OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES is an audioscape odyssey. Whether it’s the oppressive, raunchy noise of “Ponyboy” or the syrupy, electric buildup of “Is It Cold In The Water?,” SOPHIE weaves a unique sound on OIL drawn from so many different ideas that it nearly renders her music labelless. Nebulous titles like “avant-garde” or “experimental” don’t do justice to the respect SOPHIE pays to art pop, glitch, industrial and ambient music. Fans of any or all of the above can find beauty in how they culminate in OIL.
OIL doesn’t hesitate to draw out raw emotion. It begins with a call for vulnerability on “It’s Okay To Cry.” SOPHIE’s heartfelt whispers speak to the soul. She introduces a motif she carries throughout the album, a ‘world inside.’ The concept climaxes on “Whole New World/Pretend World,” a nine-minute monster of a finale that evolves and deepens with every passing minute. On this track she builds the world inside, but she chases that gap between physical expression and inner being all across OIL, like on “Infatuation” and especially “Immaterial.”
“Immaterial” is a powerhouse pop cut embedded in a project full of eccentric industrial compositions and swanky ambient soundscapes, but it’s no less evocative. The lyrics are provoking: A meditation on the relationship between physicality and identity, SOPHIE challenges her listeners to contemplate divorcing the two. Cowriter Cecile Believe sings with visceral emotion, “I was just a lonely girl / In the eyes of my inner child … I don’t even have to explain / Just leave me alone now.”
The lyrics speak to a criticism levied at SOPHIE earlier in her career, encapsulated by a 2014 article in The Fader that argued she was intentionally obscuring a male identity and appropriating femininity in her artistry. SOPHIE would later come out as transgender. The position she takes on “Immaterial” is reminiscent of a groundbreaking essay published on Medium challenging the idea that the only real transwoman is an out transwoman. The song’s ultimate declaration? SOPHIE owes her listeners nothing. It’s a message that resonates.
“Faceshopping” is a similar exploration of personal expression and invention. The percussion screeches and sputters, clanks and clatters, drilling and drumming and whirring and humming a cacophony of facial construction. Over two minutes are spent manufacturing, the tools voiced in a low rumble: “Artificial bloom / Hydroponic skin / Chemical release.” Then the beat switches and for a moment, all the faceshopping culminates in dazzling brilliance, twinkling keys and a stunning falsetto. Only 45 seconds later it’s gone, the shimmer of radiance is scrapped, the factory returns. The face is back in the shop.
A theme of formed and constructed expression draws an interesting parallel to SOPHIE’s production style. It might be more accurate to call her a sound designer than a record producer. For much of her production, the gloss and polish isn’t made of instrumental samples, but literally built from waveforms. OIL is in-your-face artificial, and expertly sculpted to sound like it. She embraces her style on the ambient track “Pretending,” building an awe-inspiring and ear-embracing resonance full of richness and lucidity. Sandwiched between the spine-chilling synths of “Not Okay” and the bubblegum pop of “Immaterial,” SOPHIE throws in twist after twist for listeners on OIL.
Records composed at such a high calibre don’t come around often — OIL is positioned to be inspiring the producers of the next decade. SOPHIE is glitzy, SOPHIE is glamorous, and her masterpiece OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UNINSIDES is consistently unpredictable, organically artificial. It’s a landmark in music production and it’s heart-heavy with agony and ecstasy.