“Sometimes, Forever,” the third album from Nashville singer-songwriter Soccer Mommy (nee Sophie Allison), is that rarest of breeds: a great feel-bad summer record. Anyone can craft a carefree summer party anthem, but it’s a far tougher task to harness all of the breezy, languid textures of the warmer months in service of melancholy, introspection and doubt. Dennis Wilson’s “Pacific Ocean Blue” is the standard bearer of this noble microgenre, and Allison’s invigoratingly noisy, idiosyncratically catchy summer bummer is a more than worthy addition.
On the strength of her two previous Soccer Mommy records — 2018’s promising debut “Clean” and 2020’s fully formed “Color Theory” — Allison has often been categorized into an informal cohort of twentysomething female singer-songwriters (Snail Mail, Lucy Dacus and Phoebe Bridgers chief among them) who manage to channel essential elements of 1990s indie-rock without ever sounding like throwbacks. Drill beneath the surface, however, and these artists are all as dissimilar as they are alike, and on “Sometimes, Forever” Allison drifts even further from the pack, and from her own more obvious retro influences. The shoegazey instrumental bedrock of “Color Theory” remains, as do Allison’s self-lacerating lyrics and sweetly half-narcotized singing voice, which occupies an unexpected middle ground between Bilinda Butcher and Nina Persson. But there’s a broader sense of adventure here, and an offhand compositional sophistication that can leave even the most familiar-sounding tracks feeling unpredictable. Allison has developed a real knack for pop songcraft, but seems content to leave her melodies only partially articulated — a tendency which could be frustrating in lesser hands, but here only serves to draw you in deeper. Even when her songs’ hooks don’t always stick in your head, the vibes do.
The most obvious differences between “Sometimes, Forever” and previous Soccer Mommy records come down to Allison’s choice of a producer. Daniel Lopatin, the once-elusive force behind Oneohtrix Point Never — and more recently, a not-so-elusive Weeknd collaborator and scorer of “Uncut Gems” — helms the soundboards here, and the result is the most deceptively maximalist music of Allison’s career. No matter how dense the sonic palate may become, it rarely feels heavy or cluttered.
Their partnership is an odd one on paper, and he’s careful not to step on Allison’s toes, but it isn’t hard to spot Lopatin’s influence throughout, from the fractured percussion on “Unholy Alliance” to the loopy synth lines on “With U.” (“Newdemo” splits the difference between their respective approaches down the middle, toggling back and forth from gently strummed verses, of the kind that could have been on one of the earliest Soccer Mommy demos, to atmospheric choruses that clearly bear the producer’s stamp.) Allison’s aesthetic nonetheless reigns supreme, and she stretches the limits of her style in a number of rewarding ways. “Bones” and “Shotgun” are two of the earwormiest pop songs she’s ever produced. “Darkness Forever” and “Following Eyes” are two of her gloomiest, gothiest dirges. “Feel It All the Time” is the closest she’s come to writing a proper Nashville tune — though it sounds nothing like a country song, per se — and “Don’t Ask Me” is a propulsive showcase for guitarist Julian Powell’s none-more-fuzzy tones.
The record is so full of texture, and Allison’s vocals are so understated, that it’s easy to overlook her lyrics. Which is unfortunate, because she finds just as many interesting avenues into familiar territory in words as she does in music. On “Shotgun,” she and a paramour forge a sort of love language out of their shared bad habits. “Fire in the Driveway,” one of the flat-out prettiest songs she’s ever recorded, takes an initially obvious bit of fire-and-ice imagery and turns it inside out. But it’s the closer, “Still,” which displays her gifts most clearly. “I don’t know how to feel things small / It’s a tidal wave, or nothing at all,” she begins, over a minimally embellished acoustic backing, going on to matter-of-factly describe depression, flirt with suicidal thoughts, and recall past bouts of self-harm.
These would be bracing admissions to hear from anyone, but what’s remarkable about Allison’s is how stubbornly she refuses to play them for pathos or inflate them into drama. It simply sounds honest, and almost wry: a clear-eyed assessment of darkness that refuses to allow it the upper hand. And that holds true for the rest of the album, as well. No matter how cloudy her outlook, she can’t stop a bit of sunshine from peeking through.