Photo Credit: Sophie Hur
“I didn’t want to make something super depressing without any sense of magic,” said Sophie Allison (a.k.a Soccer Mommy) when asked about the creation of her third studio album Sometimes, Forever. The push-and-pull between lightness and heaviness is something the Nashville singer-songwriter has wrestled without across her career. While her breakthrough debut Clean did boast the emotional stunner “Scorpio Rising”, it was largely a breezy listen; documenting adolescence with a keen, subtle sense of humor.
Its follow-up Color Theory – which focused on Allison’s mental health struggles and her mother’s terminal illness – is one of the bleakest albums in recent memory. “I’m always stained,” she declares at one moment on that album. “I’m watching my mother drown,” she cries at another. The emotional centerpiece of that album – and one of the best songs of the 21st Century thus far – is “Yellow is the Color of Her Eyes.” The seven-minute epic deals with illness and the powerlessness it engenders in those forced to helplessly watch its advancement. In the song’s final verse, Allison imagines standing at her mother’s funeral as her coffin is lowered into the ground (“I’ll know the day when it comes // I’ll feel the cold as they put out my sun”). Whereas her early recordings had showcased youthful belief in the all-encompassing power of love, here she realized its limitations: “Loving you isn’t enough // You’ll still be deep in the ground when it’s done.”
Sometimes, Forever – Soccer Mommy’s best and most mature work yet – finds the 25-year-old making uneasy peace with altering emotional states; its very title is an allusion to the transitory state of feelings. Produced by Daniel Lopatin (a.k.a Oneohtrix Point Never), who is perhaps best known for his work with The Weeknd, it sees Allison incorporate shoegaze elements and industrial noise for the first time in her career. Whereas Allison’s lyricism was the main source of emotive impact on past releases, here she finds a soundscape that is equally as powerful as her words.
“Bones” is filled with heart-wrenching lyrics, as Allison unties herself from an unhealthy relationship, but equally as powerful is the guitar solo that sees the song out – a swirling, slightly claustrophobic crescendo. “Newdemo” is Allison’s most political statement penned to date, as she tells of “the men up on the hill” driven by “money and greed.” The dystopian verses sound muddied, whereas the escapist fantasies outlined in the choruses are backlit by glowing synths. “Darkness Forever” sees Allison unleash a nightmare-ish scream around a minute-and-thirty-seconds in, the likes of which she’s never accessed in her music before. While, “Unholy Affliction” evokes Portishead, in its gothic presentation of fame’s corrupting power.
The exception to Soccer Mommy’s newfound sonic ambition comes in the form of the closer “Still.” Guided by little more than gentle acoustic guitar strumming, it sees Allison work through online hate, self-harm, and, suicidal tendencies that eventually lead her to “drive to the bridge, just to overthink it.” The minimalism of the music leaves nowhere to run, as one is forced to confront head-on the song’s emotional truths. It makes for a devastating listen, whose impact rivals that of “Yellow is the Color of Her Eyes.”
I saw one reviewer say of Soccer Mommy’s music that it lacks the distinct edge of her peers like Snail Mail and Phoebe Bridgers. That comment instantly struck me as wrong-headed, and I think a song like “Still” proves why – no one quite captures sadness like Soccer Mommy. Sure, Phoebe Bridgers’ music is sad (no doubt about that), but it captures malaise and nihilism more often than it does agony. Snail Mail’s music is more obviously the result of agony – but it is agony that results from the dissolution of intense, young love. Soccer Mommy’s music captures agonizing sadness not as the logical result of any given experience, but as the crushing reality of living with a depressive disorder that threatens to swallow you whole at any given moment. Utilizing evocative, often even violent imagery, she captures the paralysis of anhedonia and the terror that comes from feeling, as though time is collapsing in on itself during your lowest moments. The terror that comes from not knowing if such moments will last for some time or forever.