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It was just about a year ago that I first heard the music of singer songwriter Phoebe Bridgers. Her debut album ended up in my top ten albums of 2017. But Bridgers was just one of a handful of female singer songwriters to emerge from the indie music scene over the past year. Julien Baker is another very prominent example, and Jay Som is another artist I included in my top ten last year. Markia Hackman also released a really strong album in 2017.
At some point late in the year, we started to hear some buzz about another new singer songwriter with an upcoming album. Sophie Allison is a 20 year old musician that records under the name Soccer Mommy. She’s put out a handful of EPs and song collections via sites like Bandcamp, and she’s just released her first official album this week, entitled “Clean.” [ Amazon | iTunes ]
If you’ve listened to any of the artists I’ve just mentioned, you’ll know what to expect from Soccer Mommy. She’s part of that same wave of what seems to be called “bedroom pop”… it’s this lo-fi, homemade, intimate sounding music. It’s not necessarily a new sound. I talked about Liz Phair’s “Exile In Guyville” recently, a lo-fi masterpiece that’s 25 years old. [ Amazon | iTunes ] I don’t think I ever heard the phrase “bedroom pop” associated with that album, but it should certainly be considered one of the genre’s landmarks.
These days, it kind of feels like a small world. Phoebe Bridgers toured with Julien Baker last year, and this year she’s hitting the road with Soccer Mommy. Based on their albums as well as the live clips I’ve seen online, I’d say the Bridgers-Soccer Mommy show would be a can’t miss if they hit one of your local venues. If you need more convincing, you can check out my Phoebe Bridgers review from September.
But today, let’s talk about the new Soccer Mommy album. Spoiler alert: I liked it quite a bit the first few times I listened to it, but later I found it a little lacking. I’ll explain later part… later.
First, let’s talk about what I like about “Clean.” Even though this is supposed to be the first official studio album from Soccer Mommy, the album still maintains the bedroom pop vibe that probably endeared her to early fans. If you go into the album expecting a glossy, polished, sonic upgrade, the very first track lets you know straight away that this is still going to be a fairly low-fi affair. “Still Clean” is a pretty stripped down album opener, with just Sophie Allison and her guitar for most of the song. Near the end, the audio seems to cut out, as if a demo version has been spliced in. It’s a nice nod to her low-fi roots.
In fact, the second track plays a trick on us as well. As the song “Cool” winds down, the music starts to warp a little as if the tape had been stretched or damaged. This song also introduces a full band, with a bit of a pop-grunge sound that could have been lifted from Liz Phair’s first album. In fact, there’s several songs on “Clean” that remind me of early Liz Phair. Which is never a bad thing, in my opinion.
But on track three, the first thing I’m actually reminded of is The Smiths. There’s a tone and melody to the guitar riff the song is built around that has a decidedly Smiths-esque feel to it. This song is one of the first singles from the album, and I think that’s a good choice. It’s a good representation of the album as a whole I think.
As track four begins, we return to a stripped down guitar sound briefly before the band joins in and adds a dream-like texture to the music. The shimmery chorus effect on the song is sort of a trademark of a lot of bedroom pop, and it works nicely here. Allison follows a very similar formula on “Blossom- Wasting All My Time.” It treads close to feeling a bit repetitive, but there’s some nice jazz chords that keep things interesting, and I like the subtle piano accents in the background too.
On “Last Girl,” we’re back in Liz Phair territory with a bit of Julianna Hatfield thrown in for good measure. This song gets my vote for the next single. It’s a great indie-pop rocker, and one of my favorite tracks on the album. By the way, as we’re making comparisons, I definitely hear a Sheryl Crow flavor to Sophie Allison’s voice. It’s especially noticeable on this particular track.
Track seven and eight continue a really strong second half for the album. “Skin” takes the tempo down just a little, helping us transition into the more tender opening of “Scorpio Rising.” This song has some of the most vivid storytelling on the album. I also love the dynamic swings in the sonic landscape here, and the way she uses distortion to add some almost organic textures to the music.
Track nine is called “Interlude,” and it is exactly that. It’s about a minute and a half of a delicate acoustic guitar arpeggio paired with electric guitar awash in reverb. Up until this point, I’m not sure that we’ve even heard an acoustic guitar on the album, so it really stands out here, and it stays front and center on “Wallflowers,” the closing track as well. As the song evolves, we get back to some of the dream-like sounds of previous songs before the piano comes in, almost like a lullaby to put the album to bed.
And as the album comes to a close, I definitely get a satisfied feeling. With a running time of a little over half an hour, it’s a short album, but it feels just right. None of the songs ever feel like they’ve overstayed their welcome, and there’s a good balance between mid-tempo rockers and the kind of intimate moments you expect from a bedroom pop artist.
And like I said earlier, I was really digging this album a lot at first. Then I went and listened to some of her earlier music from 2015 through 2017, and I was digging that a lot, too. Suffice it to say, if you like “Clean,” you should definitely go check out these earlier recordings. The problem is I was hearing some really unique sounds and experimentation on those recordings… things that really caught my ear and made me say, “hey, that was pretty cool!” And then I thought, “why aren’t I hearing anything like that on the new album?” So I went back and I listened to “Clean” a couple more times, and suddenly I felt like it was missing something that I didn’t know was missing before.
Still, there’s no denying this is a strong quote-unquote debut album that leaves me looking forward to more music in the future. And based on the kinds of things that piqued my attention in her early recordings, I feel pretty confident her follow-up album will see Soccer Mommy upping her game.
Note: This review is also available on video on the Track X Track YouTube channel.