“I don’t know how to feel things small,” Sophie Allison, the songwriter behind Soccer Mommy, sings in “Still,” which closes her third studio album, “Sometimes, Forever.” She continues, “It’s a tidal wave or nothing at all.”
With each album, she has expanded the ways she conjures those tidal waves. Allison, 25, started releasing home-recorded Soccer Mommy songs on band camp as a teenager, layering her vocals and guitars, and she dropped out of NYU in 2017 after her dorm-room recordings landed her a recording contract.
She formed a band and toured extensively, and on her studio albums “Clean” (2018) and “Color Theory” (2020), she confidently tapped a legacy of guitar-driven 1990s indie rock: Liz Phair, the Breeders, the Cure, Alanis Morissette, Smashing Pumpkins. Her tunes maintained a sturdy, old-fashioned clarity, even as her lyrics faced disorder, determinedly exposing her fears, depression and self-destructive impulses. “I am the problem for me, now and always,” she sang in “Royal Screw Up” on “Color Theory.”
The same struggles run through “Sometimes, Forever,” pushing toward new extremes of misery and (possibly delusional) rapture. “Wherever you’re going I’m going too/Nothing else matters when I’m with you,” Allison vows in “With U,” amid a stately swell of Beatles-esque chords that could promise bliss. But there’s a streak of masochism in her devotion: “I’ll take the pain, feel it every day/Just to have you look at me,” she sings.
Even a seemingly happy situation holds ominous undertones. “Shotgun” is the album’s more-or-less poppiest song. Its verse wrinkles a grungy bass line as Allison recalls “coffee and menthol on your breath” and problems with drugs. But she realizes, “This feels the same without the bad things,” leading into a chorus that switches to euphoric major chords and promises “Whenever you want me I’ll be around.” Yet why is she thinking about weapons?
Allison writes orderly tunes, with neatly delineated verses and choruses. Her melodies often rise and fall symmetrically and her singing stays levelheaded, almost reserved. But she chose a chaos agent as her producer: Daniel Lopatin, who makes albums as Oneohtrix Point Never and composed the white-knuckled score for “Uncut Gems.”
Lopatin knows how to weaponize nebulousness. Working with Soccer Mommy, he used reverb, distortion, synthesizer tones and guitar feedback, at every volume level from subliminal to overpowering, to create backdrops that can easily warp from sumptuous to threatening. Allison fully unleashes him in “Unholy Affliction.” She sings, with a sinking melody, about a compulsive, unattainable, all-consuming perfectionism: “Carve me up and let the colors run,” she offers. Behind her, the production deploys distorted bass lines, salvos of drums, bleary Mellotron notes and down-tuned guitars, all battering just under her voice, clawing at her.
In “Darkness Forever,” she confronts suicidal feelings. “Head in the oven didn’t sound so crazy,” Allison sings, alone amid echoes; then a lurching head rises around her like a haunted castle. The music is much more upbeat in “Don’t Ask Me,” a galloping rocker with tastes of guitar noise recalling My Bloody Valentine, but the best the lyrics can hope for is temporary numbness. “No more fire in my veins/My will is gone I don’t feel a thing,” she sings; later, she concedes, “I know it comes back around.”
Throughout the album, Soccer Mommy staves off despair with musical craftsmanship. The modestly titled “Newdemo” — billed as just another work in progress — is a ballad that starts with Allison singing and strumming a lo-fi guitar. She sings about impending storms and destruction, but the music ascends into a glimmering psychedelic wonderland, with simulated cells and sitar. Wistfully, warily, Allison observes, “What is a dream but a hope you hold onto?/A lie that you wish would come true.” She doesn’t expect it to last, but for the moment, she’s singing.