Album Review: Soccer Mommy – Color Theory

[Loma Vista; 2020]

Sophie Allison is only 22, but upon listening to her second studio album, Color Theory, you’d be forgiven for thinking that she’s a good deal older than that. On this record, performing as her alter ego Soccer Mommy, she is unafraid of approaching topics of her own depression, her parents’ illness and the general degradation of the world around her. Perhaps what’s even more impressive is that Allison wrote the bulk of Color Theory in brief moments snatched while touring consistently in support of debut album Clean in the last couple of years – yet it is still a work of tightly-focused determination.

Color Theory is divided into three colour-themed episodes: it starts with ‘blue’, which represents melancholy and depression. This is perhaps the strongest segment of the record, as the opening track “Bloodstream” immediately dives straight into her teenage years of self-harm, which she juxtaposes harshly with imagery of hydrangeas in bloom. Her singing “now a river runs red from my knuckles to the sink” is not for the faint-hearted, but she should be applauded for the bluntness of her songwriting, which will hopefully send a message to others going through this that they’re not alone.

Follow-up track “Circle The Drain” once again has astute observations in its verses, which turn from the gracefully poetic into a leaden thud of hopelessness from one moment to the next. The chorus of “watching my heart go round and around / circle the drain, I’m going down,” takes a more well-worn metaphor for feeling like giving up, but with her ascendant indie-rock songwriting she turns it into a moment of sing-along catharsis.

The second segment of Color Theory is ‘yellow’, which is representative of sickness, largely inspired by her mother’s suffering with terminal illness for a decade, as well as Allison’s own physical strife. While “Crawling In My Skin” is fairly simplistic and a bit adolescent in its approach to feeling unwell, “Yellow Is The Color Of Her Eyes” has heft and genuine stakes. Written while Soccer Mommy was on international tour, “Yellow Is The Colour…” reflects Allison’s fear that she’ll be thousands of miles away from her mother when the end finally comes: “Loving you isn’t enough / you’ll still be deep in the ground when it’s done.” Although the topic is undeniably morbid, “Yellow Is The Color…” is the most impressive song on Color Theory as it pushes Allison lyrically, but also sonically as it expands to beautiful widescreen, reflecting the physical distance but spiritual closeness between her and her mother.

The final segment of Color Theory is ‘grey’: fear of death. This seems like it should be the heaviest section of the record, but it begins with Color Theory’s most upbeat song, “Lucy”, in which Allison confronts the devils in her life and admonishes them: “quit taunting me”. While not as lyrically incisive as the best songs on the album, it is a much-needed moment of pure pop, bundled up in a rowdy indie rock song. Death rears its head truly on the album’s closing track, “Gray Light”, where she once again contemplates her mother’s impending death – and her own. At times she even seems to be begging for her own end: “I cry to the moon / and beg it to change me or rip me in two.” It’s a sombre finale, but there is a feeling that Allison has come to terms with her feelings, and – as far as she can – has mastered them.

It seems hard to balance the facts that Soccer Mommy wrote this depression-focused record while on tour – it feels as though she has had to sit stewing in these thoughts for a while to be able to express them. Perhaps she is truly always contemplating it, even while she’s on planes and in green rooms, waiting to go on stage. Whatever the truth, there’s no denying that it’s impressively brave to have put out an album this explicitly personal at a relatively young age. While many in their early 20s might feel this level of dejection, they would be unlikely to write it down in songs that are heard by thousands of people. But, it seems that Allison has found a way to turn her hurt into songs that will become a support system through her fanbase. They will soon be singing these songs back at her, and nobody in the throng will feel alone with their troubles.