Sophie Allison has been releasing music under the moniker Soccer Mommy since her late teens, but it wasn’t until her breakout 2018 album Clean that she saw her career takeoff. Spots on soundtracks and major festivals followed all of which raised expectations in addition to raising her profile. For her follow-up album, Color Theory Allison returned to the studio with Clean producer Gabe Wax and for the first time took her touring band to capture a more live performance feel.
Color Theory doesn’t offer anything as instantly catchy or cathartic as “Your Dog” but it’s a record that rewards repeated listens which reveals details in its lush production. Lead off track “Bloodstream” is a great example. Two years ago you’d expect a Soccer Mommy song like this to have a little more intensity and danger to it. While it’s easy to miss that edge to the songs, Allison‘s pop sensibilities have are much improved providing a cheery backdrop to its dark subject matter. “Circle the Drain” is easily the album’s highlight and once again it’s uplifting chorus masks lyrics that detail depression and struggles with mental health. Allison tackles it with an earnest delivery that sounds almost like she’s purifying her mind of these negative thoughts. On the musical side Soccer Mommy branches out from pop leaning indie rock toward straight ahead dreampop on the refrains pulling it off like a natural progression of the Soccer Mommy sound. “Royal Screw Up” is a call back to Soccer Mommy‘s lo-fi bedroom pop roots before building up to a big crescendo. In that way it’s the spiritual sequel to Clean‘s “Scorpio Rising” but struggles to reach the same heights as that album’s highlight. After the sparse mood piece “Night Swimming“, Soccer Mommy gets back to the business of indie rock on “Crawling in My Skin“. Electronic flourishes and sparkling synth pads add depth and atmosphere to the mid tempo indie that has for years been Sophie Allison’s trademark sound. While some of the lyrics and motifs here are arguably a little repetitive, it’s refreshing to see Soccer Mommy finding new boundaries to push. Allison aims for anthemic on “Yellow is the Color of Her Eyes”, but more memorable is following track “Up the Walls” with breezy acoustics, ethereal soundscapes and infectious melodies. Soccer Mommy reverts back to grunge-lite mode on the delightfully disjointed “Lucy”. The songs sounds like it’s on the verge of artfully falling apart, but the songwriting behind it is one of the most focused and enjoyable on the album. It’s followed by two bleak numbers “Stain” and “Gray Light”. Both are anchored by acoustic guitar with somber lyrics and accented with electronic flourishes. While “Stained” has some promising moments it feels ultimately like an unfinished idea. “Gray Light” meanwhile is produced to sound like a warped cassette tape playing back a country tinged ballad. Once again Allison subverts the breezy chords with grim lyrics ending on the line “watching my mother drown”.
Soccer Mommy could’ve easily churned out Clean part two and give fans more of the same, but Sophie Allison has taken the riskier choice of reinventing her sound. It may not always pay off on every track, but when it does Color Theory delivers some of the most rewarding songs in her discography.
Highlights: “Circle the Drain”, “Bloodstream“, “Lucy”, “Up the Walls”
For Fans of: Snail Mail, Hatchie, Japanese Breakfast