sophie’s debut album will go down in history as a revolutionary record
Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides orbits the eclectic sounds Sophie has developed over the past five years with power and efficacy.
It’s been three years since Sophie’s debut compilation album PRODUCT was released. At a time when PC Music, the label and collective she was closely associated with, was at its apex of infamy -- the record came with a rapturous storm of incredulous critics asking what contemporary electronic music is, was, can be, shouldn’t be. This time around, knowing a little more about Sophie as a person and a producer, the release of her highly-anticipated debut studio album Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides, feels markedly different. Less a reaction and knowing comment on contemporary music, and more a reflection of the ambitious soundscapes Sophie truly wanted to create all along, but had to lay the groundwork in order to do so first.
“I want to create spaces that allow for that kind of expression to take place; free, musical, decadent spaces,” Sophie told us back in March, sat in a quiet corner of an east London cafe. “Not decadent in a material way, but decadent in terms of complete freedom of expression.” Referring to the new incarnation of her live performances, and specifically the queer, liberated atmosphere of her headline show a couple nights earlier at London gay club Heaven, the same ethos can be said of this record. Nine tracks of unpredictable, erratic and multifarious sounds that defy any closer classification than “electronic”, the album travels from from loud to quiet, dark to light, hard to soft, high to low, with a complete charm and ease. It’s a showcase of the vast spectrum of sounds Sophie has developed over the past five years, from her different mononymous releases to her production for other musicians. Yet the result is, paradoxically, something tight, cosy and coherent.
Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides opens with It’s Okay to Cry. While in many ways the anthemic power-ballard feels more fitting of a closing number, when released back in October, the song and its accompanying video beckoned a new era in Sophie’s career -- her vocals and face at front and centre -- thus setting the tone for a record that offers a different perspective on the, until recently, anonymous Scottish DJ and producer. Ponyboy and Faceshopping, the album’s two other singles follow next, forming essentially Chapter One of Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides: the new Sophie we’ve come to know in the last eight months. If these three tracks were simply released as an EP, you could be convinced that you know everything you needed to about Sophie as a musician.
But the next, Is It Cold in the Water, is an unsettling and urgent three and a half minutes that sounds something like an unanswered scream into the abyss in the middle of the night. “I’m freezing / I’m burning”, go the lyrics, as the tensions builds up and up and the music takes on a sonic manifestation of panic and anxiety. This stress and tension bleeds into Infatuation, track five, a song I can only describe as a balloon, slowly, painfully being drained of air. A distorted, infant-like vocal meets Sophie’s camp, theatrical repetition of the word “Infatuation” -- a simple refrain that slowly descends into a chaotic, overwhelming explosion of different tempos.
Not Okay offers perhaps the album’s most painful, provoking moment. In many ways this is Sophie at her most powerful, a track that renders you unable to think or act when listening, too overcome with chaos. File next to songs to survive a nuclear apocalypse to. A complete emptiness follows on track seven, Pretending. Sophie takes you from agony to ecstasy -- in Not Okay you’re fighting for your life, then suddenly, in Pretending you’re lying on your back and everything’s gone dark but for a single white light somewhere far above you. Am I dead? Is this the afterlife? This is the album at its most epic, its most grand, its most visionary. Sophie takes the intangible chaos of her first six songs and offers you a luxurious six minutes of stillness, allowing every second of the song to wash over you like water.
Never one to follow a linear path, the album’s definitive pop moment follows on track eight. Immaterial is the song that bridges Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides with PRODUCT. It’s Sophie reminding you why you fell in love with her music in the first place. High-energy, bouncing, joyful, a template of modern pop music. Mindless and devoid of meaning, yet rich in emotion, it’s a rush of endorphins to your brain and a night out with all your friends stretching ahead of you.
Track nine, the closing track, ties everything together. As its name suggests, Sophie really has created a Whole New World, and this nine-minute two part track is emblematic of the world she's invited us into. Aggressive but inclusive, awkward but empowered. Sirens and deep, visceral mechanical snarls slowly transcend into something much more delicate, as the track transitions into Pretend World. Night turns to day and an air of calmness and stillness can be felt. A feeling that Sophie has poured her entire being -- every emotion, whether it a judicious thought or noxious, overwhelming pang of anxiety -- into this record, and now she is done, spent, ready to go to bed and not return for a while.