It’s been a long, arduous few years full of thinkpieces by hip outlets who previously shunned the genre, but it’s safe to say now that emo has officially been revived. The trio of labels that helped usher it back into relevance — Run For Cover, Topshelf and No Sleep — has either diversified their rosters, lost their biggest bands to larger indie (or in some cases, major) labels, slowed down operations entirely or a combination thereof. As for the bands originally pegged as the leaders of the #emorevival, some have streamlined their sound for more appeal. Others have gotten weirder and artsier (‘sup, TWIABP). And one, Modern Baseball, was wholly unready for the modicum of fame that came with being an ad hoc voice of a generation. They recently canceled their upcoming spring tour and are taking an indefinite hiatus to work on mental health issues shared by numerous band members. Such is the price of being at the forefront of a scene that has always been defined by the internal fragility of its leaders.
It’s oddly fitting, then, that one of the opening acts for MoBo’s now-canceled spring trek, Sorority Noise, is poised to begin the same journey that has temporarily felled their friends. The four-piece led by Cameron Boucher is the next logical step in emo’s renaissance, with You’re Not As ____ As You Think their finest work to date. The jump taken between the band’s sophomore effort, 2014’s Joy, Departed, and their new album is not unlike the one Brand New made a decade earlier between Deja Entendu and The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me: A band who had already moved past their pop-punk roots and incorporated more mature, nuanced songwriting decided to really crack open their brains and spill the contents onto the lyric booklet, with influences ranging from Explosions In The Sky to Weezer.
YNA_AYT (a more painfully clunky acronym, there is not) is at its core a rock album, with distorted guitars slamming their way through power chord after power chord in an epic crescendo (“Leave The Fan On”) and liberal use of effects pedals conjuring up images of Moneen’s high-water mark The Red Tree (“No Halo”). But what truly takes the album to its soaring heights and uncomfortably brutal depths is Boucher’s unflinching honesty. His lyric style is self-referential and insular, unafraid to pick scabs but willing to crack a joke, similar to other surprising voice-of-a-small-portion-of-a-generation songwriters like Jeff Rosenstock formerly of Bomb The Music Industry! and Dan Campbell of the Wonder Years. Album standout “A Better Sun” references songs by scenemates and friends Into It. Over It., Modern Baseball and Julien Baker in quick succession, before revealing that Boucher has experimented with cocaine thanks to the wonders of peer pressure.
That’s the tip of the iceberg with YNA_AYT — Boucher has no problem discussing “a basketball team” worth of deaths in his social circle on the otherwise-peppy “Disappeared”; he sings about a fatal heroin overdose and questions the existence of God on “Second Letter From St. Julien”; and he begins the musically triumphant “Where Are You” with a simple question-and-answer: “‘Is everything okay?’ Not right now, but it will be / I’m just stuck in the same old place again.” The song continues to bounce back and forth between Boucher and a well-intentioned friend, and it’s a conversation anyone who has ever struggled with depression has had time and time again with friends and loved ones.
YNA_AYT is without a doubt the best work of Sorority Noise’s still-nascent career, and an early frontrunner for one of the best albums of 2017. It is emotionally complex, yet full of uplifting melodies that feel designed to pull the listener — or at least Boucher — out of the dark corners of the mind. Thankfully, rock ’n’ roll does wonders to lift one’s spirits, at least for 30 minutes a night.