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Wednesday, June 27, 2018

SOPHIE - OIL OF EVERY PEARL’s UN-INSIDES Music Album Reviews

SOPHIE - OIL OF EVERY PEARL’s UN-INSIDES Music Album Reviews
The experimental music of SOPHIE relaxes into new forms on her debut album. It is sprawling and beautiful, while still keeping the disorienting, latex-pop feel of her fascinating production technique.

Since 2013, SOPHIE has carved out an instantly identifiable musical vernacular based on synthesized bubble sounds, brash treble, deep bass, and distended, anonymous vocals. Listening to early singles like “Lemonade” or “Vyzee” could be a disorienting (and thrilling) experience, because SOPHIE’s music sounded like a latex-coated version of radio pop: It followed many of the same rules that governed the mainstream, but all the textures were too taut, too perfect, too unreal. But in the self-directed music video for “It’s Okay to Cry,” SOPHIE appeared in front of the lens of a camera and introduced an element of vulnerability to her work. Her own voice appeared on that track, and though still digitally altered, it sounded tentative and cracked through with subtle flaws. Finally, one of the most intriguing new presences in experimental pop had fully materialized.

SOPHIE’s debut album, OIL OF EVERY PEARL’s UN-INSIDES, adapts many of the technical strategies heard on her previous work to looser, more sprawling compositions. Instead of chaining together compact singles as on 2015’s PRODUCT, the album builds and releases narrative tension. Beat-heavy romps like “Ponyboy” and “Faceshopping” nestle together at the top of the tracklist after “It’s Okay to Cry,” giving way to celestial swells of synthesizer and voice. Where SOPHIE’s early singles exhibited a keen feel for economy and a killer sense of humor, OIL makes a bid for transcendent beauty.

One of the album’s most astonishing tracks, “Is It Cold in the Water?” brings SOPHIE’s music to a newly searching place. “I’m freezing/I’m burning/I’ve left my home,” a voice sings in breathy soprano. Cycling synthesizer chords build in volume throughout the verse and then drop away by the end of the first chorus. The voice sings the song’s title, stretching out the word “cold” across a series of notes, as though it belonged to someone standing at the edge of the ocean, wondering if they should jump. It’s the clearest image to arise from a SOPHIE song to date, and it sets the rest of the album in motion.

The rotating chords continue into “Infatuation,” a low-key number about admiring someone from afar, only now it’s a processed human voice singing the notes instead of a synthesizer. Then the song structures to which SOPHIE had been beholden for most of her career dissolve. The abrasive, chaotic interlude “Not Okay” opens up into “Pretending,” a six-minute ambient murk entirely unlike anything SOPHIE has put her name to before. Its formlessness, and the inclusion of stray, garbled voices towards the end suggests a primordial becoming, a vacancy from which structures can emerge. Out of the fog comes the refrain of the next song, gleefully repeated over handclaps that land on every beat: “Immaterial girls!/Immaterial boys!”

The transition from amorphous noise to giddy rallying cry ranks among OIL’s most satisfying moments. With self-affirming lyrics (“I can be anything I want”) sung through elastic pitch-shifting software, “Immaterial” sits at the album’s thematic core. It’s the molecules of a Madonna song filtered through a new context, speaking to how desire informs selfhood, how wanting to be something—a gender other than the one you were assigned at birth, say—is a big step in the process of becoming it. It may be the only step. “Immaterial” indulges desire the way the smartest pop songs can, by both inviting and challenging it. Its voices dance along irresistible melodies, and then they get distorted into impossible ones, twisted beyond their “natural” ranges into new, disarming shapes.

“Immaterial,” alongside OIL’s storming, nine-minute conclusion “Whole New World:Pretend World,” speaks to a conception of gender, being, and selfhood that feels increasingly resonant. By complicating the naturalness of the human voice and corrupting established pop structures, SOPHIE also complicates the supposed naturalness of gender, which has always been inextricable from music. Her work is a sphere where will and impulse take priority over fate and legacy. Nothing is preordained; everything is always in flux. When, on “Whole New World,” the distorted, feminized voices that have become her trademark shout out the song’s title one syllable at a time—”whole! new! world!”—it sounds almost like a manifesto, a political demand. It sounds like the kind of phrase you’d shout in a crowd while clamoring for the freedom to be whatever it is you already are.

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