Initially building up a devoted following on Bandcamp with numerous EPs and singles, Sophie Allison, aka Soccer Mommy, really broke through to wider recognition in 2018 with the release of Clean, her first proper full-length album. Landing on numerous year-end lists, it was an album admired by many but its brittle balladry and anonymously drifting vocals were so achingly of its time that you’d be hard pressed to pick out a Soccer Mommy track amongst a line-up of all the other artists doing the same thing, whether it be Phoebe Bridgers or Lucy Dacus or Snail Mail or… you get the idea.
Now we have Color Theory, the follow-up to Clean, that while inevitably bigger in production and sporting more bells and whistles is essentially more of the same. It’s that kind of pleasantly melancholic indie-rock that washes over the listener like a sweet-smelling vape cloud; it’s nice, but you’d rather have a hit of something stronger. There’s nothing alarmingly bad here, but for lyrics so openly self-lacerating (“You save pretty girls like me but I am not so pretty when I am naked”) it’s dispiriting just how little an impression these songs leave, delivered in the same monotonous, plodding cadence throughout and with little to no variation in pace or tempo. When you think of someone like Mitski, who is covering similar lyrical terrain but with more adventurous musicality and the kind of direct through-line to a listener’s emotions that can regularly evoke tears, what Color Theory is offering doesn’t really cut it.
Still, the album is not a complete write-off, with some songs thankfully standing up to match the barbed turn of phrase. Royal Screw Up is a crackly lo-fi gem that wears its millennial malaise proudly on its sleeve: “I will break my own bones ‘til my legs stop walking and my bed is my throne”. Then there is the gorgeous Yellow Is The Color Of Her Eyes, a song dealing directly with Allison’s conflicted feelings of touring while her mother was at home terminally ill. The song is a lush, dreamy waltz, building to a devastating refrain of “Loving you isn’t enough / You’ll still be deep in the ground when it’s done…” It’s just a shame that highlights such as these are all too rare in an album where Soccer Mommy struggles to keep up with the best of her contemporaries.