New Music Reviews: Soccer Mommy, MJ Lenderman, and Cloakroom

It’s a surprisingly homogenous week of new reviews. Three American rock acts, all from the heartland, all dabbling a little in psychedelia and country. Surprisingly, Soccer Mommy, based in Nashville, is the least country-influenced of the three.

Soccer Mommy

Sometimes, Forever

2022, 8.5/10
Sophie Allison was born in Switzerland and grew up in Nashville. Sometimes, Forever is the third major-label studio album for Allison and her eponymous band. She’s part of an impressive wave of American female indie rockers who’ve emerged over the past few years. Like her contemporaries Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker, Soccer Mommy peaked with the stripped-back purity of her debut Clean – recalling Sheryl Crow’s 1990s albums.

On Sometimes, Forever, Allison is paired with electronic musician Oneohtrix Point Never – the pair were mutual admirers of each other’s work, despite inhabiting different musical worlds. OPN successfully helps Allison to expand her sound, fleshing out her songs with electronics without taking the edge from the rock band format.

Sometimes Oneohtrix Point Never is more prominent than other times – ‘With U’ is led by chirping synths, while on ‘Newdemo’, woozy synths back the acoustic guitar. Other times, Sometimes, Forever is clearly a rock record; standout track ‘Shotgun’ is taut and bare-boned, while ‘Don’t Ask Me’ is intense. Allison is still using her music as therapy – ‘Darkness Forever’, one of the first songs written for the project, starts with the line “Head in the oven/Didn’t sound so crazy/My brain was burnin’/Hot to the touch.”


MJ Lenderman

Boat Songs

2022, 8/10
Asheville’s MJ Lenderman is a member of the North Carolina band Wednesday. He’s also carved out a career as a solo performer, releasing four solo albums in quick succession. His rough-hewn sound is appealing, recalling Neil Young, The Replacements, and Uncle Tupelo and mixing alt-rock and country with a hint of psychedelia. Boat Songs has brought him more attention – deservedly so, as his songwriting is sharp, with hummable tunes and fascinating stories. It’s also his first album recorded in a professional studio.

The song usually starts with one line that I like and then I build from there. I try to make a practice of coming up with 20 or so random lines a day. Every once in a while I revisit them and most of them are garbage but sometimes one or two are good.

MJ Lenderman, interview at https://www.bornloser.org/single-post/interview-mj-lenderman

Lenderman is a talented and economical story-teller. Opener ‘Hangover Game’ tells of Michael Jordan missing Game 5 in the NBA finals, while the title of ‘You Have Bought Yourself a Boat’ is self-explanatory. ‘Boat Songs’ subtly diverse – ‘Suv’ is fast-paced and punkish, ‘Toontown’ is slow and sludgy like Black Sabbath, while ‘Under Control’ is much closer to country.

MJ Lenderman is engrossing, with his rough-hewn sound and playful sincerity – I look forward to hearing more from him.


Cloakroom

Dissolution Wave

2022, 7.5/10
Indiana band Cloakroom celebrate their tenth anniversary with the album Dissolution Wave. The three piece band play dense music, with pretty vocals, akin to UK shoegaze of the 1990s. It’s a tight and enjoyable 38-minute record. I’m running short on time today and the band’s press release is much more interesting than anything I could write, so here you go:

Dissolution Wave is a concept – a space western in which an act of theoretical physics—the dissolution wave—wipes out all of humanity’s existing art and abstract thought. In order to keep the world spinning on its axis, songsmiths must fill the ether with their compositions. Meanwhile, the Spire and Ward of Song act as a filter for human imagination: Only the best material can pass through the filter and keep the world turning.

This is the universe that Cloakroom guitarist/vocalist Doyle Martin conceived as a way of processing the last few years. “We lost a couple of close friends over the course of writing this record,” he says. “Dreaming up another world felt easier to digest than the real nitty-gritty we’re immersed in every day.”

With lyrics based on an imagined cosmology, Dissolution Wave also marks a grand expansion of Cloakroom’s dreamy space-rock palette. Written from the perspective of the album’s protagonist—an asteroid miner who writes songs by night—”A Force at Play” has an airy, pastoral feel. Meanwhile, the melancholy title track captures the miner’s regret as they lament that they signed up for such a long stint on the job, while closer “Dissembler” describes their anxiety about the revelator who will judge their work. “If you don’t write a good enough song in this universe, you run the risk of being forgotten and lose the opportunity to return as a meaningful form of life,” Martin explains. The stakes have never been higher!

The song that deviates furthest from shoegaze is ‘Doubts’ – it could slip unnoticed onto a Jason Isbell record. Placed second-to-last, it contrasts with the intensity of the closing ‘Dissembler’. There are memorable guitar moments like the driving riff of the title track and the pretty arpeggios of ‘Lambspring’.

Cloakroom make pretty shoegaze; Dissolution Wave is lovely and consistently impressive.

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8 Comments

  1. I heard of Soccer Mommy before and that tune you featured isn’t bad. You’re right indie rock is a pretty vibrant genre. A good deal of my music picks falls into it. You probably won’t be surprised MJ Lenderman is the standout to me. That Cloakroom tune doesn’t sound bad either.

    • Indie is a pretty broad genre – I think it sometimes gets pigeonholed as people mumbling with acoustic guitars but it’s pretty broad. I really struggle with mainstream rock production past the 1990s – everything gets click-tracked and it loses the swing and the soul. Indie music gets to sound more immediate and real.

  2. I listened to these today a few times. The one that catches me the most is MJ Lenderman…odd story matter but it works. The sound is what I like the most. The fat rhythm guitar and the lead over the it…he has a wonderful sound.

  3. I like all three songs you featured Graham. “Shotgun” by Soccer Mommy is a good song, and for some reason reminds me of the recent Snail Mail hit “Valentine”. I think my favorite is the one by Cloakroom, due to its, as you so well described, dense shoegaze sound.

    • Yeah, Snail Mail and Soccer Mommy are pretty similar in a lot of ways – they even have the same initials for their pseudonyms. Soccer Mommy has experimented a bit more with texture.

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