Taking stock of left-field pop music from the last five years – from the polarising pitch-shifts of south London label PC Music to the abrasive grinding-gears of Madonna’s ‘Bitch I’m Madonna’ – one producer has loomed large as an influence over the whole lot. Emerging at a similar time to Danny L Harle, Hannah Diamond and the rest of the PC Music rabble (while also remaining slightly detached from the whole scene), SOPHIE started out making effervescent, hyper-glossy music that both parodied and embraced the diamante-studded musical mayhem of noughties pop.
When early single ‘Bipp’ crunked into existence in 2013, its lurching, pitch-shifting production was unlike anything else out there. Two years later, ‘Lemonade’ was just as strange. As legions of lesser imitators chased the same sound, and collaboration offers flooded in from Charli XCX, Madonna, and Vince Staples, one thing gradually became clear: whoever the faceless and anonymous SOPHIE really was, they were a creative force pushing the boundaries of electronic music.
Not content with swerving in sonic direction, SOPHIE’s debut album (2015’s ‘Product’ is classed as a compilation rather than an album proper) contains the biggest curveball of all. Having played up to the mysterious production whizz persona for several years, hidden behind a mask of miming drag queens, heavily manipulated vocal effects or latex graphics, lead single ‘It’s OK to Cry’ saw her appearing on camera for the first time, floating ethereally through a rainbow-strewn skyscape.
‘Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides’ retains the innate oddness that sits at the centre of SOPHIE’s work and, as such, is an album that interrogates the nature of pop music as much as it embodies it. Riffing on Madonna’s ‘Material Girl’, ‘Immaterial’ imitates the synthetic claps and drop-chasing patterns of mainstream dance music, and the vocals – provided by Cecile Believe – are hurtled up and down multiple octaves like a plastic bag in caught a gust. Beneath the studied structure – at times, almost a parody of mainstream EDM – SOPHIE’s lyrics concern escaping societal structure. “I could be anything I want/ Immaterial boys, immaterial girls”.
The syllable-swapping ‘Faceshopping’ – a playful, hard-hitting adventure – also finds new depths as it dissects artificiality and authenticity in a single breath. ‘Is It Cold In The Water’, which occupies similar territory to an android clone of Kate Bush short-circuiting at an Evanescence gig, chases after the sublime. ‘Infatuation’ presents an acapella yodel solo in a manner that absolutely slaps, while closer ‘Whole New World/Pretend World’ is something of a mission statement: “Whole new world / There’s a whole new world”.
More than just proving SOPHIE’s aptitude as a producer (and let’s be real, she’s one of this decade’s leading pioneers), ‘Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides’ digs deeper. Crossing boundaries of pop music and chasing transcendence, SOPHIE achieves the rare feat of making abstract, difficult electronic music that hits you straight in the heart.