash. At least, that’s what it felt like the first time I heard “A Better Sun.” A distorted pick slide ushers in layers of wall-of-sound guitar and bass, filling the entire sonic field.
But the raw emotion of “A Better Sun” is nowhere to be found in the YNAAYT rearrangement of the song. Adam Ackerman’s organ anchors the take from the beginning and, dynamically, the whole song goes nowhere. On You’re Not as _____ as You Think, producer Mike Sapone (Taking Back Sunday, Brand New, Cymbals Eat Guitars) crafted balanced, but explosive, songs. Listen, for example, to the perfect placement of the bass that comes in 40 seconds into “Car.”
However, Boucher mixed and recorded YNAAYT, and the whole album sounds flat. Whereas every track on You’re Not as ______ as You Think stacked up tension that often came crashing down all at once, most of the tracks on YNAAYT fail to build tension in the first place. They’re beautiful and well-written songs; I loved them on You’re Not as ______ as You Think, after all. But YNAAYT will leave any listener who’s heard Sorority Noise’s previous releases wanting more.
A pressing question: why did Sorority Noise release YNAAYT almost exactly a year after You’re Not as _____ as You Think? Demo and rearranged albums can give fans a way to revisit long-beloved — or long-forgotten — albums. Death Cab for Cutie released Transatlanticism Demos a decade after their breakthrough Transatlanticism’s release. Brand New put out Leaked Demos 2006 in 2016. And Sorority Noise waited a year? Stated otherwise, I’m not sure I see a place for YNAAYT in Sorority Noise’s discography.
But the album is not completely without high points. “Chelsea Hotel No. 2” is a poignant, atmospheric take on Leonard Cohen’s wry ballad. Even given the talents who have recorded the song — Lana Del Rey, Rufus Wainwright — Sorority Noise’s version feels unique and worth revisiting. Additionally, the band’s sunken, reverberant take on “Leave the Fan On” feels subtler and more haunting than the distorted, drum-heavy original version.
Still, Sorority Noise probably would have done better to hold on to the songs that did hit the mark and add them to a later anthology. There are diamonds in YNAAYT, but you’ll have to sit through a lot of rough music to get to them. To be fair, every album is not for every listener. I have long preferred Sorority Noise’s fleshed-out, full band releases — Forgettable, Joy, Departed, You’re Not as _____ as You Think — to their acoustic one — It Kindly Stopped For Me.
In the end, Sorority Noise announced that they will be taking a hiatus following their upcoming tour with Remo Drive. Maybe the group is taking a needed creative break. Maybe this will be the last Sorority Noise release we ever hear. After listening to YNAAYT, though, (and I say this selfishly, considering that I already have my ticket to see them on tour) a hiatus may be welcome for the group, if only artistically. YNAAYT sounds like a band without many new ideas unnecessarily rehashing recent material.
Shay Collins is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at email@example.com.