After her phenomenal and widely celebrated album Clean back in 2018, Sophie Allison returns with a heart-wrenching insight into some of her bleakest personal affairs, opening a window for her listeners to peer into her deepest, darkest inner thoughts.
color theory is a musical journey through Allison’s mental health and how she grappled with her mother being terminally ill as a pre-teen. The album is respectively broken up into three sections, “blue”, “yellow” and “gray” [sic], blue the colour of melancholy during her depressive states and her episodes of self-harm, yellow the colour associated with sickness, both physical and mental, and grey, the colour she associates with a growing fear of loss as she watches her parents grow older and her mother’s sickness slowly dominate her. Teaming up with producer Gabe Wax and
engineer Lars Stalfors (Mars Volta, HEALTH, St. Vincent), and recording just two miles away from her childhood home in Nashville at Alex the Great studios, Allison was able to conceive this poignant record and actualise the slightly weathered and raw sound she was hoping to attain.
We’re introduced to the album by the slightly chipper sounds of bloodstream, dowsed with Allison’s breathy, drawn-out vocals and the rhythmic chugging of the guitar which sets the tone for what’s to come.
circle the drain, a track she previously released as a single follows, the crisp backbeat of the drums against the muted guitar riff and the tidy, acoustic strumming of the chords leaves me longing for a memory that never existed. Despite the sprightliness of the track, the lyrics are deceivingly about her struggles with her mental health, making the listening experience bittersweet. Allison claims Avril Lavigne is one of her musical influences, and this track is evident of that; the familiarity ever so slightly mirrors some of the tracks off Lavigne’s Let Go album, and ultimately taking me on a reminiscent trip back to my own teenage years.
Allison’s dry sense of humour is exhibited through royal screw up, with quite a minimal set up instrumentally, she manages to keep the listener enticed by the highly catchy melody she employs through her vocals; “I’m the princess of screwing up” she announces. There’s a slight naivety and surrender to her voice on this track, as it builds up part way through, with varied consistencies swirling beneath and glossy strings that lift the track up as it approaches the end.
This brings us to yellow is the colour of her eyes, which kicks off with a hazy, dreamy whirlpool of guitars, and instantly transports you to a place of solitude and longing, the lyrics establishing her feelings of being on tour away from her terminally ill mother and enduring the desperation of time left with her slipping away.
The album draws to a close with the devastating gray light, where Allison bares all, boldly confessing, “I see the noose/it follows me closely whatever I do”. The somber and forlorn lyrics are accompanied by a shadowy foundation of weeping guitars and spacey textures, leaving listeners with a heavy heart, but also a sense of acceptance and mutual understanding.
Although the album is cast in sadness, I can’t help but feel slightly nostalgic towards the instrumentation, the melodies and the production of the album that to me, appear to echo the late 90s/early 00s with a slight contemporary edge; “I wanted the experience of listening to ‘color theory’ to feel like finding a dusty old cassette tape that has become messed up over time, because that’s what this album is: an expression of all things that have slowly degraded me personally”, Allison discloses. She has excelled herself in exposing the most vulnerable parts of her journey from adolescence to adulthood within such a captivating, compelling vessel; this record is a time capsule that demonstrates her distinguished ability in story-telling, and regardless of whether or not you’ve experienced what Allison herself has experienced, you can’t help but relate due to the honesty and purity of this album, enchanting you from the beginning until the end.