An album that combines pop music and cutting-edge sound design like no-one else.
It may be true that SOPHIE made no artistic compromise on those projects (indeed, even with Diplo in the mix, "Bitch I'm Madonna" definitely sounds like her). But Oil Of Every Pearl's Un-Insides, SOPHIE's first proper album, presents her artistic vision in a purer form than anything she's done before. It is at times unapologetically poppy, beginning with the opening power ballad, "It's Okay To Cry." But it's also utterly, defiantly weird, flouting conventions of rhythm, composition and, perhaps most of all, taste.
Like her Rochdale heroes, SOPHIE creates sounds with uncanny tactile qualities, as if imagining physical materials from some alternate reality—wet and sticky one moment, metallic and electrified the next, often gleaming and ultra-clear. Her rhythms, too, are varied and unique. "Ponyboy," "Faceshopping" and the epic "Whole New World:Pretend World" writhe and thrash to staccato grooves. Other tracks go for more of a weightless quality. "Infatuation" and "Is It Cold In The Water?" make soaring ballads out of wailing synths and melodramatic vocals. "Not Okay" uses a similar arrangement to more hectic effect, all evil bass groans and violent drum fills, untethered to any steady beat. As if to further show off SOPHIE's range, there is also "Pretending," a nightmarish drone cut that, if not for the demented vocal wails near the end, could be mistaken for something by Lustmord.
That would all be more than enough to make this an extraordinary record, but there's another dimension here that elevates this music even further. In its lyrics (and its videos), Oil Of Every Pearl's Un-Insides explores a range of heady themes, especially related to sex and identity. "Ponyboy" is an S&M-inspired romp ("Spit on my face / Put the pony in his place"). "Faceshopping," a song with Mozart's Sister about plastic surgery, begins with a cryptic rhyme about the artificiality of the external self: "My face is the front of shop / My face is the real shop front / My shop is the face I front / I'm real when I shop my face." "Immaterial," another collaboration with Mozart's Sister, seems to celebrate fluidness of identity: "Immaterial girls / Immaterial boys / I could be anything I want / Anyhow, anyplace, anywhere, anyone, any form, any shape, anyway, anything / Anything I want."
Tying all this together is SOPHIE herself. With "It's Okay To Cry," her first vocal credit and, with the video, her first time revealing herself on camera, she did something very pop: she made her identity, or some version of it, an essential part of her art. Now her songs and their lyrics are connected to a real person, which reframes them in a startling way. Until now so playfully artificial, SOPHIE's music is, all of a sudden, movingly authentic. Or, even better, it's both.