Album Review: Soccer Mommy - Clean

There’s something, possibly intentionally, cloying about the name ‘Soccer Mommy,’ the moniker that Sophie Allison has been releasing music under for the last three years. Maybe it’s the inclusion of the word ‘mommy,’ or maybe it’s the subversive play on the suburban stereotype, but at first glance, it comes off like a band that doesn’t take itself very seriously.

Originally a one-person project, Allison began releasing EPs onto the internet when she was barely out of high school—efforts with titles like Songs For The Recently Sad or Songs From My Bedroom; from there, the project slowly began to grow. The eight song effort, For Young Hearts, outside of a gratis digital release, was also available on cassette via Orchid Tapes, and less than a year ago, Allison signed to the renowned indie label Fat Possum, and issued Collection, a gathering of six old (and re-recorded) songs, plus two brand new ones.

Clean can be seen as Soccer Mommy’s proper debut—the band is no longer really just Allison, though she is still obviously the voice, as well as the face, behind the name. The album, much like the band’s name, is maybe a little cloying. Throughout the album’s nine songs (plus one short instrumental segue), Allison walks a tightrope between cutesy pop song clichés and being incredibly blunt—often blurring the lines between the two. The result is an unassuming yet impressive, and at times, startlingly catchy listen that allows its deep roots in 1990s alternative rock and on-point song writing to sneak up on you.

At its core, Clean is an album about young love and heartbreak—the two go hand in hand, don’t they? Lyrically, Allison paints evocative portraits of both being burned, as well as being the one who does the burning, as she attempts to navigate her way through relationships that may or may not only end up being about getting stoned and making out. And that’s one of the impressive things about Clean, and about Allison as a young songwriter (she’s only, like, 20 now, I guess) is that she’s writing about what a million other songwriters have written about (love, heartbreak, et. al) but she’s doing so in this strange way that blends a visceral honesty with some kind of cute indie charm.

While Soccer Mommy, for better or for worse, has been more of a ‘lo-fi’ or bedroom kind of project, Allison and the band has definitely benefitted from a larger recording budget and ability to experiment with studio trickery. Not that Clean is, like, a slick sounding pop record, or a product of some kind of indie think tank—but there’s a lot of neat stuff going on, production wise, especially in the first two songs.

On the slow burning introductory track, “Still Clean,” Allison seems like she’s building up to some kind of explosive refrain following the song’s third verse; however, she’s much too clever for that. She pulls away—it sounds like she’s singing “Only what you wanted for a little while” from a million miles away, while the acoustic guitar stabs become much, much louder, and the jittery atmospherics that have been rumbling underneath the song at times steadily grow and swoon as her voice comes back in.
Then, on the album’s second song, the angsty, fuzzed out “Cool,” rather than opting for a fade out, or even a definitive end to the song, with 30 seconds left, things gradually begin to slow down before everything comes to a stop. It’s a startling effect, but an interesting use of tape manipulation.

Clean is a relatively concise effort—10 tracks, and only one of the songs extends beyond four minutes. Structurally, Allison works to balance the energy and emotional tone of each song, knowing when to bring things in, and when to play out. Following the album’s snarling, shuffling, and jangly single “Your Dog,” the album shifts into a more introspective place, with the somber and pleading “Flaw,” and the even more somber and swooning “Blossom (Wasting All My Time.)”

Allison picks things back up within the album’s latter portion—at least immediately following the halfway mark, with the infectious one-two punch of “Last Girl” and “Skin,” before heading into Clean’s penultimate and finest moment, the dramatic, sweeping “Scorpio Rising.”

I hesitate to say that Sophie Allison has a voice that is ‘wise beyond her years,’ but she is very similar to her peers Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers in the sense that she’s balancing this wondrous sense of youthful whimsy and innocence alongside the things you only learn with age. Allison’s voice sounds very young a lot of the time, but as a frontwoman for Soccer Mommy, she’s incredibly confident, and there’s something almost instantly familiar about both her voice, as well as the band’s music—specifically songs that owe so much to the mid to late 1990s alternative rock/pop aesthetic, like the aforementioned “Last Girl” and “Skin.”

Throughout Clean, Allison traverses love, lust, heartbreak, and all of the spaces in between with her lyrics—at times, arriving as very stark observations: “Now you want to start with someone not so far,” she sings on “Scorpio Rising.” “Oh she’s bubbly and sweet like a Coca-Cola/ I watch from my drink as you look her over.” Other times, they are incredibly saccharine, like they had been pulled from the margins of a high school notebook: “I wan to be the one you’re kissing when you’re stoned,” she coos in a deadpan on “Skin.”

The tag line on Soccer Mommy’s Bandcamp page simply reads ‘chill but kind of sad,’ which is, I suppose, an accurate assessment. Clean, from start to finish, is an utterly fascinating listen that rarely falters, never overstays its welcome, and is incredibly memorable, full of big, fun sing-a-long refrains as well as downcast, introspective moments.

Clean is out now on all formats, via Fat Possum.