In an age when shorter songs mean more streams (and thus more revenue), Sophie Allison unfurled "Yellow is the Color of Her Eyes" over seven minutes. The 22-year-old, who sings candidly about depression, grief, and illness over lustrous indie guitar rock, put out the song in November under the moniker Soccer Mommy, as she's been doing since her earliest lo-fi releases in 2015. Her often melancholic but irresistibly hooky songs have won millions of listens; on Spotify alone, "Yellow" has been streamed 1.6 million times.
It could feel reactionary, an artist spurning the algorithm's demands for brief songs with choruses that hit in the first 30 seconds. What Allison feels, though, is a love for "Long Season," a 35-minute experimental rock piece from the Japanese dub band Fishmans, first released in 1996 and later expanded into a twinkly 41 minutes for a subsequent live release. It's a journey.
"When I was writing that song, I very much had this thing of wanting to be able to kind of do what Fishmans does in that song, where it's similar melodies but it's all these different twists on these little melodies for a really long song," Allison told MTV News.
"Yellow" followed "Lucy," a five-minute exploration of Satan's influence, as early singles ahead of her second album. The bulk of that LP, the glimmering Color Theory (out Friday, February 28, via Loma Vista Recordings) finds Allison deploying the Fishmans model with more familiar sonic touchstones: the slickly produced pop-rock sounds of her childhood made by artists like Sheryl Crow and Natalie Imbruglia. The watery warmth of "Circle the Drain" took direct inspiration from them. "It hits you in the heart," she said on a recent podcast episode. "It also makes you want to laugh and sing along to it. It's the weird mixture of really sad [and] it just makes you want to scream it, a little bit."
Armed with inspiration, she wrote these new songs while touring and recorded them in her home city of Nashville. The end result is her most ambitious and immediately lovable album yet, one that captures both misery and the comforts we reach for when it takes hold. Charming strums on "Bloodstream" kick off the album right before Allison evokes her "fear lingering." "Circle the Drain" manages to feel like a pool party — and later track "Night Swimming" is embellished with a field recording that sounds a lot like an actual pool party — even as she muses on her depression. "I cling to the dark of my room, and the days thin me out or just burn me straight through," she sings.
"Soccer Mommy is just a girl with some problems," Allison said, "who likes to talk about it and just likes to share how she's feeling through music, 'cause I can't really do it in any other way."
Said problems are at the heart of Allison's lyrics on Color Theory. The album spans three distinct sections that make up its overall concept. Allison saw a certain shade of blue as "a mood" for its first songs (including "Bloodstream" and "Circle the Drain"), which capture her "lower points and sadness, but not despair." When the action moves along to its yellow mood, Allison ventures into illness, specifically one that affected her mother, but also more broadly encompassing the "emotional, mental, and physical" kinds. You hear it on "Yellow" and the appropriately titled "Crawling in My Skin" (which is not tied into Linkin Park).
From there, Color Theory creeps toward its finale, a bleak plane of gray. "It ends on kind of a dark note — starts dark, ends dark — in this gray mood that's just kind of a lack of hope and darkness and more despair," she said.
Despite the gloom, Color Theory sounds alive as hell, built around Allison's open guitar chords and itinerant vocal melodies, and accented by the subtle flair of the musicians in her band. That kind of steady ground provides her the opportunity to do some serious exploration of her own psyche. "When it comes to talking about mental health stuff, it's something I guess I'm kind of only really comfortable talking about it a lot in music," she said, reiterating her reasons for making it. "It's harder for me to talk person to person about it."
The personification of Soccer Mommy, though, remains a beacon of gleaming lilac light, even as Color Theory finishes with a muddled sliver of gray. "The Soccer Mommy starter pack would be pigtails, winged eyeliner, purple guitar, astrology, and sneakers," she said. She put that purple guitar to good use; some Color Theory takes were even as long as 18 minutes.
"We didn't really know how we were going to end it, so we just let them go out on these ambient or noisy guitar drones while the bass player and drummer just kept the progression going," she said. Could Allison have her very own "Long Season" in store for the Soccer Mommy catalog? Probably not — "I don't think I could write 45 minutes of music" — unless it's captured live and prominently features droning.
In the meantime, her magnificent Color Theory, one of the best albums of 2020 so far, will simply have to do. "It's fun," Allison said. "It's upbeat, I promise!"