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Soccer Mommy – Color Theory Review

March 7, 2020 | Posted by David Hayter
Soccer Mommy
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Soccer Mommy – Color Theory Review  

Soccer Mommy, aka Sophia Regina Allison, understands something that is so often forgotten: depressive music need not be dull. Still Clean, her delightfully solemn debut, might have read like the diary entries of chronically depressed teenager bumbling through an underwhelming adolescence, but it kicked like a mule, coalescing around a series of dreamy melodies and biting hooks. Following such a coherent and charmingly sorrowful debut would not be easy and, wisely, Soccer Mommy seeks to expand her palette on Color Theory.

“What did you have that I didn’t? And why am I so blue?” Allison lays her cards on the table on album opener “Bloodstream”.  She is neurotic to the bone, listlessly lying in bed and comparing herself to all the beautiful, effortless people whose success she simply cannot replicate (“I ran too fast, fell down on my face in the concrete, I guess the lesson’s learned, I’ve barely left my room in the past week”). The sheer weight of the negativity might prove suffocating were Soccer Mommy not so musically adept. Her psyche is defined by second guessing, but her arrangements and melodies wilt, glide and linger with an intoxicating grace. Far from contradicting her miserabilist aesthetic, the sumptuous sound of Color Theory only serves to reinforce the tragedy of Allison’s ennui: she’s brilliant, her talent is abundant and obvious, everyone can see and hear it, except the one person who matters most of all, herself.

The wonderful hypnotic loops of “Circle The Drain” offers The Cure’s divine grooves played at Pavement’s crooked pacing. The guitars shimmer, glide and softly jangle around a woman crippled by the machinations of her mind (“I’m chained to my bed when they’re gone, watching TV alone ‘til my body starts aching and I think there’s a mold in my brain”).  Rejecting the consistency of her debut, Soccer Mommy hops from these rich tones to the Spartan and unflinchingly uncomfortable, forced phone booth intimacy of “Royal Screw Up”. The track is wearing by design, pairing a droning and knowingly a-melodic chorus with a lacerating verse, “And you save pretty girls like me/But I’m not so pretty, when I am naked”.

This diverse opening suite almost makes the listener feel guilty: the arrangements are undeniably enjoyable, but the lyric sheet is darker than anything found on Still Clean. “Night Swimming” completes the devastating opening with another stark tonal shift. The title may instantly recall R.E.M.’s beautiful hymnal to a moment of silent escapism, but Soccer Mommy turns the concept on its head: a spot of night swimming is the kind of soothing, solitary pursuit perfect for contemplating suicide as an illusory relationship dissolves in devastating fashion (“You watched me sink beneath the water like a stone…I came for air and found that I was so alone”). This deft narrative dance, that reveals the distance between two lovers, is soundtracked by a tender acoustic guitar, a series of haunting drones and culminates in a stunning reveal: this midnight swim is no metaphor (“I swam back to the shoreline….you left me a note, I read it slow: it said that you would love me, but you knew that you’d end up on your own”).

It goes without saying that from this point on Soccer Mommy proves utterly adept at setting her sorrow to practically any guitar driven arrangement: be it the spidery riffs and chugging groves of “Crawling In My Skin” or the time stood still balladry of “Gray Light”. Sophia Allison has an uncanny ability to pen these titanically depressing lyric sheets in the most plain spoken and believably simplistic of phrases. There are metaphors and plenty of twists, but Soccer Mommy’s writing is never ornate, overly complex or false. Her words feel ripped from her diary and set directly to music. There is an immediacy and a fundamental believability that underwrites every inch of Color Theory. She might be comically moribund, but she is undeniable real. This isn’t sorrow as art, or for art’s sake, this is the indecision and agony that has caused a million isolated teenagers to feel like screw ups, outsiders and hopeless cases.

It’s almost unintentionally hilarious that even when Allison chooses to write about something outside of her sadness and heartache, it proves equally distressing. “Crawling In My Skin” is about sleep paralysis – her body literally being overcome by anxiety – and despite affording herself more lyrical licence, the track ends up cutting right to the heart of her core lyrical themes. She feels like a bottled up heir to Kurt Cobain when she croons, “sedate me all the time, don’t leave me with my mind” before offering one of her best and most straightforward visuals: “There’s blood on my lips like wine”.

If there’s a criticism of Color Theory it’s that the album rarely coalesces around stand out singles or pseudo-bangers to rival “Your Dog”, “Cool” or “Last Girl”. This presents a problem. Soccer Mommy is crafting a depressing journey with no room for catharsis and little in the way of escapism; instead, her sophomore’s standout set piece is one long lingering tone poem. “Yellow Is The Color Of Her Eyes” is a seven-minute sleepwalking lament and reflection on her mother’s terminal illness. The track migrates like molasses towards a beautifully apocalyptic (and strangely triumphant) guitar solo that recalls both Brian May and The Black Parade in its theatricality before it sumptuously folds back into the sorrowful trundle of the core rhythm. In a way, this beautiful sigh-come-sung composition serves as a rebuke to those expecting anything resembling escapism as it mixes glimmers of joy with genuinely crushing darkness (“And in her eyes, like clementines, I know that she’s fading”). Soccer Mommy is beyond thrashing, screaming or making sport of her misery. This is true grief: “I could lie, but it’s never made me feel good inside”.

Fittingly, it proves hard for the album to regain the spritely musical polymath styling of its opening half after such a bleak statement, but Color Theory’s back end isn’t devoid of beauty. “Up The Walls” skittishly scratches and scurries even as Allison fades into an array of haunting guitar chimes and lingering scuzzy smears. Dark 90s alternative undercurrents threaten to overwhelm “Lucy”, but an imploring hook just about pokes its head out from beneath a dense and cluttered arrangement in one of the album’s weaker moments.

“Stain” is the best of the moribund bunch however, as Soccer Mommy’s needling vocal is set against a coarse and persistent chugging guitar. The composition is knowingly minimal and almost painfully harsh (recalling EMA, Angel Olsen and Lucy Dacus, respectively), but Allison’s vocal absolutely soars, almost in defiance. The knife is being brutally twisted as Allison mixes the plainspoken promises of her lover with the macabre poetry of her internal monologue (“you say we were built together, scribbled on a piece of paper and scattered apart”). Theme of paralysis remerge in the album’s darkest depth, rather than lying immobile in bed, Soccer Mommy is now rendered speechless, unable to respond, react or halt the slow motion catastrophe occurring before her eyes. She is choked by her partner’s love: “and I hate the things that get trapped inside my throat/How you made me feel with your words like chloroform”.

Color Theory is a fitting follow up to majestic Still Clean. It is bigger, bolder, more varied and more beautiful than its predecessor – but it’s also chronically depressing. The escapism and energy of old has been paralysed by chronic anxiety and the slow death of the singer’s mother. This does not result in moribund music – far from it – Soccer Mommy’s sophomore LP is routinely divine as Allison turns her hand to practically every relevant bedroom indie aesthetic of the last three decades. Instead, it’s her spirit that has been crushed. This magnificently sorrowful and almost stubbornly somber album is most definitely by (and for) the weak of heart. Sophia is a miserablist. There’s no use hiding it and she had no luck fighting it, so she wears her misery like both a badge of honor and a scarlet letter: “I can’t lose it, the feeling I’m going down”.

8.0
The final score: review Very Good
The 411
Beautifully miserable, Soccer Mommy's sophomore album is an expansive and varied tour of the best of bedroom based indie and alternative music. It also just so happens to be the work of a frighteningly honest songwriter who is crippled by anxiety and drowning in a distinctly personal darkness. Far from dull or depressing, the results are routinely enticing and that only makes Color Theory and its central themes all the more sorrowful.
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Soccer Mommy, David Hayter