After my short post about slayyyter’s “Platform Shoes,” there was a suggestion that the track was a mere imitation of SOPHIE’s music. Since this album was already on my radar for a review, I decided to go ahead and give it a listen.
Sophie Xeon is originally from Scotland before moving to London. The UK inspiration is strong in her music. There is an unmistakable grime in the Oil’s darkness. The London underground dance scene is prevalent in the glitchy noise of her production. She seems equally comfortable exploring the avant-garde or pop, and I mean equally, as in from moment to moment, on some tracks.
Electronic music in Europe has always been quite distinct from its American counterparts. European dance has more willingness to be noisy and caustic. Not to deter the masses, but as part of its appeal. SOPHIE at times reminds me of Justice (especially “Ponyboy” or “Whole New World”) in her ability to incorporate blasts of static and other non-musical bursts and seamlessly incorporate them. Everything here works as either a headphone listen, where the meticulous production shines, or as music to turn up while cleaning around the house. But, for me, this doesn’t scan as club music. Or explicitly group dance music, but I can certainly imagine someone flowing through a room, light on their feet, feeling the undeniable lift provided by many of the tracks on Oil.
In 2015, SOPHIE released a singles collection under the name of Product, and if an influence can be clearly drawn between her production and that of Boy Sim, who produced “Platform Shoes” for slayyyter, it’s on these older SOPHIE tracks. “Bipp” for example has the repetitive chorus “I can make you feel better” as well the more dance-able rhythms and immediate infectiousness. Though, according to slayyyter’s own Twitter feed, she considers Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” to be at least a tongue-in-cheek inspiration:
I’m not suggesting that Boy Sim hasn’t absorbed some of the production proclivities of SOPHIE. She has become an in-demand presence around the music scene the past few years. SOPHIE has recently worked with Nicki Minaj, Charli XCX, and Vince Staples, so her approach has been assimilated a bit into the producer collective unconscious.
Elsewhere on SOPHIE’s Product, say, “Elle,” I hear a distinct Arca vibe in the clicky rhythms that refuse to stick strictly to a 4/4 grid. Though “Lemonade” has a giddy vibe, but unlike slayyyter, a refusal to deliver on the expected rhythm (which dance music usually needs to avoid the worst cases of dance floor awkwardness).
Turning back to SOPHIE’s Oil, there is little doubt that her ambition increased tremendously from what she released on Product (except for perhaps “Immaterial,” which is a fun throwback to Product-era SOPHIE).The vibe on Oil is darker, feels more personal, the emphasis more on art, than fun. Her intention seem to be on making an intimate statement, rather than getting attention in the club or on the radio. SOPHIE has made an album for herself, and invited us listeners along for the ride. The sounds of her earlier work are tools pulled from a new, larger toolbox, and discriminating music fans are rewarded by her efforts.