In the New Inquiry this month, the writer Tiana Reid asserts, “The contemporary meaning of crush—infatuation—has been sanitized. Crush is rendered cute, brief, and pathologically girlish instead of passionate, enraged, and at the very core of what, in the midst of vulnerability, keeps us going day after day.” No such accusations can be made against Clean, the debut album from Soccer Mommy, the recording identity of 20-year-old Sophie Allison.
On Clean, Allison repeatedly sings of longing – hers, for a vaguely male “you”, and his, for a host of prettier, cooler, more relaxed girls – in violent, desperate terms. Wistfulness here has a harsh edge – the pain and embarrassment of infatuation is laid bare. “It’s a bite of the apple, the touch of your lips” she sings in familiar clichés on “Scorpio Rising”, before rhyming it with the visceral, “I’m stuck in the bathroom and sick over it”. On “Your Dog” she snarls, “I don’t want to be your fucking dog / That you drag around” – but the specificity of lyrics about being “a little pet / At the edge of every bed” suggest an understanding of the psychological pull of unrequited romance, even as the song growls and resists. In “Still Clean” she imagines being literally eaten alive by an animal lust with “bloody teeth”.
Many of the tracks on Clean were written as Allison moved from her family home in Nashville to college at NYU, and a long-distance relationship with a boy back home slowly collapsed. A theme emerges: Allison often writes about feeling caged, gloomy and cold, yearning to be warm, breezy, and wild – wistful for the tanned limbs and spontaneity of a Summer Crush. Clean opens with the lyric, “In the summer / You said you loved me like an animal”; it’s final song, “Wildflowers”, begins, “Wildflowers don’t grow in the city”. In “Your Dog”, she is “tied to a pole […] in the freezing cold”, on “Scorpio Rising” she sings, “You want warmth and I’m somethin’ colder”.
“I want to be the one who makes your stomach tied” she admits on “Skin”. But no truly boy lies at the heart of Clean’s longing. Instead a parade of effortlessly cool girls are idolised, as Allison desires desirability itself. The girl she wants to be is a fantasy of a fantasy: on “Cool” she wishes she could be “The girl you pictured in a dream as the only girl”. On Scorpio rising, her crush’s supposed dream girl is “bubbly and sweet like a Coca-Cola”. “She’s the sun in your cold world,” she sings on “Last Girl”, “And I am just a dying flower / I don’t hold the summer in my eyes”.
Sonically, too, Soccer Mommy hovers somewhere between the Nineties-nostalgic grunge of Wolf Alice, and the hazy California dreams of Best Coast. Catchier, poppier, summery tones come the fore when she sings about the types of women she’d like to be: the rising and falling verses of “Last Girl”, the melodic long in o in the chorus of “Cool” (“I wanna know her like yo-oo-ou”). In moments like these, Allison’s more accessible references are pleasingly apparent (she cites mid-noughties Avril Lavigne and Taylor Swift as major influences), but the distorted textures of Nirvana and Sonic Youth (bands she discovered in high school) always remain present. “Cool” begins as a grittier take on a children’s playground rhyme (“Mary has a heart of coal / She’ll break you down and eat you whole / I saw her do it after school”) but ends with a guitar solo that dissolves into discordant noise.
Soccer Mommy has opened for Mitski and Phoebe Bridgers, and her own brand of vulnerable, piercing indie rock, with notes of Kimya Dawson and Cat Power, sits alongside these acts well. But Soccer Mommy’s songs of psychological conflict are too specific,to be reduced to comparisons with other artists: Clean is an album that insists on being heard on its own terms.
This article appears in the 14 Mar 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Putin’s spy game