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Entertainment A review of SOPHIE's dazzling new album [PURE NOWHERE]

Jul. 6, 2018
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OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES marks both SOPHIE’s debut album release and a whole new world; SOPHIE refines her voice to produce an innovative, immersive, surreal, and transcendent record. The release of a full-length LP is a significant shift for SOPHIE. From 2013 to 2015, SOPHIE released eight singles that were later compiled and released as Product, toying with the immediacy of the release of singles and the rapid consumption of content in a consumerist society. Similarly, the closely-affiliated PC Music collective has focused on collaborations and the release of singles. OIL invites listeners into SOPHIE’s immersive world and demonstrates her movement towards the more widely accessible structure of the album and the realm of experimental pop music. 

The first time I listened to SOPHIE was during my first week of college. My friend stopped by my dorm room before we headed to the library together to ‘work’ when he started to play “Lemonade,” a single that was different than any song I had heard before. I was disoriented by its hyper-synthetic, polished vocals and sharp production, but immediately hooked. “Lemonade” served as my introduction to both SOPHIE and PC Music. SOPHIE’s collaborators range from PC Music artists like QT and LIZ to Madonna, Charli XCX, Cashmere Cat, MØ, and Vince Staples. In 2017, SOPHIE released the first single from OIL, “It’s Okay to Cry,” which was her first foray into the public eye. The single was followed by “Ponyboy” and “Faceshopping” in 2018. In early 2018, SOPHIE toured New York and London, debuting many songs from her new album. 

OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES is a rather perplexing album name. It’s a reverse mondegreen of the phrase “I love every person’s insides.” The exploration of identity, being, and nothingness thematically runs through OIL. The album opens with the first single, “It’s Okay to Cry,” which highlights SOPHIE’s raw vocals. The accompanying music video served as a prideful assertion of self as a trans producer and pop star, with SOPHIE appearing unobstructed on camera. SOPHIE’s vocals are compelling and reflect both the direction and the title of the album as she sings, “But I think your inside is your best side.” The song reaches its peak in the buildup of the percussive synth accompanied by SOPHIE’s growingly assertive and elated vocals. SOPHIE radically accepts and embraces each person for their spiritual and individual being, rather than their corporeal form. 

“Ponyboy” welcomes its listener with Cecile Believe’s hyper-feminine voice, and takes a darker turn with the emergence of deep bass, dark vocals, and sexual lyrics. The bass is punctuated with a wavering synth that evokes the shrill sound of vinyl rubbing against itself. “Faceshopping” follows immediately with a similar synth backing track and Believe declaring, “My face is the front of shop / My face is the real shopfront / My shop is the face I front / I’m real when I shop my face.” The emphasis and repetition of “shop” works to both reference consumption, as well as the appearance-altering Photoshop. SOPHIE continues to explore and question the juxtaposition of being and nothingness: “Artificial bloom / Hydroponic skin / Chemical release / Synthesize the real / Plastic surgery / Social dialect / Positive results / Documents of life.” 

“Is It Cold In The Water” superbly envelops its listener in SOPHIE’s ambient sonic world, capturing the nature of her live shows. Believe sings, “I’m freezing / I’m burning / I’ve left my home / Soft ache, me / Earth shaking / I feel alone.” The vacillation of tone with both the synths and Believe’s vocals reflect the same contrast as the sensations articulated in the lyrics, which underscore the individual’s loneliness. “Infatuation” draws upon the motif of water and begins with the sound of trickling water, luring the audience into a sense of calm. SOPHIE and Believe’s vocals build to assertively question, “Who are you? / Deep down / I wanna know.” The relative calm is broken by the darker, more overwhelming soundscape of “Not Okay,” characterized by its industrial bass and sharp vocals. “Pretending” is hazy and ambient, although rather foreboding with the muted sound of sirens. The unformed and undeveloped song suggests the possibility for development. 

The album satisfyingly peaks with a more mainstream and ecstatic pop anthem, “Immaterial,” which emphasizes the relatively insignificant and arbitrary nature of the societally-constructed notion of gender. Believe proclaims, “You could be me and I could be you / Always the same and never the same / Day by day, life after life… We’re just / Immaterial boys / Immaterial girls.” The pop anthem contrasts with the abrasive and experimental album closer, “ Whole New World / Pretend World.” SOPHIE triumphantly declares a “Whole! / New! / World!” with the percussive punctuation of the synth, generating order within the nine-minute track’s chaos. 

SOPHIE has created her own new world with OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDESone which builds towards an acceptance and celebration of self. 

Stream OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES on Apple Music, Spotify, Soundcloud, and YouTube now. 

This set was published under Adolescent's collaboration with Pure Nowhere. You can check them out here.