Essential New Music: Sorority Noise’s “You’re Not As _____ As You Think”

On Sorority Noise’s “A Portrait Of,” singer Cameron Boucher mumbles a little anecdote about what the afterlife might be like—“and they’re playing “The ’59 Sound” in heaven/While the angels were drinking up whiskey and cokes.” Invoking the Gaslight Anthem’s track—a romantic song about death that asks the recently deceased, “Did you hear your favorite song one last time?”—this line is particularly telling for Sorority Noise’s third LP. The image of angels kicking back and getting drunk contrasts painfully with the record’s life on earth, one where the narrator struggles to get out of bed and wonders why they’re not up there in heaven, too.

All of this is to say that You’re Not As __ As You Think is a brutal recollection of the endless, everyday fight against grief. On “A Better Sun,” Boucher numbly recounts a cycle of pain, posturing and self-destruction, all with the same construction of “this is the part where …” In this way, “A Better Sun” presents the quiet moments of grieving (a verse spent listening to music, nodding toward Julien Baker, Into It. Over It. and Modern Baseball) in the same way it presents the loud ones (“This is the part where I explode and destroy/Everything on this god-given earth”). On You’re Not As __ As You Think, the difficulty of loss permeates through every moment.

Because death looms so heavily over this record, it’s no surprise that these songs are often interested in examining a dismayed form of spirituality. “Second Letter From St. Julien” addresses god with defiance and deference in turn, asking, “What’s your god trying to prove,” in one breath and, “Do I make him proud?” in the next. The subject of god certainly leads to some clunky moments (“He’s always trying to fuck me to the tune of my favorite song”), but the record’s conflict with divine power makes for genuinely affective music.

Mike Sapone (Brand New, Taking Back Sunday) helps bring Sorority Noise to a cleaner, more-focused sound, making the record’s more energetic tracks like “No Halo” and “Disappeared” shimmer and explode beautifully. The band’s dynamics are sharper than ever, sounding larger than life in the loud chorus of “No Halo” and intimately melancholy on slow burns like “First Letter From St. Sean.”

The album’s climax comes with “Leave The Fan On,” but it doesn’t feel like a big solution or the beginning of a grand post-grief phase. Here, the narrator still struggles to take care of himself, even failing to brush his teeth in the morning before the big, bombastic outro. But small, isolated closer “New Room” does present a subtle shift, with Boucher giving a bored, practical little solution—“I haven’t been spending enough time alone/Maybe that’s why I feel like I don’t have a home.” It seems like a big, loud ending is warranted for You’re Not As __ As You Think, but Sorority Noise doesn’t let us have it. “New Room” poses a quiet step forward as opposed to a sweeping new era, because grief doesn’t leave in one fowl swoop; in fact, it may not ever leave us. Instead, “New Room” is about finding new ways to cope, little by little.

—Jordan T. Walsh

Essential New Music: Uniform’s “Wake In Fright”

There’s a lot to take in on this Brooklyn duo’s second record. Thematically, vocalist Michael Berdan mines his issues, burdens and neuroses for lyrical content that spans an overdriven line between unsettling experience and triumphant discharge. Sometimes the hardest part about being human is admitting our shortcomings, though it’s a lot easier when you’re able to exorcise demons physically and artistically, especially when the accompaniment is a cathartic wall of noise that calculates the blackened spot where cold industrial, monolithic post-rock and the rumbling thunder of NYC’s dirty ‘80s sonic experiments and outsider art overlap. Where Uniform steps to the left is in how varieties of sounds contribute to the punishing totality. “Tabloid” employs a hornet’s nest of samples, whereas “Habit” and “Light At The End” warp the concept of sustain into a mechanized-doom sensibility; it’s not just traditional distorted guitars playing traditionally heavy riffs here.

—Kevin Stewart-Panko

Essential New Music: Shintaro Sakamoto’s “Love If Possible”

Knowing that a musician spent more than two decades in a band is a good way of telling that they have their stuff figured out. That’s the case with Shintaro Sakamoto, who led the Tokyo psych-pop trio Yura Yura Teikoku until 2010. Since then, Sakamoto has released a collection of artwork and a string of solo albums, the newest of which continues his journey to the center of his classic pop-addled mind. Mining influences from ’70s R&B, folk and early electronica, Sakamoto serves as ringleader and gatekeeper to a plush revisionist history on Love If Possible. He coos over a skeletal rhythm on “Another Planet” and shuffles slyly through “Feeling Immortal.” Sakamoto evokes other retro-minded bands and artists as much as the original artifacts: “Disco Is” features a nonchalant Stereolab vibe, while the title track uses flourishes on loan from Todd Terje or Mayer Hawthorne. Love If Possible is a delightful confection, and Sakamoto keeps it just the right amount of sweet.

—Eric Schuman

Essential New Music: Surfer Blood’s “Snowdonia”

A darkness pervades John Paul Pitts’ lyrics on Snowdonia, the first Surfer Blood album since the death, by cancer, of guitarist Thomas Fekete, but the overall tenor is joyful. It’s a rebooted version of the band, with Pitts and original drummer Tyler Schwarz joined by guitarist Michael McCleary and bassist Lindsey Mills—the latter two the source of the breezy harmony vocals that sweetened the arrangements. This is a zippy power-pop record, full of crunchy riffs and ringing leads, even as Pitts sings of mortality, aging and sacrifice. Pitts stretches out with multipart song structure on the title track and shifts “Instant Doppelgangers” into high gear with some judiciously placed distortion that hearkens back to 2010’s Astro Coast. But most of Snowdonia is immediate and direct, as bright and sharply defined as the weather in the band’s native Florida. At times reminiscent of the Lilys’ Better Can’t Make Your Life Better, Snowdonia works within formulas, but it does so with aplomb.

—Steve Klinge

Essential New Music: Strand Of Oaks’ “Hard Love”

Tim Showalter wants you to know how much he loves rock ’n’ roll. He’s as enraptured by the life-affirming powers of a loud rock song as he’s aware of the damaging potential of a rock ’n’ roll lifestyle. HEAL, his breakthrough 2014 album as Strand Of Oaks, contained a paean to the late Jason Molina, the leader of Songs:Ohia, that was both adulatory and cautionary; the new Hard Love opens by juxtaposing a break-up song (the title track) with a celebration of how the joy of hearing a great song on the radio can change a life (“Radio Kids”). Gone are his folk/rock days; Hard Love rocks hard, and when it doesn’t, it sounds aptly hung over or strung out. Philly’s Showalter doesn’t mind anchoring his songs in the styles of his heroes: The allusions reinforce his love: Dinosaur Jr and Smashing Pumpkins, Bruce Springsteen and Ryan Adams, Molina and Neil Young & Crazy Horse. The eight-minute stoner rock of “Taking Acid And Talking To My Brother” is a bit of a trudge, but Hard Love is easy to adore.

—Steve Klinge