Sophia - Oct. 10 '96: Hope and Anchor, London (UK)
Review 1
Catharsis is cheap. Anyone can throw back their head and howl, purge and purge untill there's nothing left, as if all that it takes to confront your demons is to have a slanging match with them in front of the windows. Roping them in, through, pinning them down and setting about them with a meticulous scalpel - that needs a different kind of strength altogether. It's a strength Sophia have in abundance. Walking into this tiny crammed basement to find Robin Proper-Sheppard and the Sophia 'collective' in the middle of `So Slow' is like pitching straight into a confessional. You feel these songs behind your eyes, in the back of your throat, breathe them right in with the smoke. The emotional impact is increased by this being the first music Robin has released since the God Machine cruelly ended with Jimmy Fernandez's death, and if it would be crass to dwell on that aspect of tonight, it would be worse to ignore it. These new songs are almost intolerably sad; `So Slow' is brutally bleak -everything you might hope for from Robin, but not quite what you'd expect. The stark, pure, charcoal lines of the God Machine are still visible, but with his friends in Elevate, Ligament, Unsophisticates and Oil seed rape, he's created a hush and burr, rippling out from under his scalded voice like the ground gently falling away. It's country-tinged, sure, but like skin is bruise-tinged, and for every dusty chord, every tender twang, there's a note or lyric that bites your nails down to the bone. In mood, it echoes Throwing Muses' 'Two Step', the depression made euphoric by the beauty of the song; the coruscating self-loathing of Whipping Boy; the breath-on-your-hair intensity of Smog. Yet if Bill Callaghan's not quite human (there's always the lurking suspicion that, wonderful as his songs are, cut him open and inside there'd be a tangle of wires, battery acid and a note reading 'Haha!'). Robin is nothing but. `I'm only happy when you're sad.. is there something wrong with me?' he sings, and if it's voyeurism, you realise it's in a hall of mirrors. Right here, so close I can see the strings vibrating on the guitars, it's an intimate as holding someone's hart in your hand. Cheer up, say people on the street; might never happen. Sophia know it already has. They're one step beyond and, by making this music, it's a step in the right direction. A step towards the light.
Victoria Segal, Melody Maker 26/10/96

Review 2
I went down to London last night to see Sophia playing at the Hope & anchor. There are six of them, all seated. Robin was in the centre, on a slightly higher seat with an acoustic guitar. There were 2 other people playing electric guitars, a bass player, keyboards and a drummer. Apparently most of the players are in different bands (the drummer looked like one of the blokes from Ligament). Robin said that 'This is probably the only time you're going to see the original Sophia line-up'. So I guess that may have been their first gig (I'm not sure about this). And I guess some people are going to play with their other bands instead. First song was just Robin solo. After that the whole band kicked in.
So what is the new sound like? It's slow with a slight folk/country influence. Various comparisons spring to mind. The most obvious being Slint (+ Codeine etc etc). But the big difference is that Sophia aren't contrasting soft with hard -- it's purely soft. No distortion, no drum rolls, no punches. Another reference point might be American Music Club. The voice and lyrics haven't changed. You can imagine some of the songs as GM songs -- if they played them harder. But I guess that is the danger: trying to compare Sophia with the God Machine. It's a different band with a different sound. I liked the gig, and will probably buy the album (supposedly there's an album on Robin's Flower Shop label coming out soon). But this ain't the God Machine and it ain't as great. If I'm not mistaken, Ron Austin was in the crowd. I didn't talk to any of the band after the gig (it seems most of the people in the crowd were friends of the band -- just like any new band on their first gig I guess). That's all for now. I'll post to the list if I hear any news about Flower Shop or Sophia.
Steven Galbraith

Set list
1. Is it any wonder
2. So slow
3. Are you happy now
4. Another friend
5. Woman
6. I'd rather
7. When you're sad
8. I can't believe the things I can't believe