Originally published in The Edge
To celebrate Black Friday, SOPHIE, the foremost enigma of electronic pop who once described his genre as ‘advertising’, has released debut album Product in formats ranging from CD to…silicon thing. The London-based producer, who was last heard soundtracking a McDonald’s commercial (‘LEMONADE’) and collaborating with Madonna and Diplo (‘Bitch I’m Madonna’), made a pseudonym for himself in 2013 when his rather unique approach to the fundamentals of sound production, drowned in a sickly sweet marinade, surfaced through Glaswegian label Numbers.
‘BIPP,’ which kickstarted the whole shebang, opens this collection as an exemplary example of what SOPHIE is capable of creating. “I can make you feel better / If you let me,” squeals the anonymous vocalist over a wobbly bed of rubber with robust bass proving that dedicated percussion need not be a given in order to create a superbly energetic piece of music.
Beyond that, the more twisted and perplexing aspects of SOPHIE become greatly evident. ‘HARD’ in particular, which appeared last summer, can leave you feeling unclean and guilty for stumbling into. The child-like vocal gimmick of the uncredited GFOTY, combined with lyrics about latex gloves and rubber dolls, is ill-fitting and, whilst an integral part of the gelatinous caricature that is SOPHIE, a novelty that quickly wears off.
Where Product promised brand new future electropop glory (or, at least, archive material finally seeing release) is in its second half. Instead, ‘MSMSMSM’ and ‘VYZEE’ irk with their squelches and screeches and rhythmic quandaries, sending chills with ominous chords and uneasy similarities to the more forgettable end of the previous singles (namely ‘ELLE’ and ‘LEMONADE’ respectively). ‘VYZEE,’ to its credit, sports a brief segment that ranks amongst pop’s most euphoric and delightful of the year as it threatens to erupt into an anthemic finale, but that just wouldn’t be the way of SOPHIE.
‘JUST LIKE WE NEVER SAID GOODBYE’ falls closer to the tree of ‘BIPP,’ eschewing percussion completely for thoroughly listenable simplicity. The pitched-up vocals, documenting the reunification of a broken relationship, create a disorienting insincerity without a need for nails running down a chalkboard. The attempt at contrasting hollow pop joy with darker undertones and, in this case, very real emotions is touched on throughout, yet only ‘JUST LIKE WE NEVER SAID GOODBYE’ ever comes close to realising it earnestly.
Dreams of Product harbouring anything truly magical are crushed by ‘L.O.V.E.,’ which is sure to fracture listeners into thousands of tiny pieces. Whereas every other track has been accompanied by an image of a slide as artwork, ‘L.O.V.E.’ has a menacing bug, probably because it is a torture device that erroneously ended up as the sixth track of an album. The kindest of YouTube commenters have likened it to a balloon deflating. I’d go more for a fly stuck in your eardrum, brandishing a chainsaw and making you question everything you thought you knew about human interaction.
It is this tendency of SOPHIE’s music to abandon convention or distort it beyond all humane frontiers in pursuit of futuristic textures that makes Product an enthralling record. Unfortunately, this pursuit of all things eclectic and wacky spoils what could and should have been one of the records of the year. Attempting to classify or even comprehend anything that SOPHIE makes or produces or wraps in a bubble of gum and launches viciously in your ear canals was perhaps not an optimal strategy, however the theatrical farce of Product would vividly deter me from doing so again.
Out now via Numbers