“I don’t know how to feel things small,” Sophie Allison sings at the outset of her new album’s closing track. “It’s a tidal wave or nothing at all.” The Soccer Mommy auteur’s songs have always exemplified that truth. Allison can distill a roiling cauldron of emotions into streamlined bursts of melody, sketching out vivid scenes and internal monologues with her moonbeam of a voice. This, plus her knack for nifty chord-based guitar riffs, was central to Soccer Mommy’s appeal back when Allison was a teenager recording on a four-track at home in Nashville, and all of those skills remain crucial selling points here in her mid-twenties. But on Sometimes, Forever — the third Soccer Mommy album, out this week — she’s a long way from muddy DIY recordings.
The big news this time out is that Allison worked with the producer and composer Daniel Lopatin, aka Oneohtrix Point Never — known for his own tense, eerie work at the intersection of pop, classical, and experimental electronics and, more recently, his close working relationship with the Weeknd. At first Lopatin struck me as an odd match for an artist whose work evoked both scraggly ’90s indie rock acts like Helium, Liz Phair, and Pavement and more pop-leaning post-Y2K stars like Michelle Branch, Avril Lavigne, and Taylor Swift. But upon further consideration, Allison has been throwing surprise production tweaks into her songs since the first track on her first album, when the intimate “Still Clean” bottomed out into even sparser lo-fi near the end. Plus she’s shown a willingness to explore dark and abstract digital realms through collaborations with HEALTH and BJ Burton. She was ready for a left turn like this.
One of the great things about Sometimes, Forever, though, is that it never feels self-consciously weird, as if Allison is angling for novelty or forcing her music into contexts where it doesn’t fit. It isn’t even really a case of Allison and Lopatin’s aesthetics blurring together the way he’s done with Abel Tesfaye, though you can hear him in the record’s array of keyboard sounds once you know he’s the one playing them. All of the usual Soccer Mommy players are involved here — even Gabe Wax, who produced Soccer Mommy’s first two albums — so it’s not even really like Halsey handing over their album to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. The sonic mutations feel more like a great songwriter growing increasingly confident, adapting her creative voice to a broader and more exciting palette of sounds.
That’s exactly what Soccer Mommy needed. The band’s 2020 breakout color theory featured some exhilarating highs, most of all “circle the drain,” an immaculate melancholy swirl that arrived just before the pandemic and thus became the soundtrack of countless despairing days. But if there was one obvious knock on the album, it was a reliance on overly similar tempos and vibes throughout, so that a parade of well-constructed songs became a glossy, depressive blur. Sometimes, Forever doesn’t have that problem; it’s by far the band’s most sophisticated and adventurous body of work to date.
Allison and Lopatin ease us into the new album with two straightforward Soccer Mommy bangers. The wistful shimmer “Bones” captures just about everything great about the band as we know them, starting with aching narration from Allison that connects the physical and the emotional: “I feel the bones of how we used to be/ They crowd the space between us in our sheets/ I wanna scream when you don’t look at me/ Like you did/ Oh back then.” The verse segues into one of those arching, gliding choruses that sticks with you all week — hardly the only such hook on Sometimes, Forever — before finishing with a deluge of guitar and synth tracks that reminds us how hard Soccer Mommy can rock when they choose to. “With U” maintains that dreamy, direct feeling, albeit with a meteor shower of keyboards raining down on the intro and little bursts of twangy guitar by Julian Powell creeping in at the seams. Allison sings about becoming so immersed in her partner, the aforementioned Powell, that she can’t see anything else, leaving the listener to decide whether such a fate is romantic or unsettling. (Opening line: “Your crystal eyes cut deep like a knife/ And they’re teaching me how to bleed.”)
The jarring distorted bass blasts of “Unholy Affliction,” like a skipping CD possessed by a demon, begin a run of tracks that show just how far Soccer Mommy can push their sound without losing their well-established identity. That song’s blustery rhythms and spooky melodies render the music industry as a warzone where your soul is at stake, while “Shotgun” — on which spy-movie surf guitar gives way to effervescent beauty — expresses Allison’s extreme devotion yet again: “So whenever you want me I’ll be around/ I’m a bullet in a shotgun waiting to sound.” Probably the most 0PN-esque offering is “newdemo,” nestled in a bed of celestial synth sounds that bridges the gap between new age and neo-classical. “Darkness Forever” is trip-hop by way of Radiohead (think “Talk Show Host”), while “Don’t Ask Me” is the most delightful shoegaze surprise since the 1975’s “Then Because She Goes.”
From there, things mostly return to a baseline Soccer Mommy sound for the duration, though the horror story “Following Eyes” dips back into Portishead-like rupture for a spell. But even the songs that don’t feel like bold creative leaps — like “Feel It All The Time,” a tale of a girl and her truck set to music that evokes both Sheryl Crow and Modest Mouse — are remarkable in their nuance and scope. Songs as down-the-middle as “Still” and “Fire In The Driveway” are enhanced by gorgeous textures that mirror the complexity of her lyrics. “Sophie finds magical ways to complicate her bubblegum melodies with a subtle weirdness: a twisted chord, a bent texture, some dark comedy,” Lopatin recently told Pitchfork. “It’s addictive to listen to all that sweet and sour stuff she has going on, so I just tried to amplify that.” Mission accomplished; Allison’s inner turmoil has never sounded so spectacular — or so well-rounded.
Throughout the record, Allison fights against the dehumanizing effects of the music industry, vacillates between bailing on her lover and giving herself over completely, and desperately seeks to exorcise her demons. Along the way there are dogs tearing into flesh, a head in an oven a la Sylvia Plath, a spine-chilling apparition beneath the half moon, and more than a few lines equating love with violence. (My favorite: “I cut a piece out of my thigh/ And felt my heart go sky diving.”) Some of that is pure fantasy, but much of it is a demonstration of Allison’s old poetic vulnerability, refined and exalted. Although there’s something to be said for lyrics as plainspoken as “I wanna be that cool” and “I don’t wanna be your fucking dog,” Soccer Mommy songs nowadays rarely boil down to one primary sentiment. It’s right there in the title Sometimes, Forever: Allison isn’t just giving voice to huge emotions, she’s writing at the pressure points where those impulses conflict, rendering life’s messy tension one sparkling, haunting panorama at a time.
Sometimes, Forever is out 6/24 on Loma Vista.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Joan Shelley’s The Spur
• Zola Jesus’ Arkhon
• MUNA’s self-titled LP
• Regina Spektor’s Home, before and after
• Candy’s Heaven Is Here
• Former Priests singer Katie Alice Greer’s Barbarism
• Real Estate frontman Martin Courtney’s Magic Sign
• Young Guv’s GUV IV
• Luke Combs’ Growin’ Up
• Lupe Fiasco’s Drill Music In Zion
• Goose’s DRIPFIELD
• Giveon’s Give Or Take
• Juicy J & Pi’erre Bourne’s Space Age Pimpin’
• Alexisonfire’s Otherness
• Automatic’s Excess
• Conan Gray’s Superache
• Glenn Jones’ Vade Mecum
• Hollie Cook’s Happy Hour
• Former Free Cake For Every Creature leader Katie Bejsiuk’s The Woman On The Moon
• Long Neck’s Soft Animal
• Porcupine Tree’s CLOSURE / CONTINUATION
• Caamp’s Lavender Days
• Day Wave’s Pastlife
• Air member JB Dunckel’s Carbon
• Tim Heidecker’s High School
• Jack Johnson’s Meet The Moonlight
• Petrol Girls’ Baby
• Mikey Erg’s LOVE AT LEEDS
• Art d’Ecco’s After The Head Rush
• James Vincent McMorrow’s The Less I Knew
• Radian’s Discordian
• Sessa’s Estrela Acesa
• Ibrahim Maalouf & Angélique Kidjo’s Queen Of Sheba
• Noah Reid’s Adjustments
• Blk Odyssy’s Blk Vintage Reprise
• Ohyda’s Pan Bóg Spełni Wszystkie Pragnienia Lewaków... I Dojdzie Do Katastrofy!
• Chris Brown’s Breezy
• Third Eye Blind’s Unplugged
• Christine McVie’s Songbird (A Solo Collection)
• Redd Kross’ Neurotica demos
• Arooj Aftab’s Vulture Prince (Deluxe Edition)
• Wolf Alice’s Blue Lullaby EP
• Empress Of’s Save Me EP
• sadie’s Nowhere EP