There’s nothing more exciting than hearing new music. You can have hundreds and thousands of albums on your shelf, tracks on your chosen mp3 player, or you can stream until the cows come home, but nothing beats the excitement of hearing something you’ve never heard before. Whether it’s the latest release from a musician you’ve been loyal to since vinyl was popular the first time around, something you’ve just stumbled across ten years after everyone else (just discovered Alicia Keys here believe it or not? – and how great is ‘Superwoman’?-and why wasn’t I told?) or something freshly minted by someone you’ve never even heard of. If I hear something for the first time then as far as I’m concerned, it’s new music.
Sophie’s Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides is genuinely new. Not only in the sense that it’s only just been released (which it has), but in the sense that it really brings something that we haven’t heard before. Sophie is both musician and producer, and ‘Oil of Every Pearl’ is very much a producer’s album, showcasing techniques and styles aplenty with which to hammer home Sophie’s knob-twiddling credentials.
The sumptuous, ‘It’s Okay to Cry’ wraps the listener in pastel coloured cotton wool, with its heart-breaking and heartfelt lyric taking you to a place from which ‘Ponyboy’ hurls you violently and rhythmically in the opposite musical direction. In fact, with its non-Hasbro approved video and ‘don’t play it your Grandma’ lyrics, ‘Ponyboy’ sounds like it’s constructed from a combination of steel pipes, enormous kettle drums and an elephant. ‘Faceshopping’ emerges, hurtling, from the same stable as ‘Ponyboy’, staccato and repetitive and just a little bit wonderful. And the unashamedly J-Pop ‘Immaterial’, complete with bouncing beat and high, pitch-shifted vocals, begs to be turned up and up. And up. And the album’s closer ‘Whole New World/Pretend World’, musically industrial, with its pleading vocal and deranged cheerleader chorus is a genuine original.
The weirdest inevitability of cutting edge stuff like this is that it reminds the listener of other cutting edge stuff, so Ponyboy brings to mind Kraftwerk’s under-appreciated ‘Boing Boom Tschak’ and the ‘no real musical instruments were harmed in the making of this album’ approach of Depeche Mode’s ConstructionTime Again.’Is it Cold in the Water’ will inevitably attract Bjork comparisons, and, and this is always the laziest of cutting edge artist comparisons but no less true, there are a few reminders of the majesty of Prince, particularly in the emotionally raw ‘It’s Okay to Cry’.
Ultimately, however, the greatest joy of new music is that if you dig deeper, as new music encourages you to do, you run the very real risk of slipping head-over-heels into a glorious, disturbing and relatively unexplored rabbit hole. First port of call when you discover a new artist is to dig through their back catalogue for more gems and Sophie’s got ‘em (check out the fixing glory of ‘Lemonade’ if you need proof.) Then you can explore their work in collaboration with other artists, in Sophie’s case with Charlie XCX, Vince Staples, Let’s Eat Grandma, GFOTY and Madonna (and, hot off the press this week, coming soon, Lady Gaga). So far so good, and also still relatively mainstream. Dig a bit deeper and Sophie’s surreal credentials start to lead you to places that many music lovers may never have visited before. Many will give up at this point. I didn’t. A few nights ago I spent a strange few hours, courtesy of the joint efforts of Sophie and Youtube, in the virtual presence of Naime Amuro. A superstar in her native Japan for more than 20 years and, I feel almost ashamed to say, entirely new to me. Their collaborative ‘B Who I Want 2 B’ is a wondrous place from which I might never return. If you love Grimes (and if not, why not?) then this is grimes x 100. And, then, hearing that Sophie has worked with Kyary Pamyu Pamyu I crawled even further down that rabbit hole, finding ‘PONPONPON’, ‘CANDY CANDY’and ‘Kira Kira Killer’. I feel that this might become a dangerous obsession. At least until I’m distracted by some more new music.
One album took me to all of those new places – Sophie’s Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides.