Summer is finally here, and he’s here in his most ghastly glory of high celsius chokeholds. Sleeping without covers or clothes is mandatory, tropical house plants have stopped dying and finally we journalists can indulge in writing reviews in front of open windows and our shirt off. There’s also ice cream, if we’re lucky (which we rarely are). The smoldering heat makes physical exertions fairly impossible, which leads to one of my most cherished pastimes: slacking!
Remember the 90s? Well, music journalists do, so now you don’t have to!
This explains the lasting success of Neo-Slackers such as Mac DeMarco, Snail Mail and Alex G. All of them make music with a maximal attitude and very little care for perfection. The carelessness occasionally translates into their output, with song structures breaking apart and progressions finding odd diversions, slurred vocal deliveries and albums which follow no clear dramaturgic arc.
Somewhat of an outlier to this, Soccer Mommy’s Sophie Allison has paired this attitude with a somewhat more conceptual bent: her songs often revisit melodies, tying her albums together with thematic bookends. Her lyrics have more in common with the “coming of age”-prose of Taylor Swift and Avril Lavigne than Pavement’s incidental poetry, yet her stories are that of procrastinated southern summer nights and the disregard for filling societal stereotypes associated with Slackers.
On Sometimes, Forever, her third full length, she returns from the very successful but somewhat sonically ‘appropriating’ Color Theory to a more original sound. Where the previous work was a collection of memorable songs that nonetheless felt like a mixtape of other artists (the standout track, “Crawling In My Skin” was more than an homage to Deerhunter’s iconic “Desire Lines”), Allison’s new album is a collaboration with Daniel Lopatin, the electronic virtuoso known as Oneohtrix Point Never.
Just like Allison, Lopatin is obsessed with the aesthetics of Millennial pop culture, but interprets them through a liminal kaleidoscope as virtual nightmare. This can best be traced back to Garden of Delete, for which the musician developed an entire parallel reality that played out online. It’s an interesting match: the two musicians are not so much two sides of the same coin as they are photographic negatives. Their understanding of 90s culture, Slacker dynamics and coming of age narratives is similar, yet catalyzed via opposing perspectives. And indeed, their collaboration has sparked one of the most interesting albums of this burgeoning Neo-Slacker-vibe: Sometimes, Forever is a semi-translucent hypnagogic indie album, that constantly shifts between abstract electronic ideas and rewarding indie rock classicism.
This mix allows for an interesting oscillation between laconic euphoria and somewhat creepy lo-fi moments. Compare “With U”, with its sparkling synthesizers, to the grim pseudo-trip hop of “Unholy Affliction”; the prior could easily fit on Beck’s Mutations, while the latter feels like an abandoned demo Portishead could have dumped around Third.
Like a pendulum, the album swings between those two modes of teenage eros and thanatos. The blissful, sexy dreampop of “Shotgun” is the best representation of the former: its cute guitar-synthesizer lines matching Allison’s incredibly suburban romanticism – “Cold beer and ice cream is all we keep / The only things we really need’/ Cause I like dessert and alcohol / And watching as you get drunk and you’re stumbling in the hall”. It’s this brilliant simplicity where Sometimes, Forever scores, making the listener unconsciously aware that ice cream melts just as easily as teenage love, and that the drunk protagonist likewise might have a shorter shelf life than the narrator’s romanticized perspective allows.
This darkness explodes to the forefront on other tracks, giving way for the Sylvia Plath ruminations in “Darkness Forever”, which feel like a synthetic adaptation of From a Basement on the Hill-era Elliott Smith, all John Lennon-style build up and catharsis, as Allison recalls Plath’s tragic passing.
In the hands of a different producer, these songs could have dipped into the same dated grunge-trope trappings we see slowly emerging for similar artists, but Lopatin cleverly chooses an uncannily dry drum beat and added vocoder backing vocals to create a sense of masquerade and detachment. Compare the production style here with that of a Smashing Pumpkins or Bright Eyes song, and it becomes clear that instead of merely replicating the grim earnestness present in the Generation X-era, the producer aims at creating a conscious reflection on a meta level – similar to how David Bowie had the drums on Low produced in a fashion that would sound muffled and alien. It’s this almost ironic spirit, this peeking behind the curtain of pop that aligns itself with the sarcastic irony present in the Slacker aesthetic.
Man, that sounds tryhard – because for real, the album also sounds incredible outside of such idiotic analysis: “Don’t Ask Me”, a secret cousin of Wilco’s “Pot Kettle Black”, is all muscular shoegaze guitars and Siamese Dream-era Pumpkins punchiness, all Chicago! “Following Eyes” is a strange story of a haunting encounter with paranormal forces, challenging Lopatin to find the right tone between sweet ballad and gothic apparition, settling on an atmosphere akin to the music played in the Roadhouse during Twin Peaks: The Return.
The bookending tracks, “Bones” and “Still”, create a perfect thematic framing for the larger narrative of the record as a portrait of a diminishing relationship. Lopatin’s ironic detachment, present within the plastic sounds of his hidden samples and midi-keyboards, allows for audiences to recognize this as soap opera, as recurring fiction of which Soccer Mommy happens to be the newest avatar, akin to watching the life cycle of a Sim unfold.
Yet the record isn’t wholly successful. “Newdemo” is strikingly ascetic, yet sugary, like listening to a grotesque Halloween mini-skeleton-toy sing about its former life. “Fire in the Driveway” is incredibly pretty, but feels a little lost with its muted shoegaze finish. And while there are many memorable songs here, Sometimes, Forever lacks the one incredibly grave gut-punch necessary to spiral it into the canon of instant classics. This is very likely by design, as Lopatin’s aesthetics almost seem to suggest Allison’s intentions as creating a somewhat laconic commentary on how self-centric the theatrics of teenage drama are.
And in that, the two have created somewhat of an ultimate development to the Slacker modus, which started with Beck declaring himself a “Loser”. It transports the protagonists of Liz Phair’s Whip-Smart to MySpace and Tumblr (eras already somewhat ancient by modern standards), allowing for us to recognize the charade, while also remaining earnest enough for us to identify with the attitude and postures of the music and lyrics. It’s music to laugh about our former selves at, just as much as it’s perfect to get drunk and eat ice cream to – and in that, it could define a whole new generation. But for now, it will totally define this summer.