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From Bubblegum to Avant-Garde: Why You Need to Listen to SOPHIE’s New Album [REVIEW]

UK producer SOPHIE released her long-awaited debut album OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES on Friday, vividly displaying the full spectrum of her technical capabilities. The nine-track whirlwind spans the gamut from mainstream electro-pop style reminiscent of Madonna, to wildly experimental avant-garde ambient noise. A brief glimpse at the album art brings the central theme of the album to the fore – plastic limbs and mis-matched, avant-garde clothing symbolize the transition to and acceptance of a new identity.

The album opens with three of SOPHIE’s best-known singles, starting with the heartfelt ballad It’s Okay to Cry, moving through the industrial Ponyboy, and finally settling down with the electro-pop vibes of Faceshopping. These tracks set the tone for the entire album, displaying how fluidly SOPHIE handles cotton candy electronica sounds, industrial, R&B, and heavy bass suited for mainstream dubstep. All three should be readily familiar to her fans, and the intentional early release of two of these singles last year was to prepare audiences for the remainder of the album.

The fourth track, Is It Cold in the Water?, showcases the dreamier side of SOPHIE’s production style, utilizing subtle crescendos, subtle layering, and a tender female voice gracefully floating above the texture. Here, the production style is noticeably relaxed and expansive. Situated just before the mid-point of the album, this track fulfills the mainstream pop expectations. Notably, however, Is It Cold in the Water? explores far more sentimental and emotional depths than SOPHIE ever presented before.

A seamless transition into Infatuation perpetuates this poppy, dream-like state, nearly blending the two tracks into a single thought. Strikingly, Not Okay marks a stark return to the jarring, aggressive style SOPHIE’s best known for. In yet another shocking move, the transition to Pretending again more assertive to the listener with a sharp shift in texture. Here, a quiet intro builds into ambient noise, presenting the most experimental track on the entire album.

After a severe drop in the album’s pace, we return to a feel-good electro pop anthem. Immaterial enters with the self-affirming message “I can be anything I want,” accompanied by a hyperactive beat. This track is certainly the highlight of OIL, with the potential to emerge as a summer anthem. Fittingly, critics are hailing this track as a re-imagined Madonna, bringing all of the self-confidence and optimism of the ’80s idol.

The final track brings us to an energetic, but disorienting close. Whole New World/Pretend World again returns to SOPHIE’s trademark production style. This time, maintaining proximity to the pop tracks that form the album’s backbone. The track seems to simultaneously imagine a new, unique, hopeful world and present a mechanized cynicism towards the prospect of such drastic, idealistic change. Spanning an nine minutes, this finale satisfyingly brings the album to its close, leaving the listener to ponder the adventure they just experienced.

In sum, OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES masterfully presents a topsy-turvy world of SOPHIE’s imagining; not only fully immersing listeners in the journey, but also displaying the virtuosic diversity of her production abilities. The producer continually confronts listeners with and explores her own identity through music, pushing the barriers of genre along the way.

OIL in its entirety may not be intended for the casual listener. Despite SOPHIE’s classification as a pop artist, the slower, more experimental parts of the album beg for undivided attention, but the bubblegum pop anthems interspersed throughout lend themselves readily to a long drive on a nice day. Either way, SOPHIE’s still killing the game and this album has certainly reinforced her place as a major name in experimental pop.

What do you think of SOPHIE’S new album? Share your thoughts and favorite songs in the comments or on social media!