On Clean, her first official album as Soccer Mommy, Clean, singer-songwriter Sophie Allison crafts a succinct record about romantic insecurity and a personal reckoning with bad habits and instincts to overcome. Several songs—in particular, the second track “Cool”—evoke the light-grunge, DIY indie rock of the ‘90s that artists like Liz Phair, who Soccer Mommy has opened for, helped to popularize at that time.
The album mostly maintains a mellow, melancholic air, with a few notable exceptions by way of added rhythm, effects, or especially-jangly guitar riffs. The ten songs ultimately have a general, unifying theme, as well as a loose kind of progression towards a solution to the problem posed within that theme.
The songs are largely about recovering from a relationship—or multiple relationships—that have failed because of lack of feeling from one side, or a posturing that wasn’t honest, or an insecurity that was too hard to shake. Some songs in particular, although not placed directly next to each other in a linear narrative, could be seen as part of a single story. The first two tracks, “Still Clean” and “Cool” mirror each other in surprising ways. “Still Clean,” as a quiet introduction to the album, has Allison comparing an ex to an animal, a wolf, which used her for its basic satisfaction and disposed of her easily when he was done with what she could give. She had to suffer but he is “still clean” and remains untouched and unchanged by their relationship. “Cool” has Allison singing about “Mary,” a cool girl who is seen in the singer’s eyes as cool because she doesn’t get attached to the boys she “uses like toys,” and who doesn’t get hung up on them in any way. The singer here aspires to be more like Mary, who incidentally sounds a whole lot like the ex “wolf” in “Still Clean,” who remained aloof and untouchable. This trilogy ends later in the album with “Scorpio Rising,” which depicts a relationship where the singer has essentially become “cool” like Mary, but that very “coolness” is losing her the guy she wants. In this relationship, the coolness the singer has been performing in the hopes that she would more easily attract someone, and avoid too much hurt on her side, has started to look too much like “coldness” in the eyes of her new partner, who now has eyes for a more effusive, effervescent, “warmer” girl.
Outside of that relatable tale of being the accidental architect of your own unhappiness, the album includes a few standalone tracks that are not as immediately engaging as songs like “Cool” or “Scorpio Rising,” but still explore universal feelings in a specific way. “Your Dog” is an early track that is as catchy and hook-y as “Cool”, and is one of the few songs here that have the singer standing up for herself against a partner who wants to use her in a disposable or shallow way. The other track similar to that is “Blossom (Wasting All My Time)”, which has Allison singing first to an ex who was wasting her time by making her wonder how he felt about her; and then singing about a new guy who doesn’t make her question everything about his feelings or her own.
“Flaw” and “Skin” are quieter songs on the album, exploring the denial of your own mistakes and the desire to be desired, respectively. They are fine songs but pale a little in comparison to the stronger songs they are placed next to in the album. “Last Girl” is a song entirely about the singer’s insecurity over her current boyfriend’s last girlfriend, and is sung in a disarming way that makes it compelling. Rather than seem angry or full of heightened jealousy, the singer sounds genuinely admiring of and impressed by the ex-girlfriend, which makes the song’s sentiment even sadder. The singer is so sure that this ex is an objectively better “catch,” so she is honestly, and without manipulation, asking “why would you want to be with me?”
After the climax that comes with “Scorpio Rising”—although I wish the song got a little more cathartic and sonically bolder than it does—there’s a short, lovely instrumental “Interlude” before one last track. “Wildflowers” is the moment of closure the album needs; it’s a moment in which the singer accepts herself after everything has finally blown up in her face, and all of her self-denial, cool-posturing and deep insecurities have only kept her as unhappy as she was before. She has to admit that her methods so far have not been working. This moment of clarity also sounds different from the nine previous songs, with a slight reverb effect that makes the song immediately distinct in a way that will subconsciously indicate to listeners that a page has been turned.
“Clean” is ultimately a solid entry into the (re?)burgeoning genre of “sad girl with a guitar” rock (hello, Snail Mail), but the specificity of the feelings explored within each song here really help to distinguish this album from others like it. There are a few moments that are a bit too quiet for my own taste, but the overall coherence of the themes and the sound is a good indicator of a strong talent that will hopefully continue to blossom on each subsequent release.