Covering herself in blood, dancing around her room in front of her dead boyfriend’s corpse, Soccer Mommy finds serenity. Or at least what appears serene. As she pours out red liquid from a coffee mug leaning over the edge of a rooftop, her face — bearing a nose ring, piercing hazel eyes and a stoic expression — is hard to read. Her mouth looks equally ready to break into a grimace or a smile. By killing her boyfriend, she’s released from the emotional abuse, no longer his dog to lick his feet, and she basks in this freedom. Freedom to defile him, play videogames and waltz alone. Finally, she has the space she wanted to breathe and the room he never gave her. But at the end of this macabre party, after dragging the deceased around for the three minutes of single “Your Dog,” Soccer Mommy rubs his arm tenderly, and looks a little sad. Her face still doesn’t betray her precise feelings, but in her fingers is longing.
Soccer Mommy cites punk and grunge as musical inspirations, and the influence shows in the “Your Dog” music video. The video for Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” comes to mind when she draws a black cross on the dead boyfriend’s forehead, and lyrically the two songs tackle the same theme. They feel trapped in a bad relationship.
Bad relationships are the running concern on the DIY indie rocker’s effective debut album Clean. Over alternatively soft and subtly vicious chord progressions, she sings about unfollowed desires, self-doubt and disappointment. On “Cool,” the grittiest she gets instrumentally, she wishes she could have the cold, casual aesthetic of the romanticized “cool-girl,” the kind of girl who will never love back and who will never care. The kind of girl the guy she wants would want.
That desire comes back again and again. It’s on “Last Girl,” a jumpy and upbeat track where she wishes she was her lover’s last girl. “I want to be like your last girl / ’Cause she’s got looks that drive you all down / Loved the way she wears her makeup,” she sings, thinking that things might go differently if only she was different, if only she was cool like the last girl. On “Scorpio Rising,” she watches as a guy she likes looks over a girl “bubbly and sweet like a Coca-Cola.”
She’s not alone here. Soccer Mommy — the project of Nashville-based Sophie Allison — fits nicely alongside the talented class of female indie rockers who are leading the genre’s resurgence, artists like Mitksi, Julien Baker, Adult Mom, Ian Sweet and Phoebe Bridgers (whom Allison is currently on tour with). Women armed with stunning guitar riffs, catchy melodies in minor keys, a tint of grunge and, often, a biting malaise. Each of these artists have played with this idea of wanting different skin, often the skin they think their lovers want. Mitski considers shedding her ethnicity for a boy on “Your Best American Girl”; Julien Baker misses a former self on “Appointments.”
Soccer Mommy falls on the quieter end of this group, not as strapping as Mitski or as grand as Julien Baker. Her arrangements are sparse, almost always as simple as a stripped guitar and her clear, intimate vocals. Clean finds her experimenting with newer, heavier sounds while still honing her eye for the simplistic. Much of the album is built around the sound of breakthrough singles “Allison” and “Out Worn,” which gained traction on Bandcamp and through social media sites like Tumblr and Twitter. At times Clean can suffer from the apprehension that follows such a breakout, as if she never intended to make it in the first place and is still figuring out what kind of star she might want to be.
Mostly she avoids this though, and the best moments on Clean, like “Your Dog” and closer “Wildflowers,” suggest a more confident woman behind the guitar than we’ve heard from her before, and as her first foray into producing something as large as an album, she hits the mark not by attempting the high dive, but rather by perfecting her form in shallower water.