Album Review: Soccer Mommy — ‘color theory’
Posted: by The Editor
On her 2018 debut album Clean, Soccer Mommy’s Sophie Allison presented us with a candid expression of her feelings, as well as darkly surreal character work. There is a quality to Allison’s music that is diaristic and honest. It is the kind of music that, despite being intensely personal to its writer, is easy to project onto yourself. With her newest offering, color theory, we are once again presented with exactly this sort of mirror. If Clean felt to its listeners like the soundtrack to their own twee indie movie, color theory may well be the music for its considerably darker sequel.
Soccer Mommy is often compared to country-crossover successes like Sheryl Crow. The comparison is fair on a musical level, as Allison is leaning hard into a current and updated Third Eye Blind-esque sound. However, the 90’s angst and raw emotion she displays feels more akin to that of Hole. On the superb “royal screw up,” Allison turns her battles with depression and self image into a subverted damsel in distress narrative that shares the same spirit as Hole’s classic “Doll Parts.” In that song, Courtney Love sings about her own insecurities about her appearance in the eyes of a lover. Allison does this on “royal screw up” as well, “you wear your armor /and save pretty girls like me / but I’m not so pretty / when I am naked.” She may be singing literally here, but it’s more interesting to think about this as Allison expressing that, while it might be fun for her lover to think of himself as a savior, he cannot truly save her from her personal demons.
Allison is singing not with self-pity, but with self-awareness, all while keeping the medieval metaphor alive throughout with lines like “And I’ll be the dragon / I’ll hold me captive.” While musically she never builds “royal screw up” into anything resembling Love’s climactic growl in “Doll Parts”, she refuses to let the song fade. We are instead treated to an example of producer Gabe Wax’s influence with a few moments of lush strings that feel like sunlight breaking through an overcast sky.
While many Soccer Mommy songs are sincere and come from personal accounts, there are a few from the perspective of someone interacting with evil. Clean gave us Mary, who spends “Cool” treating men like playthings. Even before Soccer Mommy had released more than an EP, we were introduced to “Henry”, who’s titular protagonist was “driving all the good girls bad with that evil smile.” Prior to the album’s announcement, fans were introduced to “Lucy.” The song falls much later on the track list than most first singles, but this just serves as a testament to the strength of each one before it. “Lucy” finds Allison singing once again about an irresistibly charming person. This time he is directly stated to be Lucifer; the stakes have been raised. It shows how gifted a storyteller she is that each release has essentially the same story retold as so many different songs.
The album’s closing track, “gray light,” is quite likely the most gutting Soccer Mommy song to date. Much of color theory is Allison reacting to seeing her mother suffer from a terminal illness, but here we see it dealt with most directly. It’s fairly common for upsetting lyrics to be dulled by creating an interesting soundscape, and that is what we see here. While Allison sings things like “I’m watching my mother drown”, we must somehow split our focus to notice what she is singing over. She has created an open, spectral chasm to sing into; a void only perforated by a dripping drum machine, and the sudden, affected sound of a rewinding tape. While much of color theory cushions reflections on trauma with dreamy guitar and Allison’s vocals as if sung through gauze, it’s on “gray light” that we feel the rug being pulled out from under us. Just as we feel a climax coming, the song, and album, end.
It feels fitting that the record offers us a sudden end. Things don’t always have to have to be tied up with a ribbon, and that is certainly made clear on color theory. Allsion is not interested in making things that are flawed look perfect, but she sure does a great job of making them go down easier.
Disappointing / Average / Good / Great / Phenomenal
Eric Bennett // @seething_coast
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