Soccer Mommy sings songs about loss – primarily romantic and small-stakes stuff, sans crippling self-awareness where every teardrop is indeed a waterfall. The crisis point of Clean, Sophie Allison’s latest and most pointedly put-together collection of Soccer Mommy songs to date, is the fear that she’s become too cool for the objects of her romantic affection (a natural fear for someone being ruthlessly championed by Times pop columnists & Pitchfork hanger-ons). On “Cool”, she erects a character who “wants to spend her weekend right” – out with her friends “just getting high” and, consequentially, “won’t ever love no boy.” The tone of the song is longing, which is self-aware, as in she wants to long coolness more than the actual thing of putting on the proverbial jacket. Consider her Lana Del Rey contemplating the pack of cigarettes, mansion and machine gun instead of picking them up.
The highlight of her sold-out set at the dimly-lit metallic hacienda of New York’s Rough Trade, where she wears bright primary colors and glittering stars on her guitar, a kind of Jackson Pollack painting in the room’s dark Sonic Youth-industrial black, was a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire,” a song that I’ve once heard described as being exclusively about the very leather-jacket cool New Jersey singer being too horny to live. Instantly, Allison knocks the ‘80s synth-ballad and reduces it to its architecture, stripping Springsteen’s leering gait along with it. This is similar to the effect of her song “Your Dog,” which cannot be discussed by a single music critic without the image of Iggy Pop, bare-chested and writhing on the floor, being brought up. Her vision is closer to that of Big Mama Thornton & Presley, wanting to not be abused for kicks but wanting a warm place to call home.
In Springsteen, she finds wide spaces between his chords—by this point, she has dismissed her band and it’s just her in— and Springsteen’s own charged eros feel strangely innocent. In the 1985 music video, he emerges from underneath an automobile to chase the fantasies of a middle-age Reaganite homemaker. But Allison feels present, her version of the song happening right now. This is another thing said about her, that she is plain spoken. Her first releases had names like songs for the recently sad (lower caps essential) and her Bandcamp bio read “chill but kinda sad,” pithy but perfect. Every minute feels like a startling performance of intimacy which had begun an hour ago and wouldn’t end until long after she left the stage.
Allison’s project is considered part of, per NYT’s Jon Pareles, a particular “wavelet of young women” who began releasing music on Bandcamp and have recently released breakthrough records on prestige indie labels to wide acclaim. Soccer Mommy is joined in this conversation by names like Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker and Mitski and she has opened for both Baker and Mitski which solidifies the sense that this is a young scene, wilding guitars and speaking to the college-educated and angsty. The Springsteen cover reminds me of Cat Power‘s cover of “Satisfaction,” which also turned objectifying, sexual energy inward to find the blankness of an inexpressible sadness. The songs don’t feel smaller as in a typical acoustic arrangement of a studio production, but take up more emotional space than the originals.
And the difference between Allison’s earlier work and that on Clean suggests that her own work as a singer-songwriter is developing somewhere beyond bigger labels and bigger producers. The songs themselves feel big, even hashed out in Brooklyn acoustics they feel like novels with dust jackets, Godard films, things with fading colors and meant to be listened to more than once. She is from Nashville and her eyes look upward, namechecking Taylor Swift & Avril Lavigne. It is not impossible to think she will make things too big for the colligate niche.
She closes on her most popular song so far, at least one crowd member suggested it to her mid-set, “Scorpio Rising.” In it, pop astrology becomes an avenue to express loss, it’s not-quite-seriousness becoming a vital space to morn what feels like the saddest and most unbearable thing. It reminds me of a beautiful editorial in n+1 which comes to the same conclusion in the line “You have to choose your irrationality or it will choose you.” We choose Soccer Mommy, singer of the suburbia in our hearts, high school that never ends when it is late at night & skater boys still rule.