Soccer mom’s bewildered songs of young adulthood

Nashville singer-songwriter Sophie Allison, who performs as Soccer Mommy, has a knack for drawing the listener into her pit of fear. “It’s a half-hearted calm / The way I’ve felt since I was thirteen,” she sings of her condition on “Blood Flow,” a 2020 song “But I know it’s waiting there / Swimming through my bloodstream / And it’s coming for me / Yes, it’s coming for me.” After releasing a string of EPs on Bandcamp (one aptly called “songs for the recently sad”) and two raw bedroom recordings, she emerged as a fully formed indie rock star in 2018. Her debut ‘Clean’ was filled with songs in love, laced with melancholy, the music she has released since then dives into the depths of depression and nothingness.Allison is a writer on par with peers like Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and her friend Lindsey Jordan of Snail Mail, with a gift for casual yet evocative storytelling. Her lyrical style is conversational and fragile, but she has a way of absorbing every anecdote completely.

Allison’s 2020 album ‘Color Theory’ seemed to signal that the artist was leaving the intimacy and privacy of her bedroom and embracing the amplification of the studio. She had started pursuing a catchier pop sound, signing with Loma Vista Recordings and adding her songs with more synthesizers, acoustic and electric guitar, pedal steel and even harp. With a bigger setup came richer, brighter and more focused songs, but within these colorful arrangements lay some of Allison’s grimiest feelings. On ‘crawling into my skin’, amid continuous guitar and synth lines, she sings, dazed but radiant, of sleep paralysis, paranoia and torturous hallucinations.

The new Soccer Mommy album, “Sometimes, Forever,” continues to play with light and darkness—how joy and misery feed each other, and how both emotions can make the title’s two words resemble each other. Allison is adept at capturing both the ephemeral and the illusions of the eternal, and the songs fixate on how nothing – doom, hope – ever really lasts. The verses of “newdemo” depict several looming crises, and Allison’s vocals are sweet but resigned, until the chorus, which swells toward wish-fulfillment: “Sometimes I dream there’s a gate to the garden / That only the earth could break through ,” she sings. But this, she knows, is another dead end. “But what is a dream but a light in the darkness / A lie you wish to come true?”

Produced with Daniel Lopatin, aka Oneohtrix Point Never, Soccer Mommy’s gnarliest and most dazzling album is poppy melodies, disarming lyrics and twisted sounds in bewildered songs of young adulthood. “And I’ve got a heart that beats too fast / And a shake in my hands and a pain in my back,” she sings on “Feel It All the Time,” a song about being twenty-two that is both weary and prepared. Allison’s ability to cloud her bittersweet tunes with a “subtle wackiness,” as Lopatin has described it, is fully expressed in these songs, which retain a weightless pop charm even when sonically heavy. Her voice always soars to the surface of even the densest of alt-rock compositions, such as the scuzzy “Shotgun” and the faded “Don’t Ask Me” – the two grungy and most frizzy tracks on the record. An industrial-sounding message from the other side of a commercial breakout, “Unholy Affliction” is glitchy, jingling, and metallic, until it settles into an eerily beautiful hook. “It’s all in my bones and in my blood / So cut me to pieces and let the colors run,” she sings, consumed by a desire so intense it feels like death. But that feeling will pass.

Allison has said that the album is inspired by horror movies, and that much of the imagery is macabre – dogs tearing into the flesh, a million spiders crawling across the skin, struggling against the devil’s leash. Demons recur in her discography, usually as personifications of her encroaching fear, and here she fantasizes about sacrifice as freedom from pursuit. The production smolders around her voice on “Darkness Forever,” a sort of tribute to Sylvia Plath, with cascades of guitar between verses erupting like fire. (She envisions Plath’s kitchen “like a hot, gooey summer”.) But there is a certain self-consciousness to the artist’s avalanche of Gothic metaphors. “I don’t know how to feel things small / It’s a tidal wave or nothing at all,” she sings on the closing track, “Still.” “I can’t believe in heaven now / it’s been hell on earth for a while.” The record is enveloped in such darkness, but Allison always seems to find her way through it.

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