Drowned in Sound (by Adam Anonymous)
Most people would never have made it back. Eaten alive by a carnivorous music industry hungry to swallow any innovators whole for fear they might expose the sheer dominating mediocrity of their most successful charges, Robin Proper-Sheppard refused to submit. Thank God indeed, or we’d never have experienced the beauty of ‘People Are Like Seasons’.
It’s not as if the preposterously named Proper-Sheppard ever had it easy after relocating his most famous vehicle, experimental rock granddaddies The God Machine, from San Diego to London. A decade ago, bassist Jimmy Fernandez died of a brain tumour, the band imploded and a profound sense of gentle victories over crushing hopelessness is still conjured forth by this sad history.
Ten years on, this is how My Bloody Valentine would sound if Kevin Shields roped Bobby Gillespie into returning the favours he’s done for Primal Scream. There’s an unmistakable shoe-gazing vibe, but only if all those underachieving early ’90s bastards had occasionally glanced up from their size nines and taken in a little of the world.
A defiant, almost Billy Corgan-esque, lilt catches Proper-Sheppard’s voice on opener and forthcoming single, ‘Oh My Love’, which is typical of the mood; the tragic faraway sorrow of Sparklehorse married to something approaching The Dandy Warhols without a complete leering cunt for a frontman.
Faced with the kind of past events that strip any lust for life from your bones and pose the question, ‘what’s point of existence?’, it’s no surprise there are profound desolate pangs of soul-wrenching unhappiness. Look no further than the heartbreaking lyrics and painfully sad mourning orchestral refrains of ‘I Left You’. “I left you/but you never really felt that far away”. “I left you/cos it seemed to hurt us less than if I stayed”. “You don’t say much now/but what you do say just tears... tears my world apart”.
You can almost hear his voice crack as seven-minutes of funereal-paced tearful splendour unfurls in the most intricate way; a delicate butterfly of a song cowering in expectation of its imminent death at the hands of a cruel world. Powerful, beautiful stuff.
And as ‘Another Trauma’ trips carefully into the abyss while Proper-Sheppard croaks a quietly triumphant “yeah, yeah” mantra, it becomes clear. While it’s impossible to forget what’s gone before, he’s moving on slowly and respectfully in the only way he knows how, with courage that dearly deserves recognition. 4.5 out of 5 (By Nick Farrow)
An almost terminally miserable document of death and it’s associated fallout it’s hard to find a sadder record than Sophia’s 1996 debut Fixed Water. The LP was recorded by Robin Proper-Sheppard after the sudden death of his long-time friend and bassist Jimmy Fernandez. Atmospheric, stripped to the bone, country-tinged acoustic songs sung by Sheppard’s heartbreaking and delicate voice walloped you over the head, flooring and skewering you through the heart. Two albums later and lyrically things haven’t cheered up that much for the ex-God Machine singer although on more than occasion you’re sure there’s a sly glint in his eye. Musically it seems Sheppard and collective of musicians have gone though something of an upheaval making People Are Like Seasons, their third album, Sophia’s most diverse to date.

“If a Change is Gonna Come” delves into the almost upbeat dirtied punk rock of Sheppard’s excellent May Queens side project. Distorted vocals spewing; “Life’s just a bitch and then you die....” over a “Man Who Sold The World” style buzzing guitar coda leaving you wondering if he’s sending himself up or not. On that thought if you scan the lyrics to “Holidays are Nice” and you’d be mistaken for believing that Sheppard is having a laugh at his own expense. Whatever he’s doing both are cracking tunes. Elsewhere “Darkness” comes close to the pounding dark atmospherics of The God Machine’s Scenes From the Second Storey which this LP borrows a song name and the look of the cover art.

What they still do best though is the likes of the country-tinged strum of “Swore to Myself” which would’ve slotted perfectly into Mazzy Star’s She Hangs Brightly and the gloom ridden sway of “Swept Back” and “I Left You” which are as close to the definition of 3am music as you’re likely to get, and by 3am music we’re not talking about being off you nut listening to techno.

Another excellent Sophia record then, with any luck and with a larger label behind them People Are Like Seasons might broaden their modest fan-base as on this evidence they deserve a much wider audience."

SoundsXP Alternative Music Webzine (4/02/2004, by James S.)
As readers of the NME’s Thrills page in their late 80s heyday will recall, press releases are bollocks. Even the brief, can’t-be-arsed five-line ones on an irritating sticker on the back of the case usually manage to include more shit than the Hutton Report. For the latest evidence let me present ‘People Are Like Seasons’, the new album by ex-God Machine frontman, Robin-Sheppard, under the guise of Sophia. The blurb says it’s been described as ‘Mogwai performing the songs of Coldplay’. Rubbish. Opener Oh My Love is nothing more visceral than the House Of Love playing the songs of Chris Martin and co and Swept Back and Fool repeat the trick in the style of Lloyd Cole or Ian McCulloch. For the first six-and-a-half minutes Desert Song No 2 does a mean impression of, erm, Coldplay being themselves before, finally, the guitars go ‘screeee’ and Mogwai’s lawyers call the hounds off temporarily.

With a bit of rock’n’roll verve thrown in, the album’s mood suddenly goes pear-shaped quicker than Greg Dyke’s career prospects. Darkness (Another Shade In Your Black) is sonically akin to Black Rebel Motorcycle Club revealing that there’s always been a Nine Inch Nails element to their music and If A Change Is Gonna Come is what BRMC would sound like if they liked the Jesus And Mary Chain. Oh, hang on a second…

Whilst never startling, further passing pleasures come via the appallingly-titled Holidays Are Nice, which redeems itself by being a piece of Fountains Of Wayne-style acoustic power-pop and I Left You which displays a fleeting resemblance to Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s The Power Of Love before opening out into a sweeping seven-minute modern Echo & The Bunnymen epic.

The PR guff goes on to suggest that Sophia’s music is ‘literally awesome’. So that would be literally inspiring respectful or reverential fear, according to my dictionary. Like I said, press releases are bollocks. Thankfully the record’s not too bad, mind.

De Morgen (6/01/2004, by Koen De Meester)
Sophia is the band of Robin Proper-Sheppard, who used to sing in The God Machine. So far Sophia have released two studio albums, full of slow and melancholy music. Halfway through the Nineties, Sophia seemed to be the last credible gothic rock band. Proper-Sheppard saved his hard rocking songs for his side project The May Queens, who have one album to their name.
Now, after a five-year silence broken only by a live album, there’s a new release, People Are Like Seasons. The record combines the best of the two American songsmith’s sides. We get sweeping doomy songs with an acoustic backdrop, such as ‘Swept Back’, as well as hard rocking songs like ‘Darkness (Another Shade In Your Black)’. On top of this, Proper-Sheppard shows us that he can come up with a gem of a pop song. Look no further than the album opener ‘Oh my love’ for proof.
Our verdict
‘Oh my love’ is among the best songs that Robin Proper-Sheppard has ever written. Furthermore, the rest of the album shows a Sophia that sounds more diverse than ever. Not that it’s suddenly turned into a raucous party by any means, but People Are Like Seasons is at least a midwinter treat for the ear.
In good company with
The Black Heart Procession (10/01/2004, by Hans van der Linden)
Following a stint with The May Queens Robin Proper-Sheppard is back with a new Sophia release. Identical to the previous albums Fixed Water(1996) and The Infinite Circle(1998) People Are Like Seasons, too, is steeped in melancholy.
Nevertheless, musically speaking there are some discernible changes. The new songs feature a more orchestrated, fuller sound and as a result the album as a whole sounds heavier and not as intimate. For example, take 'Oh My Love', which is based on an upbeat melody with Proper-Sheppard's downright cheerful vocals. It appears that Sophia has left familiar territory to strike out in search of a hit, and yet the result is still impressive. The song grabs the listener, making it easy to play ten times in a row without ever losing an ounce of strength.
The rock influences that materialise elsewhere are somewhat less successful. 'Darkness (Another Shade in Your Black)' sounds pretty average. The rolling bass line is overwhelmed by distorted vocals only to be overwhelmed once again by a repetive guitar line. And that's where it starts to take a wrong turn, especially when measured against the body of work that Proper-Sheppard has created over the past decade. The intimate atmosphere also suffers on 'If a Change Is Gonna Come', which is built around a repetitive rock riff.
People Are Like Seasons also offers compelling, melancholy songs that match the older material in terms of emotion. In 'Swept Back' piano and acoustic guitar create an intriguing whirpool, with the vocals spiraling in a sorrowful undercurrent. 'I Left You' is another standout. The atmospheric piano sweeps you away in the melancholy as the shivers run down your spine.
The mysteriously titled 'Desert Song No. 2' has absolutely nothing to do with 'The Desert Song' that appears on The God Machine album Scenes From The Second Story. It is more an escalating musical epic. The tragedy starts with guitars trading off with intense vocals. Percussion sporadically joins in and the sound begins to swell. "Let's walk through the trees, avoid falling debris - My angel is looking over me, I'll say it again - There's no sin in loving yourself - And letting life begin again". Guitar and piano enter into a fierce battle and after a roaring crescendo-silence. Several piano notes in minor echo, and an acoustic riff, until suddenly, frenzied guitar, a wall of sound, with voices in the background. Amazing.
'Holidays Are Nice' sees Sophia trying to find the perfect pop song. The cheery singalong mood brings to mind Guided By Voices and Built To Spill, with backing vocals that provide the perfect finishing touch. Funny, you don't really expect all this joy from Sophia.
'Another Trauma' features fragility unequalled by any of the band's earlier work. Propper-Shepard sings about life with heartbreaking intensity while accompanied by a lone piano.
As a whole People Are Like Seasons leaves a variety of impressions. This fourth Sophia release (including the live album 'De Nachten') is perhaps not their best, but it does contain very powerful moments, and most certainly measures up to the older material. We will simply have to wait and see where these new paths will take us.

Digg* e-zine (12/01/2004, by Joost,
How long does someone have to mourn before he can come to terms with his sorrow and find a place for the memories of his loved one? If you asked Robin Proper-Sheppard, the answer would be "a long time, a very, very long time." After the sudden loss of his good friend and fellow The God Machine member Jimmy Fernandez, Proper-Sheppard took a completely different direction in his song writing, both lyrically and musically speaking. The first two Sophia releases, 'Fixed Water' and 'The Infinite Circle', abandoned The God Machine's often hypnotic, mystical alt-metal in favour of low-key intimacy, fragile melodies and, above all, sadness. Basically, not the kind of records you would give to a person with suicidal tendencies, unless of course you wanted to walk around responsible for their death! Time heals all wounds? Yeah, right. But 'People Are Like Seasons' makes it sound like some of Proper-Sheppard's has finally subsided. Not that the record instantly sets the mood for a wild party, but there's nothing wrong with a little sunlight breaking through the gloomy clouds. Actually, looking at the lyrics, Proper-Sheppard uses the word "light" on more than one occasion, with a well-meaning "so just focus on the light" (from 'Swept Back') as proof of the man's rediscovering a glimmer of hope. And as if he wants to lend his lyrics that extra bit of shine and power, the record opens with 'Oh My Love', a flat-out ode to uncomplicated, zesty pop; complete with a refrain that sticks like superglue the very first time you hear it. And what will the Sophia fans who are still wallowing in whatever personal hell make of the sweet, upbeat 'Holidays Are Nice', that tries to convince them that, guess what, life doesn't completely suck-all to the tune of surprisingly Beatles-ish harmonizing? Smack dab in the middle are 'Darkness (Another Shade in Your Black)' and 'If A Change Is Gonna Come', which create an even more unlikely pair of songs, the first thanks to the combination of lurching industrial sounds with grimy grunge, and the second on account of the total Stooges vibe. You almost expect Iggy Pop himself to chime in with a big "No Fun!" What, is there nothing here for the dyed-in-the-wool Sophia fan? Of course there is. The other six songs are the traditionally affecting, dark gems, but even here the earlier Weltschmerz has been pushed aside in favour of richer arrangements, roomy melodies, and more enthusiasm. All of this in the constellation of powerful strings, an impassioned piano, and a huge guitar, which ultimately reach a fantastic catharsis in the breathtaking 'Desert Song No 2'. The overall result, however, is not entirely successful. At times, 'People Are Like Seasons' is simply too diverse for its own good, which leaves an incoherent impression. On their own, all of the songs are terrific, but trying to identify any coherence when listening to the record in one sitting is an exercise in futility. It's true, the beauty of the compositions means that we can politely turn our head to this problem, but still, I wonder whether Proper-Sheppard would have been better off saving his experimental asides for his May Queens project. Ah, well. I'm sure that by now you understand that it's no excuse to pass up this often intriguing crazy quilt. On the contrary, if every new release this year is even half as good as what Sophia has given us here, then 2004 promises to be a very good year indeed.

OOR (2/2004, by Raymond Rotteveel)
The gloomy, reddish-brown autumn leaves decorating the cover and the title actually say it all: Robin Proper-Sheppard is not the happiest guy in the world. But he is, however, an extremely gifted and unique songwriter, a master at crafting mournful, intimate songs. He first made a name for himself with the cult band The God Machine, and later with Sophia, which, not counting the live album De Nachten, has finally released a full-fledged follow-up to The Infinite Circle (1998) for all the sensitive souls out there. And yes, it’s another beauty. Somewhat lighter than its predecessor, and not as repetitious, which makes it more accessible. Like the opener Oh My Love, which could almost be called a pop song. Slowly but surely, the familiar Sophia traits start to surface: timeless guitar strumming, intimate piano themes, and mournful lyrics by a man wrestling mainly with himself. The 8-minute long Desert Song No. 2 forms the heart of this gorgeous record, a song featuring Proper-Sheppard playing with atmosphere and silence a la Lou Reed on Berlin. The standout track is If A Change Is Gonna Come, which convincingly evokes The Stooges (!). An uncommonly beautiful collection of songs.

HUMO (23/1/2004, by CV)
Up until now we associated Sophia with slowcore and nothing else, so at first ‘People Are like Seasons’, the band’s first record in over five years, took some getting used to: turns out front man Robin Proper-Sheppard has rediscovered the noise he used to make with The God Machine and The May Queens. Half of the songs - including ‘Swept Back’, ‘Fool’ and ‘Swore to Myself’ – are still classic Sophia: the baleful atmosphere, surging instruments, and irreparably broken hearts. Epic grandeur, black around the edges. ‘Desert Song No. 2’ seems to fit right in, given the sombre strings, the piano mourning softly, but halfway through the song suddenly bursts like a fat boil, spewing noise in every direction. Oh, yummy. ‘Darkness (Another Shade in Your Black)’ doesn’t waste any time and pummels the eardrums right from the start. The bouncing ‘Oh My Love’ is the odd man out on ‘People Are like Seasons’: a pop song, for lack of a better description. Pounding, but with an upbeat feel. ‘Holidays Are Nice’ sounds even more cheery, and the refrain (‘And god I wish that I was running somewhere with you today’) begs the listener to sing along. But the ultimate song on ‘People Are like Seasons’ delivers a punch in the gut like never before: ‘If a Change Is Gonna Come’, garage rock worthy of a place in the brilliant repertoire of The Stooges or MC5. A dose of pure hatred of life, but there’s nothing wrong with that. After all, only those who have lost all hope have nothing left to hate. The verdict is in: Sophia can rock the house down. (by Jon Rogers)

The band's latest album 'People are like Seasons' sees Proper-Sheppard give his biggest nod yet to his band of old. Sure, it's more a subtle hint - a sly nod and a wink rather than a big gaudy neon sign - but its there none the less.
'People are like Seasons' is definitely an album by Sophia, though, rather than a case of a la recherche du temps perdu. It's hard though when a song is called 'Desert Song No. 2' not to go digging around for a copy of the God Machine's 1993 debut, 'Scenes from the Second Storey'.
And 'If a Change is Gonna Come' is an unapologetic, unreconstructed leather-trousered rocker. Perhaps not in the same intense league of God Machine songs like 'Home' but it still comes as something of an eye-opener.
For most of the album, however, Proper-Sheppard mines the similar areas of regret, loss, reclamation and self-examination that he has done on the previous three Sophia albums. And still does it beautifully.
The album opens with 'Oh My Love', a song that bounces along with the protagonist claiming: "I can't wait forever for you to say you love me".
The pace is slowed right down for the lull of 'Swept Back' as it gently ebbs and flows detailing the "push and pull" of a relationship. A definite highlight.
After the self-deprecating 'Fool', the eight-minute 'Desert Song No. 2' keeps up the momentum. A delicate string arrangement accompanies a tale of dark introspection and self-doubt with the trademark rising and falling crescendoes.
'Darkness (Another Shade in your Black)' sees a startling change of mood and pace. It trundles along with almost indecipherable lyrics delivered by a heavily effects-laden vocal. Interesting, but not one of the band's better moments.
The volume then gets turned up for the testosterone-fuelled 'If a Change is Gonna Come'. It's summed-up by Proper-Sheppard repeating the lyric: "Life's a bitch and then you die."
Apart from the epic sweep of the penultimate seven-minute 'I Left You', the last third of the album is rather disappointing. Worst offender is the dreadfully twee 'Holidays are Nice'. Yep, saccharine sweet as Proper-Sheppard extols the virtues of going on holiday where "everything's lovely, everything's nice". Pass the sick bucket -quick.
Another Trauma' ain't so hot either. It's more a sketch rather than a fully fledged painting. Then again, some people's doodles are far better someone else's magnum opus. Still, it could have done with some extra work done to it.
I Left You' shows what Sophia is capable of though. Simply it's a divorce lament worthy of Bob Dylan's 'Blood on the Tracks'. Stunning.
Although not quite a certified classic the band always seem on the verge of making, 'People are like Seasons' is still a little gem of an album. Please though, no more of the likes of 'Holidays are Nice.'

De Financieel-Economische Tijd (16/01/2004, by Tom Peeters)
The beautiful, filled with regrets about a failed relationship 'Oh My Love' has been on the radio for several weeks. The song is the opening track and first single from the new Sophia album, 'People Are Like Seasons'. The group founded by Robin Proper-Sheppard, former frontman of The God Machine, is finally back after several years of silence. Proper-Sheppard is not afraid to take a closer look at himself, but to be honest he seems to focus mostly on the less attractive aspects ('swept back to all the grieves and the worries'). The act upsets him, at times infuriates him, and this makes for a much more nervous rock sound than we were accustomed to hearing on the group's debut 'Fixed Water' and successor 'The Infinite Circle'. On the latest release, 'The River Song' might provide a clue. In that sense 'People Are Like Seasons' is therapeutic: Proper-Sheppard makes music according to his mood. Once again, the singer repeats his refrains until they practically wear out; actually, in 'If A Change Is Gonna Come,' they do. The continuous repetition in the music of Sophia lends it something of a mantra quality, albeit in the context of Western pop traditions. The acoustic songs in particular put the almost spirtual atmosphere conjured up to good use.
Despite the anger and the frustration, 'People Are Like Seasons' carries a positive message: yes, you can change, but to do so you must first accept yourself, warts and all. Proper-Sheppard seems to have taken the first steps to acknowledging this. The soundtrack is confrontational, but ultimately healing.

Les Inrockuptibles (21/01/2004, Johanna Seban)
Sur la pochette de People Are Like Seasons, c'est complètement l'automne : les feuilles sont mortes, la couleur la plus gaie est le beige, ça sent le nez qui coule. Robin Proper-Sheppard pourrait facilement justifier le caractère légèrement lugubre qui émane de l'ensemble. Il pourrait dire que sa vie n'a pas toujours été rose Tagada, il pourrait dire qu'il n'est pas le printemps. La mort de son bassiste, au sein de God Machine, marqua chez lui le début d'une obsession funeste, qu'il n'a dès lors cessé d'entretenir avec Sophia, projet ténébreux déconseillé aux femmes enceintes. Après trois albums (dont un live) douloureux et splendides, Sophia est aujourd'hui de retour, et tout le monde aurait dû jubiler. Mais si les préliminaires de People Are Like Seasons laissaient entrevoir un curieux virage vers des eaux plus douces (Swept Back et sa mélodie évoquant Pinback), elles laissent hélas vite place à une tout autre évidence : les malheurs de Sophia, autrefois à l'origine de complaintes âcres et animées, se sont apaisés.
Ce songwriter neurasthénique et captivant, qu'on se plaisait à imaginer infâme épilateur de poils et porteur de vieux jeans noirs un peu crades, revient un tantinet propre sur lui, caressant ses berceuses dans le sens de la toison, probablement vêtu d'un pantalon en lin. On ne peut que regretter la banalisation d'une musique qui hier grattait ses croûtes et aujourd'hui préfère coller des pansements sur ses plaies, ceux qui font même pas mal quand on les arrache.

Rif Raf (francophone) (02/2004, by Juliette Boussart)

Une légende urbaine laisse entendre qu'il est inconcevable de faire quoi que ce soit d'autre que d'écouter Sophia béatement, un paquet de kleenex à portée de main. Si Robin Proper-Sheppard annonce un vent nouveau autour de son dernier album, il n'est cependant pas question de prendre les 10 morceaux avec légèreté. Je me vois mal en train de me coller un masque anti-comédons ou une couche de crème dépilatoire tandis qu'il me semble qu'il ne s'adresse qu'à moi. J'adopte donc l'attitude solennelle de la bête jeune fille en pamoison, les mains posées sur les genoux, l'œil brillant et les glandes salivaires en pleine action. Robin me vole du temps, de l'énergie et de l'émotion en plus de quelques doses infinitésimales d'endorphine à chaque titre. Je les lui cède avec reconnaissance. Je profite de son moment d'égarement sur 'Darkness', une pièce flanquée là dans le but d'effrayer les midinettes, que peu d'attention si j'en crois la propagande machiste avec la dame qui le vaut bien. La phrase perfide " arrête de geindre ! " vient en tête sur les morceaux les plus longs et c'est évidemment ce qu'on aime chez Sophia. Quand 'Another Trauma' fait remonter le souffle tiède et enveloppant de notre songwriter jusque dans la nuque, on ne peut qu'incliner la tête. 'People Are Like Seasons' a le goût de la passion, les corps font 'clap', les cœurs font 'clap-clap' en guise de sincères applaudissements.

Magic, revue pop moderne (05/2004, by Sylvain Collin )

Ceux qui ont connu la musique de Robin Proper-Sheppard avant Sophia ont toujours été décontenancés face à la tristesse et à la fragilité des chansons qu'il écrit depuis la fin tragique de The God Machine. L'énergie et la violence semblaient avoir disparu pour laisser seules places à des complaintes désespérées parfois douloureuses à entendre - et sûrement à chanter. Autre preuve d'un déséquilibre certain, les May Queens, l'autre nom que les musiciens de Sophia utilisent pour des chansons bien plus dures (entre Fugazi et Motörhead). Comme si les émotions ne devaient se mélanger. Comme si son chanteur s'interdisait ici d'élever la voix. Comme si Sophia devait finalement se résoudre à n'avoir qu'une corde à sa guitare, fût-elle joliment pincée. Mais pour ce troisième album, Proper-Sheppard semble avoir franchi un grand pas. Une falaise, même. Pour la première fois, il regarde derrière lui, délivré de l'effroi qui semblait l'étrangler depuis dix ans, et va jusqu'à écrire la suite d'une des chansons les plus sombres de The God Machine (The Dessert Song n°2). Ailleurs, sur Darkness (Another Shade In Your Black) ou le blues crasseux If A Change Is Gonna Come, le groupe se laisse ainsi aller à faire gronder ses guitares. N'allez pas croire pour autant que Sophia a changé son fusil d'épaule. People Are Like Seasons recèle en effet des ballades mélancoliques somptueuses, mais Sophia ose enfin des tempos plus enlevés et des sonorités tranchantes (le splendide Oh My Love en ouverture idéale), sans jamais trahir son identité ni même la plume de son auteur. Le résultat est tout aussi inattendu que réussi. Sophia vient d'atteindre un équilibre parfait et rattrape dix ans d'errance en un seul disque. Et quel disque ...
quotation : 5/6

Deng magazine (02/2004, by Raoul Stouten)
After a brain tumour killed his friend and colleague in the God Machine, Robin Proper-Sheppard found solace in the in melancholy drenched Sophia, a band that quickly became one of the leaders in the sadcore movement. Now that this genre of the sad introspective tune is reaching its all time high, Proper-Sheppard profits from it's therapeutic powers to find himself ready again to play some harder material. Sure, the man is still wades in a pond of sadness, but when he can he likes to torture his guitar like he used to do, fore instance in 'If a change is gonna come' (Iggy Pop with Wire as his backing band) and in 'Desert Song no. 2' (a little gem that start very quiet but launches into an epic finale in which a sweet piano tune fights with a concrete guitar to end in a hypnotising synergy). An incredibly beautiful cd. (by Vincent)
"C'est le chanteur de Sophia ?", m'a demandé un collègue, visiblement étonné, en entendant "People Are Like Seasons". Etonnement bien compréhensible tant le groupe américain, révélé en France en 1996 avec le très beau "Fixed Water", avait gardé un profil bas ces dernières années, à tel point qu'on avait pu le croire disparu corps et biens à l'instar de ses "cousins" post-grunge American Music Club, Spain ou Mazzy Star. Il semblerait donc que Robin Proper-Sheppard, l'âme mélancolique de Sophia, ait profondément marqué les esprits à l'époque, assez en tout cas pour qu'en 2004, sa voix soit instantanément reconnue par quelques-uns. Mais si cette voix, qui s'adresse toujours directement au cœur, n'a guère changé, le spectre musical s'est un peu élargi par rapport aux albums précédents ("Fixed Water", "The Infinite Circle" et le live "De Nachten").
Le premier morceau, "Oh My Love" (qui n'est pas une reprise du titre homonyme de Richard Hawley), annonce la couleur - gris foncé -, avec sa batterie sèche et métronomique et ses guitares mordantes, soutenant un texte où le dépit amoureux s'exprime avec un mélange de vigueur et de résignation. La suite rappelle davantage le Sophia que l'on connaît : une petite musique de soirs d'automne, douce mais jamais mièvre, à la fois intimiste et ouverte sur les grands espaces. Sur une rythmique aussi discrète qu'un pouls, guitare acoustique, piano et cordes accompagnent les délicates élégies d'un homme aux lourdes peines, mais qui a toujours le bon goût de ne pas noyer l'expression musicale sous la catharsis. La fin de l'imposante "Desert Song No. 2" (huit minutes), très saturée, annonce néanmoins un changement de cap. Sur les deux morceaux suivants, Proper-Sheppard revient ainsi aux sonorités nettement plus rock de son éphémère premier groupe, The God Machine, s'abandonnant à une dureté qui paraît trop forcée pour convaincre vraiment.
Cet accès de mauvaise fièvre passé, l'album se termine calmement, à peu près comme il avait commencé, quoique avec un peu moins d'intensité : deux titres pop-folk légers ("Swore to Myself" et "Holidays Are Fine"), une longue confession, "I Left You", à la mélodie assez ordinaire, mais baignée d'une belle ferveur, et, enfin, "Another Trauma", une chanson très lente, traversée de silences, à la limite du murmure - la plus dépouillée du disque. "People..." ne constitue peut-être pas un retour au premier plan - que Sophia n'a d'ailleurs jamais prétendu occuper -, mais scelle des retrouvailles aussi inattendues qu'émouvantes. Espérons quand même que ce disque ne prêchera pas que les convertis du siècle dernier.

London Metro (16/02/2004, by Claire Allfree)
Robin Proper-Sheppard was once part of noise terrorists God Machine, but since 1994 he has carved out a solo career as Sophia, initially inverting God Machine's arty hardcore by retreating to quiet fragile introspection. A new-found density of sound on third album People Are Like Seasons suggests that Proper-Sheppard - who, as Sophia withstands comparisons to Red House Painters - is rediscovering his sonic muscles, with grainy distortion, savage guitars and manipulated effects strengthening his stately piano, string and guitar arrangements. If anything, redemption is the theme here - stand out track Desert Song No. 2 starts tiny and grows slowly, the build-up of piano, violins and drum beats effectively tracking the song's lyrical entreaty to 'let go'. Intimate songwriting, but also frequently sublime. (4 out of 5 stars)

Logo Magazine (by Josh Timber)

As Sophia - across the breadth of two previously self-financed LP’s - Robin Proper-Sheppard has constantly been accused of disproportionate melancholy and left to rot alongside his self-reflective, maudlin indie rock. Evidently tired of swimming hard against the tide, ‘People Are Like Seasons’ subsequently sees the ex-The God Machine lynchpin plotting a much-altered course; embracing his first experience with an external label (City Slang) and turning his attention towards a fresher, more positive direction. Of course much of the album still sags under his trademark misguided glumbience, but on the occasion that he turns his face to the sun - allowing his guitars off their leashes and lending his normally staunch vocals a tendering quality - he’s quite capable of penning a song literally crawling with pop nouse (‘Oh My Love’). But is the occasional chink of light really enough? (21/01/2004, by Mario Pollé)
Het was al een tijdje geleden dat we nog iets van Robin Proper-Sheppard hadden gehoord. Zo lang zelfs dat we er min of meer vanuit gingen dat Sophia een stille dood gestorven was. Zo ’n vaart loopt het dus niet. Toch was het even schrikken toen we bij de voorbereiding van dit stukje merkten dat ‘The Infinite Circle’, Sophia’s vorige studio-album, alweer dateert uit 1998. Een zoveelste bewijs dat we vlugger oud worden dan we zouden willen. ‘People Are Like Seasons’: ’t is herfst voor je het weet.

Dat de herfst nog steeds het seizoen is waarin de liedjes van Robin Proper-Sheppard het best gedijen, blijkt al uit de herfstbladeren op het mooie cd-hoesje, in stemmig bruin en geel. Op het eerste gehoor lijkt er met ‘People Are Like Seasons’ niet echt veel te zijn veranderd in de wereld van Sophia. Bij een eerste oppervlakkige luisterbeurt hadden we het gevoel dat we het allemaal wel eens eerder – en beter – hadden gehoord. Ook ‘Oh my love’, de single die het nieuwe album vooraf ging, raakte ons aanvankelijk niet echt, terwijl we destijds wél midscheeps getroffen werden toen we ‘Directionless’ en ‘So slow’ voor het eerst hoorden – de songs die respectievelijk ‘The Infinite Circle’ en ‘Fixed Water’ aankondigden.

Maar u voelt ons al komen: zowat zeventien draaibeurten later zijn we toch bezweken voor het leeuwendeel van de nummers op deze plaat. In ‘Oh my love’ hebben we intussen een Sophia-klassieker ontdekt, die we bovendien probleemloos kunnen meezingen. Al betwijfelen we of onze omgeving daar blij om is. Songs als ‘Swept back’, ‘Swore to myself’, ‘Another trauma’ en ‘Fool’ (waarvan de intro herinneringen oproept aan ‘Let It Be’) zijn eveneens stuk voor stuk vintage Sophia: sobere, in melancholie gedrenkte miniatuurtjes over de pijn van het (al dan niet samen)zijn, die zich op een kille, donkere avond uitstekend laten beluisteren bij een knetterend haardvuur. Niet dat we er een hebben, maar het idee maakt veel goed. Ook ‘I left you’, dat we al kennen van het live-album ‘De Nachten’ dat Sophia drie jaar geleden uitbracht, hoort in hetzelfde rijtje thuis – al betreft het hier dan wel een ‘miniatuurtje’ van dik zeven minuten.

Het hoogtepunt van de plaat is voor ons echter ‘Desert song no.2’, een lang uitgesponnen, kamerbreed gearrangeerde song, die onder impuls van aanzwellende strijkers langzaam openbloeit, tot hij uiteindelijk door een storm van feedback aan stukken wordt gereten. We krijgen er zelfs kippevel van. Benieuwd hoe dit live gaat klinken.

Tussen de melancholische buien door verkent Robin Proper-Sheppard paden die hij met Sophia nog niet eerder betreden had, al zijn ze voor hemzelf niet altijd nieuw te noemen. Zo had het gruizige ‘Darkness (another shade in your black)’, dat twijfelt tussen iets stevigs van Depeche Mode en industrial-light, bijvoorbeeld niet misstaan in het repertoire van wijlen ‘The God Machine’. ‘If a change is gonna come’ lijkt dan weer een afdankertje van ‘The May Queens’ (een niet echt opzienbarend zijsprongetje van Proper-Sheppard), dat een eind doordramt (die tekst!) en het daarmee tot zwakste schakel van het album schopt. Pas met ‘Holidays are nice’, zowaar een opgewekt nummer dat ons aan Teenage Fanclub doet denken, verrast Robin Proper-Sheppard echt. Een zomerhit zal de man nooit schrijven, maar dat de zon hier even door het donkere wolkendek boven Sophialand heen mag priemen, vinden wij al hoogst opmerkelijk.

Ook al zijn we uiteindelijk nog gewonnen voor het gros van de songs, als geheel moet ‘People Are Like Seasons’ toch de duimen leggen voor zijn meer coherente voorgangers. Desondanks vinden wij een zeven op tien niet kwaad. Zelf zijn we al vaak met minder tevreden geweest. (by Vik Bansal)
Anyone old enough, or plain fortunate enough, to remember The God Machine will be a tad excited at the prospect of this album by former frontman Robin Proper-Sheppard. It's been well over a decade since said band unleashed their debut album on a world that just wasn't mature enough to handle it. Scenes From The Second Storey had enough barrages of guitars to turn the head of someone with an ear for the heavy metallic, but so much sensitivity too, with piano, cello and acoustic guitars creating great swathes of emotion.

Tragically, bassist Jimmy Fernandes almost literally, suddenly dropped dead of an undiagnosed brain tumour immediately after the recording of The God Machine's 1994 eulogy, One Last Laugh In A Place Of Dying. Since then other bands have emerged, undoubtedly influenced by The God Machine (Mogwai et al.), while "emo"-tional rock has become a whole, nasty, cynical industry in itself.

Well, life's injustices are never enough to suppress the creative lifeblood of the true musical pioneers. This is the fourth offering from Proper-Sheppard and his revolving cast of guest musicians ("The Sophia Collective") but the first with a record label that can offer nationwide distribution. And believe me, it deserves to be heard up and down the land.

These days Proper-Sheppard is content to dwell in a less blustery musical landscape than The God Machine did. The shimmering, semi-acoustic melody of opener Oh My Love, for instance, could do some serious commercial damage if there was a radio station with enough foresight to pick up on it.

Following track Swept Back is slow and haunting with keys, an almost harpsichord-sounding guitar and Proper-Sheppard's aching vocals that drip melancholia like the morning dew from a flower.

Fool is a piano-led, post-party wind-down of a track and leads into the album's tour de force: the eight-minute Desert Song No.2. Featuring beautiful strings and piano, it sweeps you into its arms like a late-night blanket, before building into an ingenious last 90 seconds of guitar noise and feedback that counterpoint the piano that is still tinkling its melody over the top. It seems that the boy still knows how to rock...

As if to prove it, Darkness (Another Shade In Your Black) follows on with deep, dirty bass above a mechanical beat, squalling guitars, and a distant, dark chorus. It's pretty gothic and bits of it are strangely reminiscent of early '90s shoegazers like My Bloody Valentine and Curve. Only better, of course.

If A Change Is Gonna Come is rock mode again with a grooving guitar riff and distorted vocals, before we come out of the storm and into the quiet, green fields of Swore To Myself's acoustic guitars and breezy melody.

Holidays Are Nice is a bit of a disappointment - as twee as its title suggests - but it's mercifully short and leads into the grandiose, multi-instrumented melancholy of I Left You ("And you don't say much... But what you do just tears my world apart") and the mournful, acoustic finale of the suitably-named Another Trauma.

Listening to this record recalls a lyric by Marillion of all people, who once said: "Everybody knows we live in a world where they give bad names to beautiful things. Everybody knows that we live in a world where we don't give beautiful things a second glance." People Are Like Seasons is a beautiful album - let's not make these mistakes where it's concerned.

Pitchforkmedia (3.03.2004, by Chris Ott
The very few bands signed to Fiction Records were purely the result of the fleeting fancies of Robert Smith or Chris Parry, who in the late 80s and early 90s were looking to legitimize the imprint as more than just The Cure's family label. They had a keen ear for bands destined to do absolutely nothing: Eat, Candyland, and Die Warzau. I'll give Eat "Mr. and Mrs. Smack", and I apologize if Big Electric Metal Bass Face is a cherished teen memory for the KMFDM set, but only one Fiction band ever made much of a name on their own: the easily ridiculed goth mach The God Machine.

Boasting amorphous shoegaze album art, singer Robin Proper-Sheppard's 50s-Brando good looks and ridiculously perfect name, The God Machine followed in the footsteps of their older brethren Swervedriver, pushing the genre's boundaries toward the darker, more theatrical territory charted by Swans. That the tribal drumming drew comparisons to Jane's Addiction underscored the limited understanding most critics had of underground rock music at the time, but their squealing industrial-shoegaze hybridization nevertheless took Britain by storm via 1993's double-LP Scenes from the Second Storey. The shocking loss of bassist and close friend Jimmy Fernandez to cancer just a year later prematurely ended the group, and, having started up his own Flower Shop label (18th Dye, Swervedriver, Elysian Fields), Proper-Sheppard focused on production before a hesitant return to music with Sophia in 1996.

Instantly compared to Sparklehorse and Red House Painters' ascendant acoustic melodrama, Sophia's post-folk hasn't exactly blossomed since their inception. Their debut Fixed Water (functionally a Proper-Sheppard solo album) was full of understandably overblown life-crisis ballads like "When You're Sad" and "Last Night I Had a Dream" (where he pines, "What has rock and roll led you to believe?"). Without the tragic backstory, Fixed Water is more Dashboard Confessional than Elliott Smith, but by 1998's The Infinite Circle, Proper-Sheppard, cracking thirty, began to take ownership of his anguish, and, with added strings, flushed out the group's sound.

The results wavered between commercially confident Grant Lee Buffalo ballads and more retiring, impressionistic Red House Painters material, and found an inexplicably massive audience in Europe-- especially Belgium, where Proper-Sheppard had by then relocated to, and Germany (home to Sophia's new label City Slang). Bands that grew up listening to The God Machine-- Mogwai, in particular-- sang Sophia's praises in the late 90s, and their three Flower Shop releases have to date sold over 30,000 copies combined, earning Proper-Sheppard a comfortable European living.

But soon after these golden café years, death put Sophia on hiatus again: Proper-Sheppard's mother passed away, quite suddenly, in 2001. Three years later, his music is more aggressive and confident, yet far more nostalgic: At the core of People Are Like Seasons sits a massive, eight-minute pyre that looks back to his years in The God Machine, both in name and the stratospheric guitar finale that sets it alight. The too-brief ninety seconds of unrestrained electric heaven closing "Desert Song No. 2" will reduce anyone who loved his former band to tears, but the bulk of the song-- six minutes of western violin and dust bowl piano-- is actually about Chan Marshall's breakdown on the last night of her Moon Pix tour, which occurred in Belgium while she was opening for Sophia. Naturally, the rueful refrain "let yourself go" took on new meaning when Proper-Sheppard's mother died; in the six long years since Cat Power's Grace Slick impression, this album's centerpiece has evolved into a defining work, lending wisdom and inviting plenty of psychoanalysis.

The opening track and lead single, "Oh My Love", is a shock to anyone familiar with Sophia. A telling parallel with Cat Power's liberation on You Are Free, it's a stomping and surprisingly commercial guitar anthem that's earning some advance curiosity from the UK press, along with unfortunate comparisons to Ryan Adams and Modest Mouse. Countered sharply by the slight drum machine lilt "Swept Back" and the Lennon impression "Fool" (its title another Cat Power coincidence), the album completely derails following "Desert Song No. 2", veering into awful lo-fi hard rock. A sheepish tribute to The The ("Darkness") prefaces the abysmal "If a Change Is Gonna Come", a distorted clap-along rip-off of "The Man Who Sold the World" featuring an unholy, unforgivable chorus of "life's a bitch and then you die."

Though you'll miss out on "Holidays Are Nice", which channels the summertime bliss of San Francisco's Swell (who Sophia toured with in 1997), you will turn this confused album off halfway through without missing much. The seven-plus minutes of "I Left You" lack the personality and emotional heft of "Desert Song No. 2", collapsing in on grandiose, overblown melodies found in the worst sort of film ballads, and the self-recorded parting shot "Another Trauma" is merely a whiskey-throated asterisk at the long-coming close of People Are Like Seasons, a record that fires its cannons twenty minutes in.

De Subjectivisten (by Bas Ickenroth, 16 januari 2004)

Ik was in 1996 zo blij met Fixed Water, het eerste levensteken van Robin Proper-Sheppard na het einde van The God Machine. De man die zijn nieuwe project Sophia noemde deed me niet het moederschip vergeten, daarvoor was de impact van The God Machine te groot geweest en bovendien maakte Sophia desolate akoestische liedjes met een country inslag en geen super-intense, pretentieuze emorock. Maar toch, de man was een held en helden sluit je zonder discussie weer in je armen. Gelukkig dat uiteindelijk bleek dat ik Fixed Water ook daadwerkelijk geweldig vond; ik koester deze ultieme zelfmedelijdenplaat (zie daarvoor ook Roger Teelings jaarlijst uit 1996) nog steeds. Bovendien helpt de wetenschap dat anderen het altijd nog moeilijker blijken te hebben dan jezelf je altijd door de zwaardere momenten heen.
Opvolger The Infinite Circle was van hetzelfde laken een pak; eigenlijk zelfs een natuurgetrouwe kopie van de eerste. Ik vond het niet erg, want als ik al iets aan te merken had op die eerste was dat het feit dat ie maar 35 minuten duurde. Meer van hetzelfde dus, maar ook even mooi. Duidelijk was wel dat de rek eruit was, want eenvormigheid lag wel heel kort om de hoek met al die akoestische liedjes, nog steeds vol desolate sferen en zelfmedelijden waardoor je je zorgen begon te maken over Proper-Sheppard's geestesgesteldheid. Iets wat bij concerten dan weer helemaal niet in me opkwam, omdat dat zwaarmoedige heerschap een vriendelijke, ontspannen grappen makende man bleek te zijn. Geweldig concert, maar het haalde wel wat van de mystiek weg.
Dat vond de man zelf blijkbaar ook, dus ging hij vervolgens rocken met The May Queens, wederom een veredeld eenmansproject maar dan gericht op korte, puntige punkrockliedjes met meer dan een knipoog naar de Pixies. Jammer dat het op plaat totaal niet boeide, waardoor een held bijna van zijn voetstuk donderde. De Sophia live-plaat De Nachten boodt wat dat betreft gelukkig weer wat soelaas, want hierop zong hij nog steeds dat "death so slow" komt "when you're waiting to be taken", en bovendien speelde hij ook al "I left you, but it seems to hurt me more than if I'd stayed", wat later terug bleek te komen op zijn nieuwe studio album. Wat een gezwelg in eigen misère; hij liet het publiek ook nog 'happy birthday' zingen omdat zijn dochtertje jarig was en hij er niet bij kon zijn. Bijna te zielig voor woorden, maar helden mogen dat.
En nu is er People Are Like Seasons. En eindelijk heeft Proper-Sheppard besloten dat alleen maar akoestische huilliedjes teveel van het goede zouden zijn. Een goede zet, want opener 'Oh My Love' klinkt voor Sophia begrippen pittig, catchy en verfrissend. Lekker nummer dat best een bescheiden hit mag gaan worden. Natuurlijk blijft de tekstuele boodschap hetzelfde: de man heeft het moeilijk en dat zal iedereen weten ook. Hij heeft de dood van zijn God Machine makker Jimmy Fernandez nu wel verwerkt, maar hij is erachter gekomen dat zijn relaties altijd door zijn toedoen op niets zijn uitgelopen. Het is me wat. Muzikaal gezien is er gelukkig wel degelijk sprake van verandering: een drumcomputer in 'Swept Back', een stuwend uptempo, bijna garage-achtig ritme dat sterk aan PJ Harvey doet denken in 'If A Change Is Gonna Come', een zware baslijn en vervormde vocalen in 'Darkness (Another Shade In You)'; allemaal factoren die van People Are Like Seasons de meest afwisselende Sophia plaat to nu toe maken. Wel even wennen natuurlijk na al die eenzame kampvuurliedjes op de vorige albums, maar de verandering was nodig en na de gewenning komt in dit geval waardering en uiteindelijk is het voetstuk waar Proper-Sheppard bij mij op staat alleen maar sterker geworden. In 'Desert Song no.2' wordt er voor het eerst sinds The God Machine weer opgebouwd naar een noisy climax van epische proporties, en het al genoemde 'I Left You' is misschien wel het beste 'zielige' liedje dat hij ooit heeft geschreven. Maar het mooiste moment komt toch op naam van 'Holidays Are Nice' waarin hij voor het eerst positief durft te klinken; deze zomerse popsong met licht weemoedige inslag beschrijft het heerlijke gevoel van dagdromen tijdens een mooie zomerdag, en Proper-Sheppard heeft ook nog voor de perfecte muzikale omlijsting gezorgd. Oh zo mooi. Hij was mijn held en zal dat voorlopig ook nog wel blijven.