In a summer that was full of stellar releases, the album “OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES” by SOPHIE was the clear standout for me. In a season where Autechre released eight hours’ worth of fantastic music and Aphex Twin released one of his best singles, Sophie’s debut album was a clear landmark release for electronic music.
I could easily call this album a pop album and review it as such, but I think that would be a disservice to this record on the technical side of things. At the same time, I can’t overlook the infectious poppiness of this album that serves as a vehicle for its technical mastery. Yet this album doesn’t live in two worlds; it exists in just the one. This album is a masterpiece because of how seamlessly it blends this cutting-edge creativity with songs that ooze pop.
Take, for example, the grand track “Ponyboy.” This abrasive song feels like it wants to push you away more than anything else. The synth lead is so grimy and rough, I imagine it’s what you’d hear before the world’s sexiest sports car hits you. The rhythm to this track is what makes you want to keep listening. It’s hypnotic and entrancing. And then the vocals come in underneath the beat. I can’t make them out. When I listen to this song I just hum something that is reminiscent of what’s on this track.
The first part of “Ponyboy” is veiled by obscurity. As the song builds, however, the shield seems to melt away. The only exception is a hint of pop that comes from the bubblegum vocals of Cecile Believe.
These vocals are so bright and attractive, and when they are paired with this violent beat, the song finally opens up. At the minute-and-a-half mark, it becomes totally ecstatic.
Obviously, this passionate song has something to do with sex. And once you look up the lyrics, this reading gets much more obvious. I love this. I have listened to this song so many times over this summer, and each time it has left me breathless and flushed red. I’m obsessed with this song with the same type of obsession that SOPHIE describes in its lyrics.
This is one of the album’s most entrancing singles. This is the song that leads most people down the wild, imaginative rabbit hole of this record. The other top single tells a different story.
While “Ponyboy” is a bit of a calloused song, “It’s Okay to Cry” is a song filled to the brim with triumphant sentimentality. This ballad isn’t just all heart and emotion—the technical prowess is still here. SOPHIE’s vocals paired with the chilly instrumentals presents a picture so welcoming that it’s basically a hug for your ears. Then all of that explodes into a display of fire-works in the last 30 seconds of the track. Drums roll in, Cecile Believe glides into the front spot again and a keyboard works its way up to what I’m fairly certain heaven sounds like. It’s fantas- tic and emotional and an undeniable high for music in this decade—especially when consid- ering that “Ponyboy” immediately follows this big moment.
If I can highlight a dichotomy that might get you into this album, a generalization that makes it more appealing than “EDM art-house pop made for a rave scene,” it would be this: “OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES” fuses emotional sentiment with technical mastery. This album is right up there with standouts of Electronic music like Daft Punk’s “Discovery,” Burial’s “Untrue” and, of course, Björk’s frozen magnum opus “Vespertine.”
Tracks on “OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES,” like “Is It Cold In The Water?” “Infatuation,” “Immaterial” and “It’s okay to cry,” are lovely songs where hypnotic synths bore into your head so your heart can hear the vocals better. There’s an aesthetic that SOPHIE is going for when the chaotic zig-zaggy synths of “Is It Cold In The Water?” back Cecile Believe’s impassioned wail asking “Is it cold in the water?” It’s not a feeling I can put into words, but you can listen to it and recognize instantly what feelings SOPHIE was trying to evoke in the listener. And that’s a tremendous feat.
I’d be remiss in my duty to review this record if I didn’t discuss the end of the album. The concept is that as the album progresses, the experience develops into a more immaterial plane. This is achieved on the technical side with a complete breakdown of the mechanical aspects of what makes SOPHIE’S songs. So, in true Autechre fashion, SOPHIE ends the album by smashing all of the components of the album into a chaotic and beautiful mess at the close of the final track “Whole New World/Pretend World.”
The “Pretend World” on display here is a liminal space, an aural residence where all concepts and emotions float peacefully together. It’s loud, grand and inviting, and I wish I had an entire hour to explore it rather than just the five minutes we get on this album.
SOPHIE has her fingers on the pulse of not just modern EDM music, but the pulse of modern music in general. I love this project for many reasons. One reason is that so much of this al- bum calls back to brilliant electronic acts of the last decades in a way that feels heartfelt and refreshing. Another reason is that it takes a myriad of influences, wears them on its sleeve and delivers these sounds in a way that feels unique and beautiful in its freshness. In a summer during which Autechre and Aphex Twin released some of the best tracks in their long careers, SOPHIE placed herself far ahead of them, solidifying a path that I hope continues to astound me well into the future.