Thoroughly submerged in a pool of slippery liquid, Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides alternates between sliding and crashing forward in a captivating odyssey of sound. SOPHIE is a Scottish electronic producer, known for her heavy involvement with the PC Music label and also for the production of tracks for acts such as Charli XCX, Let’s Eat Grandma, and Vince Staples. Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides, her first non-compilation album, maintains and extends SOPHIE’s sound while delving deeper into experimentation and album synergy.
The album opens soft; barely above a whisper does SOPHIE utter “It’s Okay to Cry.” In it, SOPHIE assures the person addressed with the song – somebody who rarely expresses emotion – that expressing emotion will empower them. It is an affectingly heartfelt moment underlined by an effulgent synth line that sounds like it was vaulted over the pearly gates.
“…tastes like Instagram if you put it in a meat grinder.”
SOPHIE then flips sides with “Ponyboy,” displaying her industrial influences with harsh squelches and a digging bass. It introduces a theme in SOPHIE’s work that is ever-present here – ultra-deep voices in contrast with high-pitched vocalizations occurring simultaneously. “Ponyboy” also has a brief influence of grime that appears in spurts in later tracks in the album. The following track, “Faceshopping,” represents a similar mood. Both carry a sinister tone paired with a bubblegum wrapping that makes for a thoroughly thought-provoking setting in which SOPHIE both presents and raises question to the superficial approach in which a social media culture breeds: “My face is the front of shop,” referring to the rise of personal branding; “I’m real when I shop my face.” “Faceshopping” isn’t treading new ground in its subject manner, but it presents a borderline mordant approach that tastes like Instagram if you put it in a meat grinder. It is delicious to the mind and revolting to the senses.
“Is It Cold In the Water?” features two core substances: an angular melody performed through keyboard, and wandering, icy vocals. The two parts seem almost disconnected, which often is a sign of poor songwriting but instead provides a chilly effect that breathes intentionality and adds to the atmosphere. The distant cousin of this song is “Pretending,” which comes a bit later in the track listing. “Pretending” dives into the trenches of the ocean and lets sirens roar overhead. It is almost entirely instrumental, and rubs of an ambient piece. The firm grip that SOPHIE has of the dynamics in this track is moving, constantly crescendoing and decrescendoing throughout its entire runtime. Both “Is It Cold In the Water?” and “Pretending” left me feeling cold in a way that few artists have touched me.
My favorite track on the album has to be “Infatuation,” whose vocalization comes through that of a mousy, somewhat weak voice that reflects the nature of the song. Backing the vocals is a soft, minimal piano, and an echoing angelic call direct from the depths of the sea. “Who are you?” the song asks, followed by a bouncing glimpse into obsession: “I wanna know, I wanna know, I wanna know…” Eventually the mousy voice is altered into a glitchy mess and then stretched into oblivion, much like how obsession can tear somebody apart. “Not Okay,” the track following it, also presents as a glitchy mess set on the stage of minimal production. Multiple breaks in sound mark its short 1:49 runtime. It is perhaps the least remarkable of the album, but also is so condensed and concise that it comes across more as the orange juice concentrate of SOPHIE’s style than as repetition of her other works.
Surprisingly, there is only one straightforward “pop” song on the record, “Immaterial.” It is a certified bopper, causing me to get up and dance around even after a rather quiescent listen to the front portion of the album. It’s a squeaky clean dance track – not attracting all that much experimentation from SOPHIE’s end, but is such a solid flexing of SOPHIE’s production ability that it sticks out as a shining portion of the track listing. It reminds me of a song SOPHIE might produce for Charli XCX.
Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides closes off with the epic that is “Whole New World/Pretend World.” It is the intersection of all that Oil is, featuring the demonic voices and dark synths that mark part of the track listing, the grime influences that popped up in “Ponyboy,” the large instrumental interludes like in “Pretending,” and the angelic voices from the deep like in “Infatuation.” It is a nine minute journey that performs like the genesis of the concepts of the album, simultaneously dark and brushing with evil and beautiful, whimsical and breathtaking.
In her work, SOPHIE clearly gleans a healthy amount of artistic influence from avant-pop icons like Björk and contemporaries like Black Dice and Oneohtrix Point Never, while still producing art that sounds completely new. With Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides, SOPHIE has produced a great work that rivals those of her idols. It is a little bit jagged in its organization, but it still comes across as a bundle of diamonds that are engrossingly fascinating and a show of production mastery.