There comes a time in those who release albums that they must release an album, hence those who release albums.
Robin Proper-Sheppard has been around for long enough to have been a part of a number of albums that have furthered the sound of the projects that he has been a part of, as well as others.
Sophia seemed to remain creatively dormant for a while, only touring sporadically. To some, they probably seemed to have quietly wrapped up. However, Robin was still working on music, slowly moving until the time was right. After almost seven years, As we Make our way (Unknown Harbours) has been released.
Whilst “Unknown Harbours”, a piano-only, slightly melancholic track, opens the album, much of the mood feels significantly lighter than on previous records.
Right after “Unknown Harbours”, the album goes into “Resisting”, a track that starts with a wall of noise, ebbing and flowing in sound whilst keeping a constant rhythm. From there, it gradually gets lighter until “St. Tropez/The Hustle”, a bass and drum-heavy track that drives along smoothly.
Following this is “You say it’s Alright”, a song that gradually builds on itself over a drum beat that sounds as though it’s throbbing, ending before it crescendos.
The penultimate track, “Baby, Hold on”, follows after. It’s a fairly sparse track and also possibly the most emotionally raw song. This might have to do with Robin Proper-Sheppard writing it about his relationship with his daughter. It sounds quite heartfelt and has strong direction.
Closing the album off is “It’s Easy to be Lonely”. It starts off fairly light and minimal, before gaining extra instrumentation and seemingly shifting in mood. Eventually it shifts again, adding more layers of instrumentation and vocals, becoming somewhat uplifting and cathartic in mood. Despite originally being released in 2014, it’s nice to see its inclusion as it sits well with the rest of the album, not coming across as though it was tacked on.
All the songs sound as though each element of them is to have purpose. For instance, “California” sounds significantly more lightweight than the rest of the album. On casual listening, it could sound like a throwaway two-bit song written just for fun. However, the lightness of it probably is more likely to represent aspects of California (I could be right off the mark for this, but it’s what I think), as well as the attitude of some people that Robin might be trying to represent and speak against, in which it leads to a stronger resonance for the meaning and imagery of the song.
“The Drifter” is another strong example.
A song driven mostly by light acoustic strumming and quiet instrumentation, it’s sparse sound seems to invoke either traveling through western imagery or a road during the night. The lyrics, seemingly about someone meeting someone who is continually moving, help enforce the imagery generated by the music, making the meaning of the song more legitimised than if the pairing was between a different set of lyrics and music.
Lyrically, the album is quite simple. There’s no complex wordplay and most of the lines seem to be direct. However, they’re sung with clear sincerity and openness.
They feel quite well-developed and emotive in a mature manner, seemingly with greater understanding of the emotions being expressed, almost as though it’s less about getting them out and more about going through them and letting them happen.
They are also delivered in a manner that sits with the music. Lines such as “I’m a drifter babe / You’ve caught me on the road”, and “Hoping isn’t being there/ Hoping isn’t being there, is it?” are sung as though they are to match the songs they belong to, rising and falling in strength and tone when called for.
I remember reading that Robin Proper-Sheppard said that he wasn’t willing to release an album until it felt ready. Maybe that’s part of why As we Make our way (Unknown Harbours) sounds the way it does. It’s the same and different to past Sophia albums. Robin has grown as a songwriter and it really shows.
Here we have a new album that sounds strong. It feels unrestrained, yet focused.
It’s elements are simplistic, yet it never feels dumb or basic. It’s emotively mature and, in some ways, rather graceful.
It’s a strong album and worth giving a listen.