By: Heather Bushman
Life is an experience defined, at least in part, by color. We picture our perfect days as ones with a bright blue sky overhead, we’re drawn to the pinks and greens of flashy neon lights, and we avoid the intense orange cones that signal road hazards at all costs. Clothes, cars, sports teams, schools: we are surrounded by color. It incites emotion, and to have emotion is to live.
Sophie Allison understands color as a way of life, but her latest effort with the indie pop outfit Soccer Mommy takes it one step further: color as a way of music. Her latest album color theory is an exploration of life in color and the music that represents it, with ten tracks divided into the decorative hues of Allison’s transition from bedroom prodigy to a staple in the new alternative scene. More than anything, it’s an exercise in perception: Allison’s analysis of the colors that tinge her relationship with time and the truths she’s discovered in confronting past and present traumas.
The themes are made clear right from the album cover: a profile portrait of Allison accentuated by a blend of yellow, blue, and grey. These colors dominate the album, with blue representing depression, yellow representing paranoia, and grey representing death. The tracks are ordered according to the colors: 1-4 are blue, 5-7 are yellow, and 8-10 are grey. The division is palpable, the shift from color to color signified by changes in tone that don’t entirely deviate from one another but certainly offer variety. Yellow tracks pick up the blues’ mid-tempo tendencies, if only slightly, and the grey section feels decidedly more subdued than the other two. It’s the same lyrically: variety within a consistent structure. color theory is Allison owning her writing at unprecedented levels, but she alters her approach depending on the section. The depression of the blue section is more numb than it is sad, yellow’s paranoia manifests as the fear of abandonment, and death is written like something being taken away in the grey tracks.
It’s easy to classify color theory as a sad album, with Allison expelling her personal demons and doubts over the span of the ten melancholy compositions. To label it as simply sorrowful, however, is a severe disservice to the nuances Allison finds in her examination of this broad emotional experience. The details lie in the why as opposed to the what, specifically in Allison’s varying perspectives on life and its limitations.
She blurs the days together in the blue section: time endless and irrelevant as she spins “’round and around, ‘round and around” on “circle the drain.” Impending finality finds its way onto the record in the yellows, with “up the walls” desperately reaching for the comfort of a relationship that has long since faded away. The greys force Allison to confront mortality, as the inescapable idea of time running out has surpassed the never-ending haze of the blue’s pessimistic spiral. “grey light,” the closer, shows a terrified Allison dealing with her own inevitable death. “I’m going down,” she says, calling back to the same line on “circle the drain.” It’s a different kind of “down,” though; the earlier mention uses it as a descriptor for an infinite spin down the depressive drain, but its final appearance carries the connotation of termination, of a life on its way to ending with no signs of slowing down.
Soccer Mommy is undoubtedly built around the guitar, and, as expected, it’s front and center on this record. Allison’s calm vocal delivery is supported by its signature smoothness, with deep chord strums decorated by glossy licks over the top and backed by a dark baseline. It’s a stellar display of guitar skill, dreamy melodies drifting over the choruses and floating in and out of interludes. In terms of overall production, color theory is Soccer Mommy’s most ambitious album yet, the presence of producer Gabe Wax and Loma Vista Recordings making themselves known in a sound that simply takes up more room than past projects. The percussion is where expansion occurs, significantly more of a feature here than on earlier releases. The kick drum especially is highlighted, giving much-needed weight to tracks like “bloodstream” and “circle the drain” and keeping the quickened pace of “crawling in my skin.”
Despite this expansion of instrumentation, however, color theory is no grand production. Staying true to Allison’s humble indie origins, the record is steady in every sense of the word, rolling along at a mild pace and never deviating from a mellow volume. The fear with such a systematic structure is that of complacency, something that does have the tendency to occur in the slower tracks like “night swimming” and “stain.” If anything, though, the tameness in musicality gives the lyrics the space to resonate fully, as lyrics of this caliber absolutely should.
color theory is still standard Soccer Mommy, carrying the quirky charisma of the wide-eyed girl who’s a little insecure, just bigger, fuller, and more confident. Allison’s narrative voice is incredibly unique, her brand of pensive conversational poetry always taking center stage in her compositions. Candid honesty is the key to her charm as a songwriter, it always has been, but the vulnerability displayed here is on another level. Where Collection and Clean stayed relatively centered, this record dives much deeper emotionally, unafraid to go dark when necessary. “Now a river runs red from my knuckles into the sink,” she recalls on “bloodstream,” the album’s opener. It’s jarring to start with such intensity, but Allison’s not easing her listeners into her work anymore. The shy confessions of infatuation and inadequacy that defined her early writing are long forgotten, replaced on color theory with a straightforward retelling of bold emotional truths. She’s still soft in her diction, shrugging off her lyrics like a casual conversation, but the words simply hit harder this time around. Allison is only 22, but she writes older, turning out lines with the philosophical profoundness of an industry veteran. Perhaps three albums in three years, capped off by a major label debut and opening gigs for the likes of Paramore, Vampire Weekend, and Kacey Musgraves, has something to do with it, or maybe it’s just navigating life as a young adult while bearing the scars of wounds that have yet to fully heal. color theory packs a punch either way. It’s not an easy listen, hitting a little close to home for many in a generation defined by brutal self-analysis and an acute sense of the weight of the world, but it’s an important one, overflowing with the emotional intelligence of an emerging introspective icon. “I’m scared the girl you love is hardly ever here at all,” Allison confesses on “up the walls,” but with monumental growth in musicianship and her most powerful writing to date, she has never been more present.
Tracks To Save: “bloodstream,” “circle the drain,” “yellow is the color of her eyes”
Tracks To Skip: N/A
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