Considering SOPHIE's influence on electronic and pop music in the 2010s, it's hard to believe that Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides is only her debut album. On the singles she collected on Product, she emphasized her music's whimsical artificiality, using it as candy-coated armor that expressed her queerness and originality in equally affected and affecting ways. On her first proper album, she allows some cracks in that facade, resulting in a fascinating union of shiny surfaces and what lies beneath them.
Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides begins with the manifesto "It's Okay to Cry," a single that, upon its October 2017 release, felt and sounded drastically different than her previous music. Instead of the helium-pitched vocals of her early work, it features SOPHIE singing in her own voice for the first time while softly unfolding synths turn her small but profound realization into something epic. While nothing else on the album is quite so vulnerable, or close to conventional pop, "It's Okay to Cry" is the perfect prologue to Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides. Working with pop stars ranging from Charli XCX to Madonna hasn't blunted SOPHIE's edge in the slightest -- if anything, her music is even bolder, particularly on the album's first half. On "Is It Cold in the Water?" and "Infatuation," she embellishes on "It's Okay to Cry"'s widescreen intimacy, transforming deep synth grooves and diva vocals into mutant pop ballads that are all the more gorgeous for their strangeness. She balances these reflective moments with the hard-edged mischief of "Faceshopping," which uses ever-changing lyrics and torquing synths to express how an authentic identity can be created through aesthetic choices, and the raunchy "Ponyboy," which sets the erotic possibilities of those identities to a heaving beat.
Despite these radical shifts, SOPHIE is never indecisive as she takes her sounds and concepts to extremes. Where Product felt like a collection of alien pop hits, Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides abounds with interludes, passages, and major statements that allow her to dig deeper on the album's second half. The dissolution telegraphed by "Not Okay"'s malfunctioning rhythms and vocals morphs into the liminal space of "Pretending," a six-minute dronescape that suggests an idea -- or persona -- coming into being with a mood that teeters between blissful and anxious. The dualities grow even more complex on "Whole New World/Pretend World," a collage of sugary pop, sirens, self-destructing electronics, and clouds of wordless vocals that falls somewhere between a beginning and a warning. Fortunately, SOPHIE takes a moment to celebrate the joys of imagination and reinvention on "Immaterial," a shout-out to misfit boys and girls that sounds like a party with Prince, Basement Jaxx, and Hatsune Miku at the top of the guest list. While SOPHIE's music has never been simple, Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides' complexities and transformations make it a remarkable debut album that reveals more with each listen.