OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES
[Future Classic; 2018]
Every morning and night, I take two 2mg tablets of estrogen and splace them under my tongue, waiting for them to dissolve into a sickly-sweet teal effervescence that courses through my veins and reshapes my tissues, contorting and remolding my body and mind.
SOPHIE’s debut album, as with her earlier singles, has a resonantly similar focus on remolding raw sonic material, sine waves, sound, vocals, selves. On OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES, she expands her scope of materials and means, the musical palette broadening, the song formats mutating and sprawling out. It dances from sledgehammer bangers to aching ballads to screeching drones from track to track, while remaining furiously unstable across even individual songs, its sounds micro-tweaked and mutating at every split second. Pockets of tones snap free, are subsumed, warp. This is a body stretching and growing, caught in flows. Someone sings, “I’m real when I shop my face,” as “Faceshopping” pivots from clattering industrial techno to jubilant ambient house, then adds “Reduce me to nothingness.”
As my body contorts on the dancefloor and at an atomic level, I can’t decide if I want to be free of it, to exist as a vague haze left free of referents and expectations and connotations, a nothingness, or if I want to dive deeply into this mutant flesh, into this body locked in an endless becoming with no end, faceshopping.
OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES finds itself torn between the presence of sonics and the non-presence of bodies, catches bodies up in sonics and watches them lose their grip on a fixed pole. If her early singles were concerned with the importance of surface presentation, of beautiful, giddy posture and the intense desire produced by commercials and commercial products, her debut focuses on those surfaces as a site of self-hood. Self, here, is unknowable, impossible, defined through latex and histories of house music, through Photoshop and power ballads. “I want to know who you are/ Deep down inside,” someone else sings on “Infatuation” — or maybe it’s the same person as before. The number of vocalists remain uncountable through constant sonic manipulation. A deep, warm bass pulse pushes us along. There is, unexpectedly, a guitar solo of sorts, which is unexpectedly lovely. The vocal melody does not resolve. The lyrics offer us no solution, no solid truth for this “who.”
I am locked into a process of becoming-girl that will never be completed or knowable, both because there is no fixed object that we can name “girl” and because this biochemical process is just one in a flux of material actions, the man on the street who calls me sir, the man in the car who loves my ass, the being next to me in bed who whispers “you’re such a good girl” as they pull my hair and pound my ass with silicon before I’m caught up in a flashback of my anal rape and lose grip on my body and disintegrate into tears, melting into their gentle, caring arms as the material world slowly filters back in.
Pop music is built on a history of love songs and becomings, of a desire to find oneself in another. Madonna wrote “Material Girl,” an anti-love song that is inevitably also a love song to herself, singing “Boys may come and boys may go/ And that’s all right you see/ Experience has made me rich/ And now they’re after me,” a material world building a self through fleeting impressions of and with others. SOPHIE, also perhaps inevitably, writes “Immaterial,” the truest Pop Song on a Great Pop Album, a euphoric number in the classic PC Music hyperpop register that offers, “Without my jeans or my bra/ Without my legs or my hands/ With no name and with no type of story/ Where do I live?/ Tell me where do I exist?” Even when she’s not writing bangers like this song, the pop-drive permeates, this reaching toward another person or thing through codified and socially-coded but endlessly reworked musical forms, through chords and melodies that evoke heartfelt emotional responses through well-worn but ever-fresh routes.
In this music, there is nothing without a signifier; a body is immaterial, a body is raw material for experience, for boys. But here, there is another, and it sings, “You could be me and I could be you,” it sings, “anything, anyhow, any one, any place, any time,” “and no matter where I go, you’ll always be here in my heart.” There are jubilant horns. Auto-tuned vocals leap upward far past the range of unmodified human voice. Is there an unmodified human voice, a voice free of the pressure of vocal training and social training? There is real joy in this fucked-up non-body, these beings of sound and play and fear.
At the end of the day, I also ingest 100mg of progesterone, which for the first month sent me into dissociative fugue but which now leaves my mental state fairly intact. These drugs are like a filter, a mixer, a sampler, a tool for extracting and recombining traits, one tool among many for building a different world. I don’t wish to continue the trope whereby hormones are over-fixated upon as an over-determining node of modulation for a transitioning and impermanent self, but SOPHIE’s music mirrors pharmacological modes of aural consumption and infection in how it enters bodies and reformats them.
The album ends in a warzone with “Whole New World:Pretend World,” a 10-minute, blasted-out shell of largely percussion-free sonic aggression and down-mixed gravelly vocal intonations interspersed with chirpy exclamations of the title. It’s endlessly repetitive, but nothing ever repeats without being reworked or retuned, tiny cycles of new worlds opening and disappearing in sonic violence. It dissolves into hissing and buzzing. It’s a pretend world, a pop world, a Real World. Fractured, inconsistent, broken, torn, OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES aims toward the stylistic grandness of High Pop, and in that inconsistence, it achieves it.
In its flows and breakings, it echoes and repeats a fractured self, locating this fracture as something aimed toward futurity, toward a new image of pop music, toward a new mode of being and becoming, toward a new way of moving limbs on a dancefloor with others. It’s incredible.
I’m just a ponyboy, I’m just a ponygirl.