Anxious Avoidant sees Sophia Bel emerging from emotional fog to embrace what her heart’s been telling her all along.
While pop-punk and emo were not life-defining music genres to me, I can see why they are and were to so many people. For some, the unflinching heart-on-sleeve lyrics mirrored angst and heartache in their lives; for some, like my partner, it was a way of rebelling against the mainstream music of the time (in her case, country music in small-town Saskatchewan). In the case of Sophia Bel, the early 2000s pop-punk wave is an area of nostalgia, but it also became a whetstone to sharpen her musical and lyrical focus.
While impeccable at branding her, Bel’s two Princess of Death EPs could sometimes lose Bel’s musical intentions in a fog of production. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of mystery and extended instrumental sequences, but Anxious Avoidant is a refreshing contrast thatputs Bel’s lyrics and emotions front and centre. Literally two songs in a row riff on the phrase “heart on my sleeve!” Bel likens this stylistic reorienting to composing songs on guitar for the first time, a process that similarly reinvigorated Owen Pallett.
Bel’s simplified, passionate lyrics make almost every song on Anxious Avoidant feel like you’re reading a teenage diary, with all its accompanying heartbreaks, rants, and raves. Every song feels like an anthem, whether it’s the kind you’d sing around a campfire (“Lonely After Curfew”) or in a mosh pit (“I Don’t Need My Space”). You can feel the particular insecurity of young love right off the bat with opener “All Fucking Weekend”: “When you talk to your best friend / Do you call me your girlfriend?” It’s a soft pop-punk with a chorus like “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.”
I can’t get over how specifically early 2000s pop-punk this album is, right down to the “pop-punk accent.” You know the one. A song like “2AM (And I Did It Again)” would be all over MuchMusic if it had debuted twenty years ago, with its themes of extreme overanalysis of everything a crush does and an excellent clap-along moment with the hook. The aforementioned “I Don’t Need My Space” is a sugar rush of a song featuring a prime “accent,” as does “You’re Not Real You’re Just a Ghost.” The song’s hooks go in quick with its uncharacteristically rapid beat, and it’s telling that Bel chose to include the track here after it debuted on her Princess of Death Vol. II EP. It’s equally astonishing on Anxious Avoidant as it is on that EP.
Even the more tender songs on this album never feel overindulgent or cheesy. “Everything I Touch Falls Apart” deconstructs what a love song is supposed to do. “Just Like a Glove” is an unwavering declaration of love with all its imperfections, backed by little more than simple keys and gentle washes of synth. Bel doesn’t completely cut herself off from her Princess of Death persona, however: closer “I Promise I Won’t Stop Running From the Light” could be the soundtrack to the twilight of someone’s life. The gentle acoustic guitar and bird sounds are a perfect soundtrack to lyrics about trying to find joy in life: “Ready to jump, ready to dive / Bring on the waves, bring on the fight.”
Anxious Avoidant is the result of radical clarity: just cut to the heart of the thing, and you’ll find the emotional truths you’ve been searching for.
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