“I don’t want to be your fucking dog,” sings Soccer Mommy’s Sophie Allison on “Your Dog,” a highlight from her new album Clean. Over knotty, distorted guitars and churning bass, Allison is equal turns confrontational and vulnerable. “I want a love that lets me breathe/I’ve been choking on your leash.” It’s a mission statement, a reclamation of power, a rewriting of all indie rock’s rules.
Soccer Mommy is the project of twenty-year-old Sophie Allison, a Nashville native. She cut her teeth in her local DIY scene, going to shows and hanging out with other musicians, though she kept her own songwriting secret. “I’ve played music since I was six,” says Allison, “and I always wrote songs just for myself. I did it for fun, posting songs on Tumblr, Bandcamp, and Soundcloud. I didn’t think anyone would notice.”
All that changed the summer before Allison left for college. She bought a Tascam digital recorder and began to experiment with production, pushing the quality and craft of her songs to new heights. A buzz began to grow around her Bandcamp recordings, leading to live shows and eventually a record deal, with 2017’s critically acclaimed bedroom-recorded compilation Collection. “I realized that I could do this full-time,” says Allison. “It was either quit school now and do it, or stop growing as an artist. It was now or never.”
So Allison took the plunge. She quit school, moved back home to Nashville, shifting all her focus to music. She toured with Mitski, Jay Som, Slowdive, and others, and was featured in the New York Times article “Rock’s Not Dead, It’s Ruled By Women.” The bedroom project of Sophie Allison is now a full-time band with a new studio-album debut, Clean. Produced by Gabe Wax (War On Drugs, Deerhunter, Beirut) and mixed by Ali Chant (Perfume Genius, PJ Harvey), Clean is Allison’s journey out of the bedroom and into the studio.
“I wanted it to be a lot more cohesive than the rest of the stuff that came before,” says Allison, on her decision to record in a studio. “I’d never made a full album before, just EPs and random tracks thrown together. I wanted to make something that was a full piece of my life, that addressed similar themes and held together as a whole.”
The higher production values play to Allison’s strengths, highlighting the maturity and growth of her songwriting. The music gains clarity and power, losing none of the trademark intimacy of her Bandcamp work, something Allison credits to days spent recording in Wax’s home studio. “It still felt do-it-yourself,” she says. “It didn’t feel like making a pop album. It was like being in a nicer bedroom, with better quality stuff. It was a natural progression. I’d always wanted my music to sound this way, I just didn’t have the means before.”
“Still Clean” is a stunner of an opening track, with the signature warmth of Allison’s voice coupled with one of her best hooks. It’s mostly Allison alone with her electric guitar, playing chords and singing about an ephemeral, passing love. The song is full of heartache and defiance, equal measures vulnerability and strength, and it’s Allison at her best. It’s also a bridge of sorts, with synth flourishes rising in a crescendo behind her, ushering the listener into Soccer Mommy’s new, high-definition world.
Allison’s growth as a lyricist is most evident on “Cool”, a sharply observed character study describing an aloof stoner girl, so cool and untouchable, and the agony she inflicts on her boyfriend. “She’ll break your heart and steal your joy/like a criminal,” sings Allison, full of venom and bitterness. But what starts as a lyrical evisceration of the girl in question transforms into awe, even admiration, on the chorus: “I wanna know her like you/I wanna be that cool.” Suddenly the cold-hearted girl becomes the hero, and the song becomes a meditation on identity, on wishing to be someone else for a while.
“Flaw” is the comedown from a song like “Cool.” A melancholy ode to lovesick self-loathing, Allison sings, “I choose to blame it all on you/ ‘Cause I don’t like the truth.” There’s an ecstasy in being sad, and the chorus of “Flaw” nails that feeling perfectly. “Scorpio Rising” crystalizes these themes of identity, jealousy, and the desire to be someone else. What starts as an acoustic ballad, harkening back to the Soccer Mommy bedroom days, quickly transforms into a full-band doomed love song. “’Cause you’re made from the stars/That we watched from your car,” sings Allison, “And I’m just a victim of changing planets/My Scorpio Rising and my parents.”
Clean presents Sophie Allison as a singular artist, wise beyond her years, with an emotional authenticity all her own. “It feels like my first real record,” says Allison. “It’s my first real statement.” It’s an emotional album, heavy on themes of growth, isolation, and change, but balanced by a lightness of touch, and with hooks to spare. Clean is a true step forward, a mature, powerful album from an artist just coming into her power.
Madeline Kenney is a renaissance woman. She has a degree in neuroscience, is a skilled artist, painter and knitter, was a baker for over 9 years, and makes ends meet by nannying during the day. One might wonder where she finds the time for music, but not only has she been a musician since the age of three, but she also writes and records her own material, currently teaches voice and piano lessons, runs a small record label and is learning how to produce and engineer at the Women’s Audio Mission – the only women-built and run studio in the world.
Kenney moved to the Bay Area in 2014 to pursue a career in baking, but ultimately found a supportive local arts community that inspired her to return to her musical roots. A chance encounter with Toro Y Moi’s Chaz Bear resulted in her debut EP Signals, which was produced by Bear and released on his label Company Records. Immediately after its release, Kenney began working on her debut album. As with Signals, Bear was on hand as producer, but with Kenney as the writer, arranger and key creative force. Kenney also appears on a track on Toro Y Moi’s latest album Boo Boo.
An accomplished full-length debut, Night Night At The First Landing is a cohesive record balanced by serene beauty, cathartic breakdowns, Kenney’s powerful voice, and masterfully complex and emotional lyrics. Night Night is unavoidably dreamy, dipping into sweet fuzz while sailing through smooth, crystalline production. Though Night Night At The First Landing is technically her first full-length, music has always been a key part of Kenney’s life. Singing came naturally to the bold-voiced Kenney and she was singing loudly before beginning to study piano at the age of five. To call this record a “debut” is something of a misnomer, as those who know Kenney best might note: she’s always made music. And for the sake of music lovers, she hopefully always will.
Solitude is not always lonely, nor always so sweet as splendid isolation. More often it hovers between, ambivalent yet beautifully apprehended by Hana Vu on her debut EP How Many Times Have You Driven By. Written and produced by Hana herself, the album masters the defining balance of bedroom pop: it’s warm, sparse, and whisper-intimate yet at the same time wholly radio-ready. The opening Crying on the Subway, set on the purgatorial Metro Red Line between downtown and the valley, is saturated with a mood of L.A. noir, with Hana singing to her reflection: “In my dreams I’m in that grey room. In my chest I’m feeling dark blue. Take the Red Line into downtown. I’m trying to escape you.” It was this song— or rather its accompanying video— that first tripped the sensors of Chris and Graham of Luminelle Recordings, a recent offshoot of Fat Possum. The precocious Vu, at only seventeen, had already written music for five years, self-released an album on Soundcloud featuring a collab with Willow Smith, and polished up enough new songs for a gem of an EP, which they eagerly signed, pressed, and called in Clay Jones (Modest Mouse, Sunflower Bean) to master.
Clamoring for creative outlets from an early age, she formed musical projects and played shows, though without fully clicking with her teen peers in the local D.I.Y. brat-pack. “I wouldn’t call myself a curmudgeon, but I found it hard to be friends with other young people. Instead, I found two or three key homies, then just did my own thing— socially and in my music”— partly explaining the ambition and ambiance of How Many Times Have You Driven By. On Cool, for instance, Hana drapes a lower-key, soulful melody over beats borrowed from her friend Satchy, who also chimes in for a verse as they tarry with life’s misfortunes. She follows this with Shallow, in which her calm twists into agitation and a more recognizably rock instrumentation, all played and recorded by Hana in her bedroom. The EP returns to peace with the dreamy 426— the address of a summer residence in which Hana discovered a sense of place or belonging— though fleetingly, as her friends disbanded at the season’s end. But, c’est la vie. Solitude, for all its occasional pangs, is for Hana Vu as much a condition of her independence, a little breathing room from the throng to forge her own certain future in music. As she’ll tell you, with poise and fairly pleased with things so far,“I spend most of my time alone.” - Brandon Joyce