Love is no paradise in the songs of Sophie Allison, 20, who records as Soccer Mommy. It’s a realm of misunderstandings, disappointments, unfulfilled longings and everyday betrayals, and Soccer Mommy’s songs recount them in a haze of acceptance and resentment. “In the summer you said you loved me like an animal/Stayed beside me just enough to keep your belly full,” Ms. Allison sings in “So Clean”; then she devotes the remaining verses to missing him, predatory as he is, through the fall, winter and spring.
Soccer Mommy joins a wavelet of young women — along with Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, Mitski and many others — who are using gentle voices, pristine melodies and the expressive imperfections of indie rock for songs that probe vulnerability and trauma, self-sabotage and self-preservation. They are continuing a longstanding role of female singer-songwriters as pop’s bearers of emotional sensitivity and catharsis. But in the era of SoundCloud and Bandcamp, they need no one’s help or permission to go public. Whether anyone will listen is another question, but Soccer Mommy got through.
Ms. Allison began posting home-recorded songs to Bandcamp as Soccer Mommy in 2015, during the summer when she was about to leave her hometown, Nashville, for college at New York University. (She has since dropped out and returned to Nashville to pursue her music career.) As Soccer Mommy, she wrote about leaving behind her first love, about new independence and infatuations, about dodging the gaze of parents, about having to suddenly feel “grown.” At first, with just a guitar, she was lonely and forlorn above all; her early digital EPs were titled “Songs for the Recently Sad” and “Songs From My Bedroom.”
But she soon gathered additional instruments and confidence, turning Soccer Mommy into an indie-rock band and getting signed to Fat Possum. She reworked six Bandcamp songs and added two newer, more assertive ones for “Collection,” released last year.
“Clean” — with nine songs and an instrumental interlude — is billed as Soccer Mommy’s debut album, Ms. Allison’s first to be conceived as a whole and recorded in a studio with backup musicians and a producer. It takes pains not to be at all slick. Ms. Allison’s voice often droops a little flat, instruments are hand-played rather than programmed and the mix is proudly smudgy. As if to insist that Soccer Mommy is still loyal to low-fi, a few songs flaunt deliberate studio glitches. A demo take is suddenly spliced into “Still Clean,” while in “Cool,” the sound of a tape slowing down derails the big rock buildup at the end.
But even as it clings to indie modesty, “Clean” greatly expands the scope of Ms. Allison’s songs in both words and music. She’s not just sweet, sad and lovelorn any more. She’s riled enough, amid the tangle of guitar lines in “Your Dog,” to announce: “I want a love that lets me breathe/And I’ve been choking on your leash.” And she’s blunt and skeptical enough to face her insecurities about whether she could possibly live up to her boyfriend’s ex in “Last Girl,” with a chorus that asks, even as it echoes the beat of 1960s girl groups, “Why would you still want to be with me? She’s got everything.”
On Soccer Mommy’s previous band-style recordings, songs tended to stick to one sound from start to finish: a watery guitar strum, a certain band beat. But “Clean” is full of changes, newly willing to use contrast and dynamics. “Blossom (Wasting All My Time),” a song about “wondering if you really love me” and finding someone better, starts and ends with a strummed guitar, but opens out depths of bass and reverberation along the way.
“Skin,” a song about deep physical yearning — “I’m clawing at your skin trying to see your bones” — juxtaposes a stolid drumbeat with an octave-leaping vocal line and multiple tiers of guitars and glockenspiel, striving to incarnate the craving in sound. But she also matter-of-factly adds, “I wish you also felt like this.” Both cleareyed and passionate, she is growing up in public, unabashed.
- Via New York Times