The Flower Shop Recordings – 15th April 2016
It’s been a long time since Sophia last released an album. In fact, it’s been seven years since the appropriately-titled There Are No Goodbyes, the last studio release from Robin Proper-Sheppard’s post-God Machine vehicle. It doesn’t seem right to ask if it was ‘worth the wait’. How does one measure worth in the context of time? The burden of expectation inevitably leads to disappointment. It’s also inevitable that people will relate to different albums in different ways, for various reasons, I will always have a special affection for People Are Like Seasons. That doesn’t mean it’s Sophia’s best album. So it’s important to approach As We Make Our Way with fresh ears. And on its own merits, As We Make Our Way is far from disappointing.
The opening track, ‘Unknown Harbours’ is a delicate instrumental. With its chiming guitars and melancholic hue, it’s almost post-rock in form.
The first track proper, ‘Resisting’ offers some of the most overtly ‘rock’ music in Sophia’s oeuvre to date. While retaining the bittersweet tones that have come to characterise Sophia’s output, there are some surging guitars that not only hint at heavy shoegaze, but, more significantly, evoke the spirit of The God Machine. However, it would be a mistake to place too much emphasis on comparing Sophia to The Good Machine: they’ve very, very different entities, although at the core of both bands lies Proper-Sheppard’s ability to imbue his songs with an emotional depth.
While The God Machine were laden with angst and had an undeniable sonic impact, Sophia are much more understated in their sonic approach. And while there was an existential beauty that struck to the core of the human condition in Proper-Sheppard’s lyrics in his previous incarnation, the world of Sophia offers the chance for the listener to find the universal within the personal. It works, too – by which I mean, I can’t help but feel a certain emotional pull while listening to their albums, and As We Make Our Way is no exception.
If the album does settle into a downtempo, acoustic-led style, heavy with introspection, reflection and wistful sadness around the mid-section, then it does so with grace and maintains the form which has been a constant of the band’s work since Fixed Water in 1996.
Besides, there is variety, from the slow-burning anthemic indie of ‘Blame’, to the anxious bass-driven thrust of ‘St. Tropez / The Hustle’ with its psychedelic hue and refrain of ‘the shit don’t get no higher’. ‘You Say It’s Alright’ also brings some beefy percussion and swirling keyboards into the mix, and while on one level it’s a quintessential Sophia album, As We Make Our Way also pushes outwards to extend their pallet in so many directions. To describe it as a ‘triumphant return’ would be both an overstatement and a cliché, but with depth and range, As We Make Our Way has ‘grower’ written all over it.