Sophia Bel

Sophia Bel — Anxious Avoidant

4.5

Everybody is being called “genre-defying” nowadays, but Sophia Bel is the real deal.

Bridging the gap between punk and bedroom pop, all while proving country and pop punk can be identical at the very core, Anxious Avoidant has genres floating left and right into each other. Of all places, Bel somehow manages to preserve the best of Y2K and mesh it with modern alt culture in the heart of Montreal. Tender but filled with brutal honesty at the same time, Anxious Avoidant makes an extraordinarily qualifying debut album.

Bel wastes no time to set the overtone with the album’s opening track, “All Fucking Weekend.” Slow and steady, in a tempo that’s reminiscent of Blink-182, she dashes out: “When you talk to your best friend / Do you call me your girlfriend? / Can we hang all fucking weekend? / ‘Cause I’ve been busy but I’ll take time for you…” In a classic pop punk fashion, there’s a sense of disconnect that just makes sense in the lyrics of “All Fucking Weekend.” Besides the mentions of lemongrass to convertible for seemingly no reason at all, relic words like “bunker” carelessly dazzle up the track and its repetitive strumming. But then Bel breaks the peaceful facade with a stellar breakdown of ripping guitar and rapid drums, perfecting the track in true garage punk fashion.

In fact, the production for the album feels very organic and grungy in general. With each instrument stripped back and sonically distinct from each other, the structure of Bel’s songwriting appears as a lot more polished and skilled. While your art school college kids would absolutely lose their shit moshing to tracks like “You’re Not Real You’re Just a Ghost,” there’s still a clear verse/pre-chorus/chorus/bridge structure to the tracks. But Bel’s sound still steers clear from the current pop punk resurgence with its emphasis on instrumentation and the That-Dog-esque mundane yet bizarre lyricism.

In addition, she really doesn’t belong to any genre at all; rather, she comes to redefine genres. Following two punk numbers, she tones it down with the bluesy and romantic “Lonely After Curfew.” It almost gets twangy with the fourth track, “I Won’t Bite,” where Bel employs a different vocal treatment that is a lot softer and melodic. But it comes as no surprise, as Bel openly admitted in her previous interviews regarding her wide range of influence from Avril Lavigne and Good Charlotte to Taylor Swift when she was still doing country. Throughout the LP, she skillfully maneuvers back and forth between hyper-pop, pop punk, folk, country, and more.

An open diary of an album, Anxious Avoidant details Bel’s journey to understanding her attachment style and establishing boundaries for herself.  In an Instagram post, Bel recalls how “I Don’t Need My Space” set the tone for the project. In the caption, she wrote, “This song was basically me saying ‘fuck this cool girl bullshit, I need more and that doesn’t mean that I’m being unreasonable.” It certainly feels like the track that combines and explains it all — from introspection to acceptance, playful onomatopoeia that replaces a traditional chorus and yet another frenzy of mosh-induced beats, even a dolphin sound effect sampled from Plant vs. Zombies, “I Don’t Need My Space” is the ultimate cool girl anthem.

The album comes to an unexpected but comforting folky closure with moments of vulnerability in tracks like “Choke” and “I Only Want You Cuz You’re Mean.” With each song comes quite a few different sonic moments, as well as quite a few different dilemma of conflicting priorities. It feels as if you were growing alongside Bel throughout the album, slowly coming to accept the non-closure nature of life.

With an album like Anxious Avoidant, time travel becomes possible. A personal time capsule and a splendid affair of collective nostalgia all in one, Bel’s debut album is a lot — in the best way possible.