Allison mixes moods of indie-rock for a record that goes through the worst of it and keeps on playing.
The conceit behind color theory‘s theory is a bit of misdirection, but that approach fits in well with Soccer Mommy’s second album. Soccer Mommy (Sophie Allison) splits the disc into sections of blue (depression), yellow (physical and emotional illness) and gray (emptiness and loss), but she knows – and her album reflects – how all of these difficult situations intersect. She also knows that just because you’re feeling bad doesn’t mean you have to sound gloomy. As Allison processes a lifetime’s worth of trouble, she mixes moods of indie-rock for a record that goes through the worst of it and keeps on playing.
The album opens with a stellar pair of rockers, carefully executed and developed (Gabe Wax returns for production duties), but with an apparent ease. “bloodstream” quickly finds the heart of the problem, as Allison sings, “Now a river runs red from my knuckles into the sink” after apparently punching something, and then acknowledges, “I don’t feel anything.” This sanguinary depression sounds lived in, in large part because of the avoidance of a melodramatic delivery. The chipper guitars of “circle the drain” disguise and resist the downward spiral of anhedonia. Allison is “trying to seem strong for my love/ For my family and friends/ But I’m so tired of faking,” and the song suggests that if these guitars give up for even a minute, she’ll go right down with the sink water.
Much of color theory deals with internal struggles, but the epic “yellow is the color of her eyes” addresses external pressure. Allison responds to her mother’s terminal illness, dealing with her own powerlessness and her sense of losing time with her mom while away from her. The track casual lilts through seven minutes, but a punch is never far away. “Loving you isn’t enough,” Allison sings, “You’ll still be deep in the ground when it’s done.” The song closes with a studio swirl that lets inarticulate feeling surface before returning to carefully controlled picking.
Hidden in that track is a brief connection to another section of the record, as Allison sings, “I’m still so blue.” Depression, physical illness and loss can all connect in obvious ways. Soccer Mommy’s closing meditation on mortality, “gray light,” might be personally melancholic or connect to an actual terminal illness. Depressive thoughts can lead to thoughts of loss. All of it can make you physically vulnerable. All of it can make you isolated (as on “night swimming”). Soccer Mommy sets these experiences into categories to look at track-by-track, but as color theory plays, a full picture of tribulation emerges. Allison’s writing proves to be effective in individual lines and couplets, and then in full tracks, but it ultimately builds into a broad mural worth looking at in whole.
The mural, it turns out, is beautiful but not pretty. When Allison digs into the question of evil and moral troubles on “lucy” or into the deeply personal moments of “stain,” it’s hard not to feel the scraping going on. At the same time, Soccer Mommy’s reflections resonate, whether in shared catharsis or in a simpler connection. Allison’s personal struggles – at least as portrayed on record – continue, but her painting skills find a way to redeem them.