SOPHIE has long been an enigma in the pop scene. From her early days of single releases, she has kept herself under the veil of mostly anonymity. She had her scene – her close friend A.G. Cook runs the British label PC Music. Despite this, she’s always somehow remained an outlier, even amongst the glittery pop of Cook’s label. Her music consists of banging beats, made up of metallic, plastic, and glass sounds, built around rubbery feminine vocals, repeating phrases over and over again. This is how she built up her early repertoire, which can be found on her compilation album, Product, released back in 2015. In addition to Product, she can found on the production of British singer-songwriter Charli XCX’s EP Vroom Vroom. She can also be notable for near-viral hit “Hey QT”, which she produced with Cook, and her work with Norwegian producer Cashmere Cat.
Anyone looking in at SOPHIE through the lense of only this album so far would be missing the bigger picture. Opening with the lead single, It’s Okay to Cry, SOPHIE flips the tables on everything. Prior to this single’s music video, her face had never been featured in anything, and she had always worked without an emphasis on who she was. With It’s Okay to Cry, she changes that. Along the track are her own vocals, while faint, express the emotions that I’m sure only she could get across. But with this song, she’s showing us more than just her face, and letting us hear more than her vocals. This track was her coming out moment – literally. When the video was released, people were quick to point out how feminine she appeared. Sure enough, immediately after the video, she revealed that she was a trans woman, and would now be going by Sophie Xeon.
Sophie took that same sense of opening herself up, and let that become the central theme of the album. Even amongst the intense cracking and pounding of Faceshopping, it tells a story of not being content with oneself. Across the entire album, loving oneselves insides (the title is even wordplay for “I love ever person’s insides”) and outsides. As someone pointed out, there seems to be a recurring symbolism related to mermaids, from some of the aquatic sounds, to even the cover, with her glittery mermaid leg semi-submerged underwater, like this was the first time she’s ever been on land.
The album itself is truly a genre defining moment. Across the landscape of the album, she manages to accomplish ranges of sound that no peer of hers, besides possibly Arca, could accomplish. The thumping intensity of Ponyboy and Faceshopping, one of the true sonic pairs on the album, is incredibly intense. Across both are statements – one of strength, where Cecile Believe, the vocalist for much of the album, demands that her partner gets on all fours like a pony. The other, of weakness, with lyrics relating to plastic surgery, and ensuring that the face you wear reflects across your whole self. On Is It Cold in the Water?, one of the more ambient tracks on the album, lyrics discussing feelings of loneliness, with grating synths built around Believe’s vocals. Infatuation is possibly the track that holds the track together the most. With soft vocals distorted beyond the point of recognition, and whispers asking the listener “Who are you?” it perfectly frames the albums theme of self-discovery. Not Okay is a more experimental cut, full of glitching pings, shouty lyrics, and even some traditional house sounding drum bits. Pretending is possibly the most challenging, and mixed track on the whole album. The over five minute long ambient track consists of a wide array of sounds, from echoing whale noises to what almost sounds like angels singing as they return to Earth. All of this echoed against each other sounds almost too intricate, too out of this world to be created by just one person. It fades into Immaterial, a song most definitely included to the intense love her fans felt for it. The track, which flips the Material Girl phrase, is all about how the artist feels that by having nothing, she can have everything. It’s a fun club song, and yet, somehow fits into the whole idea of self discovery theme by asking “If I had nothing, who could I be?”. The closing track, Whole New World, and it’s outro Pretending World, are light on lyrics, however they feature the same alien-esque distorted discussing a love for someone that you can feel in your skin. As the track closes out, it cuts to more ambient tone, similar to Pretending.
Across the entire album, it feels as if you get to know who Sophie is a little bit better as every second goes by. That is quite possibly the largest strength of the album – it feels intimate, even in its most high energy moments. Songs like Pretending are meant to highlight that – however, sometimes, that can be its downfall. The album often gets stuck in it’s own sounds, and sometimes can drag on longer than required. But the true beauty of the whole album, and why it should not be ignored, is the pure power of Sophie as a producer. No man, nor woman, could replicate this album. The intricacy of the sounds of tracks like Infatuation and Not Okay are sure signs of a master. There is no one else like Sophie, and thanks to this album, we finally know who that is.