The line between pleasure and pain can be a fine and variably defined one, and audiophonically speaking, that is where the British artist/producer Sophie lives. While originally making her mark in electronic and dance music, Sophie has since worked with artists ranging from Madonna and Charli XCX to Nicki Minaj and Vince Staples. But on her debut full-length, “Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides,” Sophie combines sweet pop melodies and sounds with absolutely hideous noise — grinding, clanking, blaring, burbling, blurting, unpleasant and jarring sounds, wildly autotuned voices — to create a form of pop music that, if not entirely new, may never before have been presented in such extreme fashion.
There are plenty of precedents here, but the one that most often arises over the course of the album is actually a 33-year-old song: Depeche Mode’s “Master and Servant,” particularly the remix by noise pioneer Adrian Sherwood, which not only presented a more extreme version of the synthpop buzzes and clanks the group had been purveying since they started, but aligned them with the influence of noise titans of the era like then-labelmates Einsturzende Neubauten. It’s an avenue the group didn’t really pursue further on their road to stadium-sized ubiquity, but it finds a belated descendent here. It’s an approach that Charli XCX — whose collaboration with Sophie on the 2016 EP “Vroom Vroom” was a radical career shift for her — has wholeheartedly embraced.
The most “normal” track here is the opening “It’s Okay to Cry,” a memorable slice of heartspilling pop so sweet that it almost sounds like it could be from a teen starlet, until Sophie’s instincts kick in and the volume jumps to a jarring level just before the last chorus. The discomfort level grows from there: Rhythms are constructed from clanking, lurching noises and unsettling burbles and weird wobbly noises (particularly on the lurching “Faceshopping”; baby-doll voices, haunting atmospherics and sounds like a synthesizer falling down a staircase abound. Sophie’s substantial talent as a sound architect would also suggest who a bright future in soundtrack work (the instrumental “Pretending” would make a great score for a space-themed horror film). However, the popcraft returns with the penultimate track “Immaterial,” which has an deeply infectious melody, a clanking rhythm and cartoonishly autotuned vocals.
Sophie’s pop instincts throw the hideous noises into even more striking relief; “Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides” is uneasy listening to the nth degree.