Review: Soccer Mommy, 'Clean'
Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.
The music of Soccer Mommy — aka 20-year-old Nashville songwriter Sophie Allison — often focuses on uneasy desire, sometimes peered at in retrospect and always with a kind of world-weary wisdom. "I want to be the one you miss when you're alone / I want to be the one you're kissing when you're stoned ... I'm clawing at your skin / trying to see your bones," Allison sings on the dreamy "Skin" from her new album, Clean.
Clean (out March 2 on Fat Possum) is Allison's first full album of new material after several bedroom-recorded EPs and 2017's Collection, which included reworked demos and a handful of new songs. Its higher production value doesn't abandon the bedroom-pop intimacy that has anchored Allison's earlier music, though several songs feature more fleshed-out rock tropes that add an instrumental element to Allison's penchant for emotional payoffs. It's tempting to say that singles "Cool" or "Your Dog," with their big rock choruses and resonant climaxes, represent the greatest step forward for Soccer Mommy. The more aggressive sounds are tactfully employed, giving Allison a chance to show off her guitar chops while making her introspection feel anthemic. But these grand gestures aren't the only way to express pain, fear, anger and longing, and Allison knows that. Most of opening track "Still Clean," for example, is built on Allison's voice and guitar, like her earlier lo-fi releases; when other instruments sneak in, they only underscore the song's achingly beautiful tone.
Clean's songs lend a graceful sense of patience and perspective to states commonly associated with teen girlhood that actually plague most of us throughout our lives — feeling jealous, disempowered, infatuated or vulnerable — and the tropes that ensnare women as we try to deal with them. On "Last Girl," Allison sings over pop-punk guitars about comparing herself to a current crush's old flame with not so much self-depreciation as genuine curiosity; it's sneakily snarky, but lays no blame at the feet of the title girl. On "Cool," she admires a woman who breaks hearts and eats boys alive; on "Your Dog," she demands autonomy from a partner who keeps her on a tight leash.
Throughout the album, Allison stays committed to the difficult — and often lonely — task of untangling the emotional threads of love, longing and power, balancing genuine thoughtfulness and youthful ease. The songs on Clean take seriously the complicated — and often contradictory — parts of our inner lives, believing that the challenges facing each of us are deeply unique, universally resonant and deserving of our compassion.