Album Review: SOPHIE – ‘Product’

What lies at the heart of the London producer SOPHIE‘s creative impetus, is pushing pop music to its very limits. While SOPHIE’s intent seems more aligned with subverting the norms of popular culture rather than embracing it, in a truly Warholian fashion the producer’s work has met with some considerable commercial success. SOPHIE’s third single Lemonade diffused into the mainstream this year, when the bubbly track was synchronised to an advertisement for fast food mega-corporation McDonalds.

For another project, SOPHIE collaborated with AG Cook to form QT, a group entirely premised on the promotion of fictitious energy drink QT (although, naturally, a tangible version of the product was produced). It was also recently announced that sound collective PC Music will be partnering with Sony Music, bringing many of SOPHIE’s underground collaborators and fellow idealists directly under the umbrella of an industry giant. Within many musical circles these actions would be considered selling out; here it only seems to be another step towards realising the PC Music aesthetic.

Debut album Product has strung together four singles released between 2013 and until early 2015, together with four new helpings. As a whole, it’s impressive to say the least, and undoubtedly thrusts the the shadowy producer into the limelight. Driven by a minimalistic bass-line, interspersed with pitch shifted lyrical motif ‘I can make you feel better/You know you want to’, opener Bipp familiarises listeners with the core of SOPHIE’s signature sound. The track also exemplifies the producer’s recurrent fixation with industrial sounding sonic textures and exaggerated notions of ‘cuteness’ derived from the sugary glitter of K-Pop, J-Pop and Eurodance.

With the help of washing synths, droning strings, building pads and stuttering kicks, ELLE draws the listener into a gritty industrial soundscape. SOPHIE’s knack for building infectiously minimalistic rhythms also gives Elle life as an ultra-futuristic dance track. Pushing minimalism to even further heights, follow-up Hard is nearly totally devoid of melodic character. Clanging mechanical rhythms weave into a sinister dystopian monotony before breaking into a warped dance groove. In a similar vein, MSMSMSM is permeated by clattering metallic melodies and ominous bass heavy beats.

L.O.V.E. provides some poignant commentary on the inhuman nature of consumer culture. Repeatedly spelling of the word ‘love’ to a point where it loses any meaning, the track’s deadpan vocals are contrasted against the sweetness of a naïve and digital sounding synth hook. Closer Just Like We Never Say Goodbye acts as a grandiose culmination of all which has come before, evoking a glimmering and heartfelt euphoria which bleeds through the trappings of the track’s artificial exterior.

Subverting the notion of pop culture SOPHIE’s music creates something experimental yet readymade for commercial exploitation. Artificial, alienating and yet infectiously addictive Product pushes into the stratosphere of power pop, but somehow manages to fall short of absurdity. In an age of imitation and retro cannibalism, Product shows promise of something entirely new.