Just like his music, the career trajectory of SOPHIE hasn’t been conventional. The enigmatic British producer releases his debut full-length (well, sort of) two years after he lit up the internet with Bipp and started a wave of saccharine, chipmunk-inspired electro-pop. Since then he’s created a popstar with PC Music boss A.G. Cook in Hey QT, produced for Charli XCX and Madonna and has given fans the chance to pre-order Product as a butt plug.
At eight songs long, Product is more of a singles collection than an album but given the strength of his catalogue so far it seems odd that SOPHIE would release anything not fit for being a single. For too long popstars have cluttered albums with filler tracks to meet the requirements of the album format only to dilute the stronger tracks…not SOPHIE. He understands how people consume music in 2015 – they’re interested in the hits.
PRODUCT oscillates between eccentric pop songs and more experimental, electronic moments. It’s almost cut in half with four of the former and four of the latter, showing a diversity in a producer who could be critiqued for being one-dimensional by the casual fan. Liking a pop song has always felt a little bit dirty. Anything that offers immediate pleasure does. PRODUCT, then, feels even dirtier. The songs have a heightened sense of melody and incomprehensibly addictive hooks. Their high-pitched vocals and glossy synths induce dizzying spells of euphoria – the kind that only last for a moment but are enough to keep you coming back time and time again.
As good as this feels, there are parts of PRODUCT where it feels like he’s taking us for a ride. The record was put on-sale alongside butt plugs and blow-up bubble jackets as if he was simply testing how much he could get away with. If that was his aim, he’s been successful. Everything sold-out almost immediately and the butt plug was met with more LOLs than disgust. The high-pitched buzzing of L.O.V.E. feels as if he’s contiuing to test us by emulating the sonic nature of tinitus in song. Maybe, it’s all an experimental art project but even when he’s doing so there’s a dizzying pleasure to what he’s serving. L.O.V.E. is repetitive, annoying and 8-bit but at the same time its got an addictive quality which makes it almost impossible to trash.
MSMSMSM is also jarring to listen to at first but repeat listens reveal a Hudson Mohawke-esque landscape of industrial beats and tinny synths that sound like the hardest thing SOPHIE’s ever made. He cleverly counteracts those moments of the song with luscious, minimalist breaks that give us some respite from the madness. He does the same on HARD where he marries a certain hip-hop obnoxiousness with crystalline sounds that sound as if they were created by Yoshi. On every song he’s pushing the limits to the very edge but just when it feels like he’s going to go too far, he pulls it back even if it’s just for a second.
When LEMONADE was released it was like a brain-washing tool designed by Schwepps with it’s bubbling beats and short but effective sugar-highs. The song then ended up on a McDonald’s add, sparking think-pieces around the globe as to whether SOPHIE is parodying consumerism or attempting to be right in the middle of it. The answer is still unclear and LEMONADE is still as confusing as ever packaged here more than a year later. It still sounds fresh and exciting though with the heart still skipping a beat when that voice sings, “I’ve got something to tell you.”
There are plenty of moments here that can be read into to formulate pieces on how the underground is embracing corporate sponsorship or how we’re part of a generation that needs all their sense heightened but sometimes you just need to take these on face value. Bipp is a perfect if uncoventional pop mammoth which ever way you look at it. “I can make you feel better if you let me,” that voice sings and maybe that’s the point of these songs. Just relax. Let it wash over you. Bipp is the easiest song to adopt that ideology for but every song here has moments of effortless pleasure.
The club has always been a place where people are less likely to read into things and in that way VYZEE will likely find a comfortable home there. The vocals sounds slightly off-kilter while the synths are off-balance yet a pulsating beats offers some familiarity. In many ways, it’s a deconstructed EDM song given that it uses drops, climaxes and a directive chorus just with an entirely different result. SOPHIE’s approach is far more minimalistic and delectable.
One final takeaway from PRODUCT is what honesty is in music in 2015. Adele is so successful because she’s billed as being relatable with her big, swelling ballads of heartbreak, meanwhile electronic music is criticised by naysayers for being detached of human emotion or not credible because it relies on synthetic machines rather than human touch. Here, SOPHIE offers an excellent reason for why that’s not true. It’s possible for one to go through a day now hearing more from Siri than from anybody else. It’s also possible for someone to fall in love online without having never met the person. That’s why PRODUCT closer and highlight JUST LIKE WE NEVER SAID GOODBYE, hits straight for the heart.
It’s a pitch-altered pop song bound by rushing, bubbling synths that combines nostalgia and heartache with a digital imprint. “We were young and out of control, I hadn’t seen you since I was about 16 years-old,” the voice sings with other-worldy but present conviction. The lyrical content of this is actually reminiscent of Adele’s latest When We Were Young with both songs hitting at the same emotion but in completely different ways. SOPHIE’s genius is he’s found another way to tap into the human psyche and nobody can really explain exactly why. That’s why he’ll be an invaluable resource for popstars looking to push the sonic boundaries as Charli XCX has already done.
PRODUCT is likely to throw up more questions than answers but maybe the only reason we’re looking for answers is because it sounds so different to anything else we’ve heard. You wouldn’t treat a regular pop record like it’s a thesis and treating PRODUCT like that could be the key to making it an arduous collection to listen to. As a collection of songs it’s a thrilling and euphoric world of glossy production and near-perfect melody. It’s the pleasure principle as discovered by SOPHIE.
EIGHT OUT OF TEN.