Music

Soccer Mommy Aims High on 'color theory'

Photo: Brian Ziff / Courtesy of Grandstand Media

Soccer Mommy's latest album, color theory, proves that traditional stardom isn't an impossible dream, even if it's still a ways away.

color theory
Soccer Mommy

Loma Vista Recordings

28 February 2020

The release of color theory is poised to be a big moment for Soccer Mommy's Sophie Allison. And for good reason: her proper debut, 2018's Clean, was an endlessly fun record that was equal parts romantic and snarky. Following widespread critical acclaim, including a spot on Pitchfork's "Best of the 2010s" list, Allison signed with major label Loma Vista and was the subject of a flattering New York Times feature. Hypothetically, all of these details position color theory, an ambitious sophomore record about mental illness and loss, as the kind of album that might propel Allison even further.

At times, it's a wild success. Allison's organizing principle for the record is a palate of three colors, representing different aspects of mental illness and family trauma. Opener "bloodstream" finds her trying to stave off depressive tendencies through distractions, like convincing herself to stare at blooming Hydrangeas, though she knows it'll only lead to a "half-hearted calm ー the way I've felt since I was 13." Early singles "lucy" and "circle the drain" deal with similarly dark topics but ー like the best moments from Clean ー they're disguised as upbeat alt-earworms that could easily be mistaken for something from the Buzz Bin.

The most impressive part of color theory, though, is also its cornerstone, the sprawling "yellow is the color of her eyes". The song is a tribute to Allison's mother, who received a terminal cancer diagnosis when Allison was still a pre-teen. Throughout its seven minutes, she regrets the time she's spent on the road, away from home, and acknowledges the inevitably of her mother's passing. "Loving you isn't enough," she sings, "you'll still be deep in the ground when it's done." The song slows and the band plays on for another minute, but Allison goes silent. After all, what else is there to say?

Unfortunately, not every moment's as transcendent. The cleaner, more sophisticated production allows the album's singles to shimmer, but it also magnifies some of the weaker aspects of Allison's songwriting. The melodramatic string section on "royal screw up", only amplifies its humorless and clunky lyrics: "I want an answer / To all my problems / But there's not an answer / I am the problem." A track later, "night swimming" (no, not "Nightswimming") relies on moody, atmospheric synths to add some sonic depth, but it stops short of providing any real feeling.

One of Clean's strengths was its brevity; it never sat with an idea for too long, and the result was that the album begged to be re-played. Comparatively, color theory is 15 minutes longer despite having just as many tracks. Although Allison had a particular vision for the project, it's tempting to wonder how much tighter the final product would've felt had it been put through a more rigorous edit.

In January, Allison mentioned that, unlike indie-rockers of the past, she's actually shooting for a Top 40 hit. "It's not going to break my heart if I can't do it," she said, "but I do have that ambition to possibly be really big one day." color theory proves that's not an impossible dream, even if it's still a ways away.

6
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".

Games

On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.

Music

The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 1, Gang of Four to the Birthday Party

If we must #quarantine, at least give us some post-punk. This week we are revisiting the best post-punk albums of all-time and we kick things off with Gang of Four, Public Image Ltd., Throbbing Gristle, and more.

Music

Alison Chesley Toils in Human and Musical Connectivity on Helen Money's 'Atomic'

Chicago-based cellist, Alison Chesley (a.k.a. Helen Money) creates an utterly riveting listen from beginning to end on Atomic.

Music

That Kid's 'Crush' Is a Glittering Crossroads for E-Boy Music

That Kid's Crush stands out for its immediacy as a collection of light-hearted party music, but the project struggles with facelessness.

Books

Percival Everett's ​​​'Telephone​​​' Offers a Timely Lesson

Telephone provides a case study of a family dynamic shaken by illness, what can be controlled, and what must be accepted.

Reviews

Dream Pop's Ellis Wants to be 'Born Again'

Ellis' unhappiness serves as armor to protect her from despair on Born Again. It's better to be dejected than psychotic.

Music

Counterbalance No. 10: 'Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols'

The Spirit of ’77 abounds as Sex Pistols round out the Top Ten on the Big List. Counterbalance take a cheap holiday in other people’s misery. Right. Now.

Film

'Thor: Ragnarok' Destroys and Discards the Thor Mythos

Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok takes a refreshingly iconoclastic approach to Thor, throwing out the old, bringing in the new, and packaging the story in a colourful, gorgeously trashy aesthetic that perfectly captures the spirit of the comics.

Music

Alps 2 and Harry No Release Eclectic Single "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" (premiere)

Alps 2 and Harry NoSong's "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" is a dizzying mix of mangled 2-step rhythms and woozy tranquil electronics.

Music

Kathleen Grace and Larry Goldings Team for Wonderfully Sparse "Where Or When" (premiere)

Kathleen Grace and Larry Goldings' "Where Or When" is a wonderfully understated performance that walks the line between pop and jazz.

Music

Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.

Books

New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.

Music

Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.

Music

Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.

Music

New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.

Books

'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.

Music

Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.

Music

Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.

Music

M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.