With her 2018 debut, Clean, Sophie Allison, aka Soccer Mommy, blended angsty lyrics and hooky tunes, articulating themes of loss, dysfunction, and self-loathing. Her second album, Color Theory, employed a broader range of sonics, oscillating between stark and textured soundscapes, a sequence still primarily characterized by pop-informed melodies and self-deprecating diarism.
However, what mostly rendered Allison’s first two albums successes was her attention to the reconciliation of opposites – plaintive voice offset by jangly guitars, staccato beats juxtaposed with otherwise fluid gestalts. This ability to craft sonic paradoxes is invaluable, particularly for singer-songwriters whose vocals are primarily, even undeviatingly doleful and whose lyrics are melancholically inclined. In archetypal terms, cold needs to be balanced with heat, formlessness with form. Where’s there’s air, there’s a need for earth; where’s there’s water, there’s a need for fire. These dynamics, of course, are navigated by different artists in myriad and complex ways.
On her new album, Sometimes, Forever, the winning aspects of Allison’s style are largely present – catchy melodies, stirring declarations, subtle instrumental divergences, and effective tonal contrasts. “Bones” addresses a relationship on the decline and features Allison’s characteristically disconsolate vocal. Crunchy guitars and a fetching melody make for a sufficiently varied mix. “Unholy Affliction” perhaps displays Daniel Lopatin’s influence as a producer of the set, though some of the pop-industrial sounds could just as easily have been facilitated by Trent Reznor. Allison’s voice, alternately dry and soaked in reverb, brings to mind a cross between Billie Eilish’s punk-inflected deliveries on Happier Than Ever and the doomy explorations of Midwife.
“Fire in the Doorway” is an exemplary electric-folk foray into familial confessionalism a la Lucy Dacus and Phoebe Bridgers (and their literary forebears, Plath, Sexton, and Olds). Allison adeptly avoids clarifying her target, though the lyrics point to unresolved issues with an older male, and possibly parental, figure. “Shotgun” is the album’s highpoint, the central riff and beat standing as quintessential earworms. Conjuring elements of the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” and Björk’s “Army of Me”, the piece is dancey, grungy, and anthemic, landing as one of 2022’s more infectious songs.
In “Darkness Forever”, Allison offers one of her more nuanced vocal performances and, lyrically, an arresting examination of the suicidal impulse. The intermittent use of synthy strings, rumbly accents, splashes of distortion, and spacey textures makes for a well-prismed track. Closer “Still” is a folksy coda on which Allison addresses her proclivity for extremism, seemingly referencing the short-lived exhilaration that can come from “cutting”. Her mournfulness, self-doubt, and sense of overall fragility, as well as the stripped-down sonic context, exemplify a thanatoid-pop palette, recalling Julien Baker’s landmark Turn Out the Lights and Snail Mail’s debut, Lush.
While Sometimes, Forever is a worthy addition to the Soccer Mommy oeuvre, a few songs fail to gain traction. In “With U”, for example, Allison ventures into balladic territory, though her melody lacks cogency, her vocal devolving into predictable petulance. “newdemo” is an amalgam of indistinct instrumentation, Allison’s vocal eddying in the bland mix. “Following Eyes” is a fascinating odyssey throughout which the singer documents what occurs as a UFO sighting and interaction with aliens. Stark arrangements on the verses, again likely a production move courtesy of Lopatin, provides Allison space to breathe unhurriedly and annunciate more evocatively. That said, the track fails to deliver what promises to be a galvanic hook, the verses’ portentous feel deflated by a treacly chorus.
With Sometimes, Forever, Allison’s vocal delivery is largely enrolling; however, as a singer, Allison is limited in terms of timbre and range. Absent an infectious melody and accompaniment that establishes rhythmic and/or ambient contrast, her voice tends to grow monotonous and disengaging. But when the aesthetic balances are in place, as they are for much of Sometimes, Forever, then Allison glows like a moon reflecting a dying sun, one of the substantial artists of her generation.