SOPHIE - OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES - Review

With the release of the album OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES, avant-pop artist SOPHIE places herself at the top of the musical pantheon, ready to change auditory pop perfection as we know it.

The L.A. based producer, songwriter, and creator is an enigma. Prior to releasing her 2018 album (which, when said out loud, is meant to sound like “I LOVE EVERY PERSON’S INSIDES”), her identity was completely under wraps - her age, appearance, and, at the time, gender were all undisclosed, masked behind an output of textured singles with strange titles like “BIPP” and “MSMSMSM”. Her first project PRODUCT was released in 2015, and since then, SOPHIE has been kept in the darkness, her persona being carried behind pitched vocals and artificial instrumentation.

However, her debut album, released on June 15th, subverts expectations: OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES is an eclectic, meditative album on identity, society, and genre as it stands in the modern pop landscape.

When promoting OIL, SOPHIE decided to come out of her shell, and it pays off tremendously. The single “It’s Okay To Cry” was the first introduction to the record, and features the producer herself softly whisper-singing over a jingly keyboard riff and atmospheric synthesizers - a huge contrast to the abrasive IDM on her previous work. Every word, note, and breath here is incredibly delicate, and lyrics like “All of the big occasions you might have missed / No, I accept you” gain deeper meaning when considering that the song was SOPHIE’s self-introduction into the spotlight as a trans woman. By shedding the mystique, she allows herself to shine and become vulnerable, in a way previously uncharted.

The sound throughout the record consistently toes the line between bubblegum pop and industrial chaos with ease. She intends to be abrasive, purposefully developing sound clashes that upon the first listen make the listener jump, but reveal intricate and sophisticated progression beyond the inaccessibility. A first listen of “Ponyboy” or “Whole New World/Pretend World” can leave the regular listener confused, but through the disorientation, it’s easy to see that the whole record is shrouded in unparalleled creativity.

OIL reflects SOPHIE’s other work in that it carries a metallic shimmer, as though you’re immersed in a reflection of sort; on the surface it could appear bland and emotionless (as does most PC Music influenced bubblegum bass), yet there is something incredibly enticing just beyond grasp. Every note seems to come out of nowhere and leaves you at the edge of your seat in an incredibly surrealist form of auditory entertainment. Songs like “Faceshopping” feel as if machines haphazardly clanging together were banging in time - however, it all seems effortlessly calculated. There is an intention in every single note programmed, with every sound enhancing and adding to an emotional cacophony.

Where the record truly shines, however, is where it taps into that emotion. The centerpiece, and arguably an early contender for song of the year, is the immersive “Is It Cold In The Water?”, a song that frames itself as a melodic piece of performance art. Over sweeping bass and a consistently pulsating synthesizer that never lets up for the three and a half minute runtime, Mozart’s Sister sings lyrics like “I’m freezing / I’m burning / I’ve left my home”. Her voice, hauntingly gorgeous and, again, delicate, cascades over the production effortlessly, jumping octaves and flowing as if the song was the water itself. It is full of genuine uncertainty; when she begs the question “Is it cold in the water?” over and over again, it is desperation seeping through, conveying the true and very real fear of not knowing. When considering SOPHIE’s struggles with self and gender, even though she isn’t singing herself on this track, “Is It Cold In The Water?” is a meditation on what the unknown brings in a change of identity. The track seems to be an auditory form of rebirth, cleansing the palate and capturing the essence of transformation. The song is an experience, rather than a piece of music; it’s one of the most incredible forms of experimental emotion ever committed to a pop record.

OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES, in a phrase, is merely something that a listener has never heard before. The form-breaking tracks of “Ponyboy” and “Faceshopping” incorporate breakdowns fusing industrial music with IDM. “Infatuation”, much like “Is It Cold In The Water?” is a slow-burn track full of whispers and pseudo-harmonies over punching synthesizers. Even a cookie cutter pop song like “Immaterial” is an incredible earworm using sparse production to convey a critique on a materialistic society. The unconventionality oozes from every note, drop, and beat OIL brings; it is as though we are seeing into the future through an auditory crystal ball.

Every listener to this album will have a different experience. The impact this record has is felt where SOPHIE fills a sonic space or leaves it empty, it is felt with every single instrumental clash, it is felt in the feeling one automatically gets in their chest upon hearing the near six minute long ambient instrumental “Pretending” or the aforementioned “Is It Cold In The Water?”. The album looks to the future, and poises itself to challenge it with every lyric. With her first full-length record, SOPHIE makes her presence known, in both the pop scene and musical landscape, as a force to be reckoned with, and as the sole proprietor of an uncharted sound no one else dares to explore.

-- Reanna Cruz