You could be forgiven for thinking that Color Theory, with its glitchy cassette-inspired album artwork and pop production values, came straight from the late 90s; but this is the second album from twenty- two year old Nashville singer-songwriter Sophie Allison – aka Soccer Mommy. The aesthetic is hardly surprising after learning that she cites influences such as Avril Lavigne and Sheryl Crow, drawn to their catchy melodies, whereas the visuals can be attributed to Allison’s desire to have them represent “a dusty old tape”, something that had been worn down and degraded over time, a metaphor for the album’s content – which at it’s core is an exploration of post-adolescent growing pains and dark psychological truths.
Color Theory is the follow up to Soccer Mommy’s 2018 album Clean, which catalysed the rapid expansion of her fan base and saw her tour with the likes of Snail Mail, Vampire Weekend and Wilco. Although Allison kept to the same producer as Clean, Gabe Wax, who has worked with big indie names such as The War on Drugs and Palehound, Color Theory is infinitely different to its predecessor. Where Clean’s sound was visceral and fierce, color theory’s is soft and bright. The downward spiral of guitars on circle the drain, the standout single of the album, is elated and twists the listener into the melody; there a several levels of synthesizer, all played by Allison herself, that come together in yellow is the color of her eyes to create a mellow, comforting warmth; and lucy’s mix of electric and acoustic guitars is more produced than anything Soccer Mommy has released previously. Arguably the first track, bloodstream, comes closest to that with its drizzle of powerful hooks.
Athough the sound is softer and more uncluttered, the lyrics hold much darker accounts of Soccer Mommy’s personal experience. Allison has said that Color Theory is split into three segments, each with a colour which depicts a stage of being and “represent the problems I’ve developed as I’ve grown up, and how they’ve changed me”. The ‘blue’ third of the album symbolises feelings of sadness and depression, the middle three songs are ‘yellow’ which represents feelings of anxiety and physical sickness, and the final three songs are ‘grey’ which denotes darkness, mortality and confronting existence.
Writing lyrics is where Allison really comes into her own. Her songs are so deeply personal and specific to her, yellow is the color of her eyes is about feeling like she is running out of time to spend with her terminally ill mother, yet at the same time it’s universally relatable – she exposes her vulnerability totally to the listener, it’s as if she’s inviting you to walk around inside her head with her thoughts. She paints her own self-portrait with her evocative words, giving the ugliest parts of mental illness a beautiful voice; on royal screw up she sings “I am the problem for me / Now and always”, and on crawling in my skin “Sedate me all the time / Don’t leave me with my mind” candid lyrics that anyone who’s face mental ill health can identify with. Her songs are packed full of moments of truthful perception, yet the lyrics blur the line between reality and dreams, she sings “Maybe it’s just a dream / wish I could go back to sleep” on bloodstream, resonating with those who have felt dissociated or alienated. Color theory seems in places equal parts hopeful and despairing, the penultimate track, stain, starts out musically discordant and frank about her feelings of disconnect and being burnt out, yet it builds up into something bubbly and lo-fi. Circle the drain sounds euphoric and melodic, yet the lyrics are an anthem for the disenchanted; “I think there’s mould in my brain / Spreading down all the way / Through my heart and my body”.
Color Theory’s sound is that of fading into adulthood, and of the existential dread that comes with navigating a reality that you feel isn’t your own. It is in places disturbing and intensely private, but Allison’s way of writing to express her inner emotions outside of her body and confront them resonates so deeply with anyone who can relate to what the blue, yellow and grey signify, that color theory is irresistible solace.
[Isla Scott – she/her]