I started listening to music in the ’90s. First it was whatever my parents had on in the car. In the latter part of the decade as I started developing my own audio palette I became a full-on alternative kid, thanks in no small part to 107.7 The X and MTV. I’ll never forget buying Semisonic’s Feeling Strangely Fine at the mall as my first-ever CD in the fifth grade.
The genre defined the decade and is still visible on ’90s nights and as the trends and fashions of the period circle back into back into niche style. This is beyond evident in the video for the new Soccer Mommy (aka Sophie Allison) single, “circle the drain,” off of the recently-released Color Theory. It’s a straight up visual and melodic callback to the era, featuring Allison twanging away on a guitar plugged up to a single speaker in the middle of Godknowswhere. The strum, vocal tones and overall melancholy ambiance, down to the faux-glitches familiar to anyone who grew up on VHS, evoke memories of Sheryl Crow, No Doubt, Alanis Morrisette and The Cranberries.
This exercise in homage is clearly intentional. While there are ample similarities between “circle the drain” and myriad ’90s alt female empowerment bangers, the essence of this Soccer Mommy track is anything but a remake.
“i want the record to feel lie a relic from the past that’s been damaged and degraded with age, because it kind of represents the problems that i’ve developed as i’ve grown up, and how they’ve changed me,” Allison said. The subtext here is fascinating.
Allison was born in 1997, and one can imagine her fully immersed in all manner of ’90s and ’00s female alternative and power pop, feeling as though the songs were promises of some form of “better” to come. “circle the drain” (and Color Theory as a whole) feels like an indictment of that inherent promise, from the lesser and ridiculous elements of the video down to each individual verse. It’s a reaction to not being ok, to things not simply working themselves out, and the awareness and default rage and accepting incredulity that accompany it.
“(the first portion of the album) symbolizes sadness and depression,” Allison said of Color Theory. Even a cursory listen to the lyrics, to say nothing of a deeper read, gives a far different impression than those of Soccer Mommy’s ’90s forebears, leading to a much different impact than their hopeful power ballads that proceed her.
“everything just brings me back down / to the cold hard ground / and it keeps getting colder,” Allison intones in the first verse. No matter what, and one can assume myriad “whats” that we all use to cope or at least try to achieve a baseline, Soccer Mommy is baring the juvenile soul that knows its not ok, despite checking all the boxes that should make it so.
The image of circling a drain is perfect for this song, and for the theme of the album as a whole. The end is imminent if not immediate, no matter what steps one might take to avoid or at least prolong it. “things feel that low sometimes / even when everything is fine,” Soccer Mommy admits.
This isn’t upbeat, and there isn’t any optimism at the end of this particular song or album. But the willingness to accept these feelings as a part of life, and the transparency with which Allison shares them, does hint at an eventual reckoning. As she circles the drain and grapples with what it is to be ok as a human, we can only hope she shares the resolution with us in future albums.