What we love about emo music is that unapologetically pathetic, gut-wrenchingly and embarrassingly honest sensibility that walks the line between self-loathing and self-pity. Social Norms, a fledgling emo band out of Philadelphia, seems dedicated to bringing us back to that adolescent place of being entirely clueless and perpetually uncomfortable. Their perfectly titled debut album, Happy Birthday to the Love of My Life and Her New Boyfriend Andrew, sings of Everclear-fueled make out sessions and throwing up on the floors of romantic prospects.
Any of us can appreciate the rawness that Social Norms offers in its stories about college romance: kissing in the library, weeknight parties, studying abroad in Europe, and the girl you like being mean to you. The sound is familiar but contemporary, low-fi but pleasant. Every now and then a track surprises you with a really good computerized beat or an unexpected Western riff. There's a lot going on, but the album does not lack consistency. There's a distinct time and place that it comes from, and that time and place is probably your sophomore year of college, in your dorm room at a private liberal arts school.
At their best, Social Norms strongly resembles The Front Bottoms, with hilariously specific lyrics and intentionally awkward vocals that blend together into oddly catchy lines. The album's second track, "Tassels" is a great example of this youthful, sweet, pained affect and charming specificity ("She said 'the tassels on your loafers looked like anchovies' and that 'you need to stop wearing button-down shirts'"). Sometimes the sound verges into the emo sound of our actual adolescence in the style of Taking Back Sunday or Brand New, such as in "Bridegroom," a sad boy ballad with Americana inspiration. At the album's weaker points, the aggressively quirky lyrics are layered over rather generic, uninspired pop sounds (as in "Fiddler on the Floor Puking").
Social Norms is leaning into their weirdness, hard. The track "Next to You" heavily samples dialogue from Freaks and Geeks, which is an unmistakable choice, if a bit obvious. The band knows exactly what they are what they're trying to be. "Up Late" might be the best example of the blending of the band's influences, and one of the most polished. Most of the album comes across as very in-between: in between 2003 and 2016; in between adolescence and adulthood; in between amateur and professional. Social Norms has angst nailed down perfectly. If their next steps are to nail down their production and signature sound—what they want to set them apart from all the similar bands they're aspiring towards—Social Norms will be in a good place.