Soccer Mommy – Sometimes, Forever
You’ve heard the clichéd old adage before: “Inside you are two wolves fighting each other; one represents X while the other represents Y…” and so on. Most of the time my wolves represent me wanting another cup of tea, and me being too lazy to make one. But when it comes to new music, my most common lupine battle is likely me being torn between wanting an act to bring something new to the table and wanting them to stick to a winning formula. On the one hand you want an act’s sound to grow and develop, you want there to be something new and exciting waiting to be found in their latest album, not the same tired well of ideas running a little more dry with each release. On the other hand, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Why hedge all your bets on a sonic experiment that could be a total misfire when you’ve already struck gold and that creative vein still has a lot more to offer. It’s a fine line to walk trying to keep those two approaches balanced, trying to ensure that both wolves are adequately fed, and it’s one that Soccer Mommy has down to a tee.
Now with three albums under Sophie Allison’s belt, a clear pattern has begun to form. Each subsequent record carries forward the legacy of those that came before it, while at the same time adding fresh ideas into the mix to set it apart. On this latest release you can still hear the stripped back folk of her debut Clean present on tracks like ‘newdemo’, ‘Fire In The Driveway’, and especially the intimate and emotive closing track ‘Still’, lending a refreshing rawness that makes these softer wistful moments stand out. Meanwhile the expressive and expansive dream pop soundscapes introduced on Color Theory make a return on the kaleidoscopic sprawl of ‘With U’, breezy rocker ‘Don’t Ask Me’ and the bright melodies of album opener ‘Bones’. Everything you know and love about Soccer Mommy is present and accounted for.
Where this album treads new ground is in introducing a darker and more experimental tone. The bleak hum and trip hop electronics of ‘Unholy Affliction’ combine with some frenetic drum work that arrives at something akin to latter day Radiohead. The eerie synths, plodding bass and stumbling drum patterns of ‘Darkness Forever’ builds up to craft a rising atmosphere of menace, while the ritualistic percussion and grungy guitar tones of ‘Following Eyes’ lend it a fittingly haunting quality. This darker side isn’t something I saw in the pipeline, but it’s delivered to great effect. The way these moments are spaced out on the tracklist, and how effectively they contrast with the more lush and melodic offerings, completely clears the water of the pacing problems that plagued Color Theory.
Sometimes, Forever really delivers in terms of the bigger picture and the album’s overall sound, but to my mind it’s all the little improvements to songwriting that (while taking more listens to drive home) add up to being this record’s greatest triumph. Tracks like ‘Bones’ and lead single ‘Shotgun’ deliver some of Sophie’s most engaging earworm choruses to date, and when not indulging its more experimental side the album is awash with gorgeous melodies, but it’s in the lyricism that Soccer Mommy takes the largest creative leap. Sometimes it’s in the form of killer opening lines that pull right at your heart, like “I don’t know how to feel things small, It’s a tidal wave or nothing at all” on ‘Still’, or “I feel the bones of how we used to be, They crowd the space between us and our sheets” on ‘Bones’. Whereas sometimes it’s the very premise of a song that seems like fertile ground for creativity to bloom, whether that’s in comparisons to a beaten up old truck still hanging on in ‘Feel It All The Time’, or the straight up gothic ghost story that is ‘Following Eyes’. Both facets shine with real brilliance on ‘newdemo’ in particular; pondering on the folly of hope in a broken world, with such stunning lines as “But what is a dream but a light in the darkness, A lie that you wish would come true“.
I think subconsciously I’ve always placed Soccer Mommy a step down from such contemporaries as Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker and Snail Mail, but this is the album that changes all that. After all, it gets to a point that such a great track record of every album so resoundly building upon everything that came before just can’t be ignored. Sophie Allison has built something beautiful here, and hopefully we’ll get to see it improved upon further with even more layers from here on out.