Back in town for the second time in a year, this time in support of her debut album proper Clean, Sophie Allison (aka Soccer Mommy) showed just why she has audiences flocking to her shows around the world. Her dreamy bedroom pop sounds are a perfect fit with Brighton’s current tastes, so it was no surprise to see her sell out The Hope & Ruin once more for what still remained a surprisingly intimate show despite the touring band behind her.
Support came in the form of Max Levy, performing solo as Garden Centre. A regular on the Brighton scene for some time, this still doesn’t prepare an audience for just how out-there Garden Centre is – think Brian Wilson if he decided Smile could have done with being a little bit more eccentric. MGMT at their most psychedelic also came to mind on what was without a doubt the weirdest, yet strangely enthralling, support set I have seen all year. With tracks based around slithering sea creatures, mangled bodies or just meeting someone in a toilet, his mix of lo-fi synths and guitar has to be seen and heard to be believed. Once tuned into his wavelength, the transition of faces in the audience from “What is this?” to ones of enjoyment were great to see.
For Soccer Mommy, Clean marks the culmination of a phenomenal few years. Snapped up by Fat Possum Records after her Bandcamp demos caused ears to be pricked up around the world, that initial promise was shown to bear further fruit with the mini-compilation Collection. The concise Clean offers a slightly more polished sound, but still holds true to the relatability and blunt honesty that we have come to expect from the Nashville singer-songwriter.
Opening tonight with the yearning ‘Henry’, Allison seemed to still be back in that bedroom where many of these tracks originated. Sighing: “He won’t ever love the way I did, but everybody’s falling hard for him” with her eyes tight shut and her body slowly swaying at the mic, it showcased her unerring ability to find an emotional impact with the simplest of lines. Themes of insecurity or unrequited love ran through much of the material tonight, whether on the Elliott Smith-like ‘Try’ where dreams are made from unknown strangers on the street or on the gorgeous yet forlorn ‘Last Girl’ (Why would you still want to be with me? When she’s got everything you’ll ever need?”). Moments and sentiments like these universal fears and self-doubts make it obvious how she has captured hearts around the world. There’s a universality that reaches across generations, and the stripped back lo-fi sound aesthetic give a timeless quality.
The addition of a touring band added greatly to her performance tonight, elevating material like ‘Inside Out’ into a different beast altogether. It helped the likes of ‘Your Dog’ to bare their teeth, before the tempo slowed down completely with a short solo section that included a gloriously fuzzy cover of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘I’m On Fire’ that wrenched every drop of emotion out of it. As with her last performance in Brighton, though, the show was wrapped up just as it seemed to really begin.
All of Allison’s recorded work gives an impression of someone who knows how to deliver a message with the minimum of fuss and maximum brevity, and tonight was no different, with her announcement of the impending encore arriving when some were still finishing their first drink. Joking with the crowd who bayed for that extra song she had promised them, she wrapped up with old favourite ‘Waiting For Cars’ and then was gone into the night. Just like her songs, the night was short, sharp, sweet and very much to the point. As this enigmatic singer continues to develop and evolve her sound, there really is no limit to where she can go. Wherever that is, count us in.