by Chad Jewett
There’s a long list of welcome expansions that Forgettable, the debut LP from Connecticut quartet Sorority Noise, infuses into the nebulous thing that we call emo. Rhythm, humor, a flair for the dramatic (in a way intangibly different than the post-ironic quotation marks of say, Panic! At the Disco), a focus on dynamics, hooks, melodies, energy; all of it arriving a tad unhinged. There are, of course, bands that do all of these things, and do them very well, but there are few records that are willing to groove the way the best moments of Forgettable do, that have this record’s sense of warped architecture, that seem so custom built to the physicality of the spaces in which they’ll be played. You know all the parts that will be yelled loudest off this album before you listen to it twice. Of course this also means that “subtlety” is one of the album’s early casualties, but Sorority Noise aren’t going for subtle. That ghost cartoon on the album’s cover? It looks like a Count Chocula marshmallow.
The pleasures of Sorority Noise’s debut LP are similarly unmistakable, all nostalgia and artificial sweetener. Forgettable might be one of the only post-hardcore records that has plausible links to not only Pinkerton (you hear that feedback at the beginning of “Rory Shield” and you really do expect the first notes of “Tired of Sex”, so close is the two-note resemblance), Say Anything, and Your Favorite Weapon (Sorority Noise, like early Brand New, are experts at gleaning effervescence from shambles), but also Bat Out Of Hell, and Give ‘Em Enough Rope. Clocking in at twenty-two minutes, the album is a marvel of scuffed pop economy (a sweetness delivery system not unlike that breakfast cereal), a collection of nine songs that deliver hooks in the form of barrages and tidal waves, that are only ever quiet so that they can seem twice as loud in a second or two.
“Rory Shield” begins the album with a galloping, wiry coil of bass (courtesy of Kevin O’Donnell whose work on the album is consistently melodic and nimble), a glimpse of Minutemen-style rhythm before the song immediately bursts into a basement punk monolith of heaving guitars. The song rises and falls to the topography of thirty years of pop punk, verses dropping to clear space for Cam Boucher’s elastic tenor and self-deprecating wordplay (“Hold me like it matters / If by matters I mean “Walk away like you don’t even know my name””), choruses roaring back to meet sentiments of histrionic love matters (“Tell me again that you don’t wanna break my heart / And I’ll tell you again that it’s already broken”). There’s a four decade tradition here, and Sorority Noise, to their credit, seem to focus most of their energies on breaking through brick walls of old records by sheer forward-motion. This is the best way to understand “Rory Shield”, its design as battle-tested and at least as old as Rocket To Russia, but nevertheless crafted to connect, a free-range guitar-pop gem.
“Dirty Ickes” is similarly extroverted, similarly chaotic. Doubling-down on the stomp of “Rory Shield” till the song takes on a Bouncing-Souls-esque swing, “Dirty Ickes” is a sharp two minutes of busted-up pop hardcore, almost entirely incapable of standing still, so often does it move from momentary lulls to jagged booms. Boucher has clever fun with the myopia of emo, singing “I taught myself French so I could tell you I love you in ways that you could never understand / And I taught myself Norse to sit on your back porch.” The joke of course is the self-defeating nature of that inscrutability (if there is some uncomfortable narrative treatment of significant others on “Rory Shield” and “Dirty Ickes” it is at least tempered by this satire of emo’s lousy track record of dealing with relationships in fair-minded ways – Boucher makes a good point about the culpability of communication breakdowns); the charm is how little sense the back half of that couplet makes, and how infectious Boucher’s confidence is in the idea that it must mean something. Indeed, one is reminded of the sort of riddle-like lines that Rivers Cuomo would lace through The Blue Albumand Pinkerton in these moments. It’s one of the most intriguing signs for Sorority Noise’s future, that again and again they seem remarkably confident in making their own kind of sense, in investing in whatever ideas grab them.
“Blonde Hair, Black Legs” unfurls its gloomy self-immolation atop a stuttering doo-wop waltz (recalling similar macabre uses of pop antiques by Nick Thorburn in Islands and The Unicorns), the chorus swelling into a blizzard as Boucher both croons and shouts: “So I drove at a hundred miles an hour / Just to see what it feels like to fly / And I crashed my car into someone else’s front yard / Just to see what it feels like to die.” There is some sort of crystallization here – Boucher’s exaggerated cinematics, the band’s gift for Maximum R&B rhythmic touch, the ways in which the song’s spooky bridge (sung in an echo-chambered falsetto) recall the sort of gothic playfulness you’d find on a Meatloaf record or an early Alkaline Trio single. While less self-consciously designed around a thesis of All Hallows Eve make-believe, there is even an arts-and-crafts aesthetic to Forgettable that recalls Dead Man’s Bones (the Halloween-pop project fronted by Ryan Gosling) and their sole, eponymous album, which similarly found shambolic guitar pop glee in open-minded approaches to limited skill sets.
The band also shows canny instincts in re-recording a trio of songs from Sorority Noise’s great debut EP Young Luck. The three songs, “Mediocre At Best,” “Queen Anne’s Lace,” and “Still Shrill,” all benefit from their makeovers and from the time spent by the band finding which angles and dynamics to lean into, which grooves and melodies were worth exploring further. “Mediocre at Best,” the highlight of both Young Luck and Forgettable, gets slowed down just a bit, meaning that the song’s Motown strut is even more unmistakable, making room for shimmering acoustic guitars that glint beautifully amongst the songs corroded electricity. Boucher also takes the opportunity to ham up his Morrissey impression even further, crooning the song’s opening missive, “Nobody likes me,” like Bill Murray singing “What’s So Funny” in Lost In Translation. “Still Shrill” benefits from the clearer conditions of the full-length, the curling ribbons of spritely emo guitars hanging that much more brightly amongst the song’s dancing, angular rhythm.
Forgettable is an album that is oddly joyful for all of its doom-riddled narratives, bright for all its darkness. In some sense it’s something of a pop anthology, with Boucher writing in archetypes and templates as much as realities and confessions. You could imagine Sorority Noise crafting something even more theatrical, a sort of pop-punk musical, a less obnoxious, more expansive version of something like Say Anything’s Is A Real Boy. There is certainly enough curiosity in the band’s DNA, certainly enough taste for what makes guitar pop work. Indeed, at its best, Forgettable is a strikingly confident dispatch of melodic punk, a gloriously nervous, ceaselessly inventive twenty minutes of emo-pop patchwork.