Daringly vulnerable and vocally impeccable
Luke Ballance
14:46 23rd June 2022

More about:

To the untrained eye, things couldn’t be going better for Sophie Allison. Currently in the midst of a run of European in-stores and festivals, with extensive headline tours of the UK and US to follow, the Nashville singer-songwriter has truly gone global.

Her last album as Soccer Mommy, 2020’s color theory, marked her debut on the Billboard 200, and its successor looks set to surely top that performance. Titled Sometimes Forever, it’s almost exclusively produced by Oneohtrix Point Never, whose recent outings with The Weeknd and Charli XCX have cemented his position as one of pop’s most in-demand hitmakers right now. Outside of music, everything appears just as rosy – she’s just bought her first home with the love of her life, who also happens to be her bandmate. 

But as anyone acquainted with anxiety and depression can attest, their pernicious effects can show up where they’re least expected – plus, as Allison is at pains to point out on the record, she’s the antithesis of a material girl. “I’m tired of the money and all of the talking at me / I’m barely a person, mechanically working”, she sings on the recent single “Unholy Affliction”, a kind of miniature manifesto setting out why she won’t conflate wealth with happiness or conform to cookie-cutter industry practices. Never one to dilute or sugar-coat the bleak realities of mental illness, she’s always been unabashedly upfront about the issues she’s working through and even the prescriptions she’s taking in her lyrics; the triptych color theory, released mere weeks before the pandemic hit, was segmented into chapters themed around existential dread, grief and emptiness, and frequently grappled with the subject of her mother’s terminal illness.

While Sometimes, Forever tends to operate on more of a macro level in regard to the particular challenges in her life, at times it zeroes in on the symptoms in gut-wrenchingly grisly 4K: “I cut a piece out of my thigh and felt my heart go skydiving”, she confesses on the devastating closer “Still”, a crushing acoustic song about self-harm that also recalls contemplative moments spent atop a bridge, immobilised by her thoughts. “Darkness Forever”, in which she candidly discusses Sylvia Plath’s suicide, is just as harrowing, and comes accompanied by chilling instrumentation to match. Introduced a cappella before launching into a snail’s-pace arrangement that sits comfortably between trip-hop and neo-psychedelia, it’s off the charts in terms of innovation, perfectly conveying the feeling of a depressive slump. The mention of “trying to struggle out of his leash” feels particularly poignant as a familiar metaphor comes full-circle: her breakthrough 2018 hit “Your Dog” also tackled the theme of subservience, but there it referred to a possessive partner; here her captor is her own mind.

Thankfully, we do see a happier side to Soccer Mommy over the course of the album, too. “Shotgun” and “With U” are both dedicated to her boyfriend, guitarist Julian Powell, although it’s hard to believe they were written by the same artist: the former, which also serves as the LP’s lead single, is a wonderfully riffy affair anchored in vivid imagery, while the latter is an exceptionally syrupy ballad, pairing lovey-dovey lyrics with a melody line reminiscent of Oasis in their prime. Close in proximity and subject matter but anything but in terms of production, these two tracks are a clear example of how Allison and OPN haven’t limited themselves to a singular vision on the LP. Elsewhere, the pair take cues from shoegaze, folk and new wave, and the synths oscillate between sparing flourishes and full-blown polyphony to match the emotions at play. Sometimes, the results are a little nondescript – “Don’t Ask Me”, for instance, could easily be written for her friend Beabadoobee – but for the most part, the album is all the better for its wide scope and experimental approach, providing fertile ground for some of Allison’s most heartfelt songwriting to date. Daringly vulnerable and vocally impeccable, she still has us hanging on every word.

Sometimes, Forever is out 24 June

Grab your copy of the Gigwise print magazine here.

More about:

Photo: Press