It’s one thing to write a good song, and quite another to do it while channeling today’s emotional zeitgeist. In our present era of “Sad Girl Rock” – a demeaning, albeit apt label – a number of indie singer-songwriters are flourishing as the puppet masters of Millennial heartstrings. It’s common to find these young artists playing venues that before covid were reserved for electropop producers and touring vets – in other words, happy music. Leave it up to a pandemic to push brooding to the top of our wish lists.
Vigilant listeners will point to Fiona Apple (or Aimee Mann) and note that this music has never gone out of style. On top of that, we’ve long had a soft spot for anguished young men – emo music. Whatever the case, it does seem that Phoebe Bridgers, Snail Mail, Julien Baker, et al have annexed a lion’s share of today’s coffee shop radio.
As a natural ruminator, I prefer it this way. I’ll advance the basic argument that these artists, like so many before them, simply write good hooks. Among the hookiest is 25-year-old Sophie Allison, better known by her stage alias Soccer Mommy. The Nashville-based guitarist and her five-piece band packed the Moore Theatre on Tuesday, much to the delight of Seattleites facing down the long barrel of winter.
Allison’s meteoric rise kicked off with her 2018 debut Clean, a critical darling that earned her touring spots with Vampire Weekend and Wilco. Her follow-up, the somber and earworm-packed Color Theory, dropped in February 2020, establishing Soccer Mommy as a melancholic go-to shortly before our collective isolation.
Sitting for interviews amidst her newfound success, Allison gives off a humble, somewhat introverted vibe. She hasn’t followed her fame to the coasts and lives in a modest Nashville home with her boyfriend Julien Powell, the band’s guitarist. Allison freely admits to writing sad songs – she attributes this to low states of mind while touring, a family sickness, and the ever-intensifying pressure of online celebrity. Intimate lyrics, she says, produce a more powerful reaction in fans. Having seen this in action, there’s little reason to dial back the sentiment.
Down on Second Avenue, the Moore’s largely twenty-something crowd was treated to almost all of Soccer Mommy’s newest album Sometimes, Forever, her most sonically adventurous work to date. With her three-guitar band – instrumentation echoing Built to Spill – Allison ran through Sometimes, Forever openers “Bones” and “With U” before returning to Color Theory favorites “Circle the Drain” and “Lucy.”
The atmosphere underwent a discernible shift as the group veered into synthesizer territory, encapsulated by the dark, electronic grooves of “Unholy Affliction” and “Darkness Forever,” recent tracks that veer toward the noir soundscapes of Portishead and Massive Attack. Showcasing her singer-songwriter roots, Allison performed a few solo numbers as her band took a breather. They returned to close things out with old favorites, including her career’s foundational hit “Your Dog.”
Pundits will speculate whether “Sad Girl Rock” represents a dawning epoch or a flash in the pan. Either way, it’s worth remembering that women alt-rockers have long thrived in our Seattle scene, from Heart and Sleater-Kinney to newer entrants Great Grandpa and Chastity Belt. There’s undoubtedly staying power here – an endurance perhaps best exemplified by Soccer Mommy’s stated idol Avril Lavigne, whose songs still ring from karaoke bars like weekend clockwork.