Colour theory is the science behind what colours look good together, but in the case of Sophie Allison – aka Soccer Mommy – colour theory is her way of cataloguing different sections of her stellar second studio album.
Written on the road after her debut studio album ‘Clean’, and while supporting big names on tour like Kacey Musgraves and Vampire Weekend, ‘Color Theory’ is split into three, with each section signified by a different colour. The segments, she explains, “represent the problems that I’ve developed as I’ve grown up, and how they’ve changed me”.
The first four (‘Bloodstream’, ‘Circle the Drain’, ‘Royal Screwup’ and ‘Night Swimming’) are blue, which symbolises sadness and depression; the middle three (‘Crawling In My Skin’, ‘Yellow Is The Color Of Her Eyes’, ‘Up The Walls’) are yellow, signifying physical and mental sickness; and the final batch (‘Lucy’, ‘Stain’, and ‘Gray Light’) are grey – which denotes darkness and loss. Conceptually it might sound like style over substance, but the grouping of songs makes for a mature, brilliant album that wields its power over three distinct movements.
In the first portion (blue) Allison candidly opens up about her struggles with mental health over buoyant guitars and growling overdriven instrumentals. Soft production is juxtaposed with candid lyrics that depict her experience of mental illness and self-harm. On stand-out single ‘Circle The Drain’ she sings: “Things feel that low sometimes/Even when everything is fine/Hey I’ve been falling apart these days/Split open watching my heart go round and around”, over country twang and a poppy hook.
Then there’s the heart wrenching ‘Bloodstream’, which sees Allison discuss when she first started to feel sad, singing: “It’s a half-hearted calm – the way I’ve felt since I was 13”, before adding “‘cause I may not feel it now, covered up the wounds with my long sleeves”.
Allison is a master at painting vivid pictures with lyrics, coupling earworm melodies and warm instrumentation with shattering words that pack an emotional punch. The rich imagery that shone on ‘Clean’ remains a highlight of Soccer Mommy’s music; only this time it feels like Allison is delving into far more private subject matter. If ‘Clean’ saw her pick apart the anxious frustration and raw yearning of relationships, on ‘Color Theory’ she bravely paints a self-portrait of all aspects of her life.
Her growth as a songwriter is particularly evident in the ‘yellow’ section, which is about illness “both mental and physical”. Seven-minute epic ‘Yellow Is The Color Of Her Eyes’, fuses psychedelic licks with chugging guitars and a vocal melody that could have come from an early Taylor Swift record. Heartbreakingly, it expresses Allison’s guilt about being away on an international tour, while her mother, who’s been terminally ill since she was a pre-teen, is at home. “I’m thinking of her from over the ocean/See her face in the waves, her body is floating/And in her eyes like clementines/I know that she’s fading”, she sings.
Meanwhile, ‘Crawling In My Skin’, which boasts punchy punk-licked riffs and woozy guitar lines, she surmises the debilitating nature of her own health problems: “Sedate me all the time/Don’t leave me with my mind”.
The final section – grey – offers some kind of catharsis. ‘Stain’ might begin discordantly, but it evolves into a slow burning slice of warm lo-fi pop. ‘Gray Light’ meanwhile, is a lilting blend of stripped-back beats and warped production. The devastation Allison has experienced – and the profound effect it’s had on her – is evident, and the record finishes with the words: “And I can’t lose it/the feeling I’m going down/I can’t lose it/I’m watching my mother drown”, before the instrumentation abruptly cuts out.
As explorations of pain go, ‘Color Theory’ is as beautiful as it is brave.