Music Reviews

Soccer Mommy Clean

(Fat Possum) Rating - 8/10

Sophie Allison makes an emotional commitment on Clean. The 20-year-old singer-songwriter, who goes by the pseudonym Soccer Mommy, confronts her internal contradictions with a helplessness that defines her age. A junior counterpart to other contemporaries such as Jay Som and Frankie Cosmos, Allison began to shape her voice by self-releasing her songs on popular music platform Bandcamp. As it is with new artists who’ve been discovered by similar means, she now faces a unique conundrum - forge a creative path after having been thrust into a life pursuing art or continue any academic obligations. Instead of expressing genuine feelings while under relative obscurity, or at least for only a handful to see, she now must feel the responsibility to communicate to others rather than keep her thoughts within the space of a shared dorm room.

Allison may have put her life on temporary hold, but every past wound on Clean feels as fresh as the day it was inflicted. She expresses her desires in an unreserved manner, as she stumbles into situations that make her fume in displeasure. On Your Dog, a fraught Allison demands her worth with a directness that she doesn’t soften with harshness: "I don’t want to be your fucking dog / that you drag around / a collar on my neck tied to a pole / leaving me in the freezing cold." And yet her guitar lattices sound wholesome and melodic, full of possibilities, the result of a musician who began to play the guitar shortly after her infancy. It’s a lesson she also fails to learn on Cool, where she can’t help feeling threatened by another girl as she seethes with mixed feelings of pride and apprehension: "She won't ever love no boy / She'll treat you like a fucking toy / she'll break your heart  and steal your joy." Just like in Your Dog, she utilizes vicious language to make a point of her contempt.

Still, Allison uses her discourage to write love ballads that get lost in luscious, rhythmic dreamscapes. Compared to artists of a similar mold, from Waxahatchee to Vagabon, Allison is a more robust performer. She’s not driven by economic songwriting choices, meaning that her songs will often take flight into these stirring finales instead of keeping them locked into simple pop structures. Flaw, for instance, begins as a quiet, melancholic confessional until it builds into a full rhythm section that should’ve earned her a notable festival slot at Lilith Fair twenty years ago. But Allison does have the versatility to change her style at a moment’s notice - where Flaw does touch on Surfacing-era Sarah McLachlan, an electric-acoustic rocker like Last Girl mirrors the sardonic whimsy of Liz Phair. This variety of textures and moods creates an overall sound that arouses curiosity with a tuneful foundation.

By now, you must’ve assumed that Allison has an affinity for nineties alternative rock. The album cover for Clean doesn’t help, given how Allison looks into the camera with a half-open smile wearing flannel and boots. She does share an unmistakable resemblance with many of her influences, after all, but never does she give the impression that she wants to connect with a past she never knew. If anything, her intricate guitar parts and mid-fi production choices are a testament to a songwriter who has the musical chops to carry a more complex indie rock tune. On Skin, she puts forth a pair of gleaming guitar hooks as she pleas for her object of affection with a tartness that’s both disturbing and enticing. Skin also oozes with atmosphere over some subtle mallet instrumentation, and it unfolds with a certain degree of sentimentality akin to a Chris Walla production.

What’s most startling about Clean is how Allison manages her emotions with compassion and a great sense of composure. Sure, a substantial part of her reasoning is disordered, in a complete state of confusion, but that’s also par de course for someone who’s discovering the many complicated facets of love. Which, really, it never gets any easier. Allison is a beguiling romantic who doesn’t hold any punches but also considers others’ changing behavior. Always true to her word, she carries onward, and a little more empowered, until it’s time to take on the next hurdle.