Skeptics who have yet to listen to the music of indie-rock princess “Soccer Mommy,” the alias of 20-year-old New York University dropout Sophie Allison, might scoff when told the tracks of the facetiously named artist are landing on the “chill” playlists of culturally astute stoner teens everywhere. More jaded listeners might label Allison’s brand as the natural extension of the ironically detached, self-aggrandizing bent that has become synonymous with alt-rock since Pavement. But there’s no predictable, masturbatory aesthetic to Allison or her music. Her anthemic, coming-of-age studio album “Clean” — released on March 2 — proves just that.
“Clean” is Allison’s proper debut with Fat Possum Records, an independent label that previously released 2017’s “Collection,” Allison’s quite-literal collection of demos and re-worked songs from her self-produced E.P.s, posted to Bandcamp the summer before leaving for college. Jagged, vulnerable and self-aware, the tracks from “Clean” forcefully capture Allison’s longing for self-acceptance. “‘You gon’ be like that,’ is kind of the lesson of the album,” Allison told The Fader.
On tracks like “Your Dog” and “Cool,” Allison channels ’90s punk-rock angst with a fresh perspective even while singing about frustration, desire and detachment. Throughout the album, Allison futilely pines after a fictive romantic ideal — embodied by the character Mary on the track “Cool.” Defined by a want to be wanted, Allison’s lyricism echoes the universal anxiety of singer-songwriters and situates herself in an illustrious tradition of fruitless longing expressed through song. The album’s edgier songs are offset by the misty, allegorical “Still Clean,” where Allison compares her ex-lover to an animal who picked her out of his teeth. The LP’s climax and crown jewel is “Scorpio Rising” — an apical track in which Allison reflects on nights spent with a boy who she knows is going to leave her for someone else. “And I’m just a victim of changing planets / My Scorpio rising and my parents,” she laments as the final verse crescendos in a sonic variegation that elevates the track beyond mere sentimentality.
While it’s inevitable that Allison’s signature pout will wind up lending a provocative aesthetic to many a college dorm room, attempts to commercialize her persona do her an injustice. In the months before the release of “Clean,” The Fader profiled Allison under the headline “Soccer Mommy is 2018’s chillest new rock star” — despite the fact that there is nothing particularly “chill” about the existential tumult behind her lyrics. Though Allison lists young Taylor Swift and Avril Lavigne among her biggest influences, her music is far smarter than theirs. It nails Swift’s cathartic reliability without relying on tropism and lyrically outpaces the “Hey hey / you you” punk angst that Lavigne trademarked in the mid-2000s. Allison’s gift for poetry distinguishes her from rebellious girl-next-doors of yore. Allison’s astuteness, vulnerability and fleshy candor resound beyond the treacly song-writing of her influences while also transcending the self-satisfying obscura and affect of her alt-rock contemporaries.