By Clayton Ambrose
Album: Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides
Label: Future Classic
Release Date: June 15, 2018
Just seeing my name associated with this album, you probably can already tell I’m swerving way out of my usual lanes by talking about Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides. Pop isn’t my typical bag, and it doesn’t stem from any disrespect towards the genre or its artists: it’s just not something that ever took hold of me. Well, until now. Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides, Scottish electronic artist Sophie’s debut studio album, is a unique and breathtaking piece of pop’s modern metamorphosis. This record boasts audacious explorations of harsh synth-driven anthems along with chill-inducing, atmospheric ambiance that enhances the effect of the former and vice-versa. Simply put, this album is a stunning treatise on the kaleidoscopic nature of selfhood that should not be missed by anyone, regardless of the genres you might find yourself aligning with.
Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides places extreme emphasis on creating visceral, physical sonic environments within its beat driven structure, achieving striking contrasts between the aggressive and the ethereal, sometimes in the same song. “Faceshopping” begins with a low-key synth line before launching into a tirade of pounding bass and screeching synths with Sophie’s pitch-shifted vocals underlying the chaos. But all at once the flurry winds down and we’re left with a dreamy bridge that seemingly corrodes back into the regularly scheduled intensity. The album is fueled by these whiplash moments of ferocity that strive for music so physical you can almost feel it between your fingers. However, with all this abrasiveness it would be a crime to not discuss the beauty that lies within this work. Songs like “Is It Cold In The Water?,” “Pretending,” and “Infatuation” focus on more ambient, shapeless soundscapes compared to songs like “Faceshopping” and “Ponyboy.”
While being the most accessible songs on the album, “It’s Okay To Cry” and “Immaterial” still include Sophie’s way of putting her own personal touch on the familiar. The former is a heartfelt ballad encouraging emotional availability and vulnerability with those you love from Sophie’s own, clean voice, which isn’t featured too often on this album. Within all the soothing melody, the song suddenly takes a turn towards a wall of sound, which serves as a thrilling mood-setter for the rest of the album to come. “Immaterial” is undoubtedly the most upbeat song on the record, yet there’s an element of aggression in its uptempo instrumental, and it all lies in the production. Structurally, the beat is a fairly simple pop rhythm, but the metallic synths are practically blaring in a way that makes them seem sharper, more menacing. This aligns with the motif of the album prioritizing texture and viscera more than anything, and it permeates and elevates all aspects of it.
Thematically, most of the album deals with identity and all its fluidity and ever changing states, which is appropriate considering this is Sophie’s first release that she is visibly a part of in terms of appearing in music videos and other promotional materials. The aforementioned track “Faceshopping” deals with performative appearance and the way our presentation serves as our liaison to the public (“My face is the front of shop”), along with how others’ approval of our appearance leads to validation and self-actualization (“I’m real when I shop my face”).
Perhaps the centerpiece of this meditation on identity, as well as the climax of the album, lie within the energetic “Immaterial.” The song begins with a voice repeating rhythmically, “Immaterial girls, immaterial boys,” while the verse has Mozart’s Sister describing life “Without my legs or hair/Without my genes or my blood/With no name and no type of story.” This seeming non-existence is a point of liberation, however, as she ends the bridge by proclaiming proudly, “I can’t be held down.” Towards the end of this album, Sophie, along with Mozart’s Sister, find a freedom in being released of gender conformity, instead choosing to embrace the ever-shifting nature of identity and perception of the self.
This concept is often reflected even more in the music itself as the music shifts phases constantly throughout the album, taking this idea to its mind boggling heights in the closer “Whole New World/Pretend World”. The album’s finale begins with the blaring synths and bass akin to “Faceshopping” and “Ponyboy,” but later morphs into a cavalcade of amorphous hisses and disintegrating vocals that feels like some sort of great transcendence so immense that you can visualize it in whatever form it appears to you. This section nearly hinges on that subjectivity, on its beckoning to you to grasp on to whatever you need to find within the collage, in the way that Sophie finds her identity within the slipstream of gender and performance.
I really thought I was going to hate this album. Unjustly, I felt jaded towards the musical and critical upheaval for the genre of pop because, admittedly, it’s moving further and further away from my comfy, guitar-laden nook. But this album, if nothing else, helped me step out of my comfort zone and allowed me to grasp onto something in a genre that always felt unattainable to me, and that’s not even mentioning the beauty and boldness of the work itself. If you’re on the fence about this album, just give it at least one chance. It’s not easy listening, and you will probably find yourself challenged by it at times, but an album like Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides, if it resonates, can lead to growth in your musical taste and a greater understanding of the world in which artists like Sophie reside.