Sophie Allison might be exactly the type of person you don’t want to do karaoke with: Instead of screeching off-key high notes four vodka crans deep, she’s making it good and making you think. On her new EP Karaoke Night, she rents out a room just for herself, singing covers she’s performed live as Soccer Mommy but never recorded until now. It’s simultaneously an homage to her varied influences and a manifesto for her own dreamy sound.
Some covers make you reimagine what the original actually means, like “Soak Up the Sun,” which Allison released in July to align with Sheryl Crow’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Crow wrote the track while recovering from surgery, and it comes across as a gleaming, upbeat anthem championing a better mindset. Allison’s version is messier and more contemplative, almost as if she’s trying to convince herself of its positivity. The chorus is a fuzzy, watery expanse, leaving only a warped memory of the original bubblegum pop. The words “I’m gonna tell everyone to lighten up” feel more ironic than earnest.
Allison’s treatment of “I’m Only Me When I’m With You” has a similar effect. Swift’s track is classic Debut Taylor, with its fiddle solo and her exaggerated country twang. Allison’s slightly slower tempo and matter-of-fact vocal delivery highlight the gravity of the situation: “I’m only me when I’m with you.” Instead of soundtracking a local hoedown in full swing, the song begins under a spinning disco ball in a barn with only four people left on the floor. Even when the beat kicks in, there’s still an element of ennui that comes through amidst its sweetness.
Other covers offer a direct line to Allison’s work. Pavement’s classic ballad “Here” is even in the same key and tempo range as “Still,” the closer to her 2022 album Sometimes, Forever. Her rendition opens the EP, and her laissez-faire delivery mirrors that of the original, but with an added sincerity: While Malkmus sings lines like “Your jokes are always bad/But they’re not as bad as this” with rueful jadedness, Allison sounds like she’s still putting in effort despite exhaustion. The EP’s other bookend is R.E.M’s “Losing My Religion,” a song that has always felt oddly buoyant despite being about unrequited love. Allison leaves no question of its melancholia, changing the main chords to be more dissonant.
Each song on Karaoke Night reckons to some degree with temporality and impermanence, themes threaded throughout Allison’s past projects. “The world is full of noise/I hear it all the time” from Slowdive’s “Dagger” is the kind of quasi-nihilistic line that might have appeared in her songs “Darkness Forever” or “Crawling In My Skin.” It validates that she is not alone in her self-doubt, devotion, and existential malaise, despite how isolated she may feel sometimes. These ideas are ageless, whether they’re shared in front of a crowd or alone with a single microphone.