Sophie Allison sings from the exhaustion at the end of a big feeling. Across her work de ella as Soccer Mommy, she has excavated that point after despair or elation where your nerves reel back from overdrive, when the intensity wanes and you’re left with the blankness of yourself. Since releasing her from her debut studio album, Clean, in 2018, she’s worked to heighten the contrasts of her guitar-based songs. The 2020 LP color theory drew vintage synthesizers and layered samples into the mix, expanding the space in which her wry, acerbic, and poignant lyrics could play. On her latest album by her, Sometimes Forever, Allison teams with Daniel Lopatin of the retrofuturist electronic project Oneohtrix Point Never, whose production deepens the shadows in her songwriting. Soccer Mommy’s music has often folded in the bitter and the melancholy, but this is the first time Allison has faced down danger so squarely.
At the heart of Sometimes Forever lurks the axiom that nothing lasts. The most vivid triumphs and hollowing depressions each evaporate in turn. Though repeated to the point of cliché, “this too shall pass” butts up against another persistent cultural narrative: That it’s possible to make it, that if your output or your essence is good enough, you’ll ascend, be rewarded, never work a day in your life. By now, Allison has shored away enough cultural capital that she can see into the lie on the other side of success. You can win, but you still have to live with yourself.
“I lost myself to a dream I had/And I’d never give it all away/But I miss feeling like a person,” Allison sings on the album’s swirling closer, “Still.” Throughout Sometimes Forever, she and Lopatin expand on the ’90s palette that has characterized previous Soccer Mommy releases. Bolstering the lingering imprints of Liz Phair, Sheryl Crow, and Sleater-Kinney is a healthy dose of loveless worship: glide guitars and tendrils of haze. “Darkness Forever,” with its abundant negative space and snaking bassline, calls back to the threatening creases of Portishead’s dummy: Allison’s half-whispered vocals rise from the pit of her stomach as they orbit the kind of self-destruction ideation that feels permanent in its intensity. The minimally melodic pummel of “Unholy Affliction” echoes PJ Harvey’s work de ella with Steve Albini on her second album rid of me. A choked-out bassline thrums underneath the heaviest percussion yet to appear on a Soccer Mommy song, an agitated pattern whose busyness counterbalances Allison’s lank vocal delivery. “I’m barely a person / Mechanically working,” she sings, hinting at the churn demanded of an artist once the system decides her work is valuable and wants more of the same, forever.