[sic] Magazine


Exposition: PRODUCT is a collection of everything SOPHIE has thus far released on Glasgow record label Numbers; 2013’s ‘Bipp’/’Elle’, 2014’s ‘Lemonade’/’Hard’, plus the new singles, ‘MSMSMSM’/’Vyzee’ and ‘L.O.V.E.’/’Just Like We Never Said Goodbye’.

Problem 1: SOPHIE’s “best” single, ‘Nothing More to Say’/’EEEHHH’, wasn’t released on Numbers, so naturally isn’t included here.

Opener”Bipp’ comes very, very close to topping both of the tracks on that release (or the excellently reworked mash-up of the two, which was my initial introduction to the artist in question), but it somehow doesn’t have the same “substance” or “weight” to the production, favouring a relatively bare-bones arrangement to a fuller, more traditionally dancefloor-friendly style, accentuating its quirkiness as opposed to streamlining for purposes of groove. That being said, ‘Bipp’ is bouncy and fun and ebullient and charming, and comfortably the pinnacle of this release, with it acting as a prelude to an increasingly experimental stream of singles. (I’m treating this album as a compilation of singles rather than as some kind of cohesive unit, as that seems to be the most sensible way of approaching it.)

Maxim: Dance music should be fun to dance to. Pop music should be fun to sing along to.

Observation: Several of the tracks featured on PRODUCT completely abandon this maxim, therefore leading one to the logical conclusion that these tracks are not trying to be either dance music or pop music, but instead something else.

“It’s pop music, Jim, but not as we know it”

SOPHIE has shown he is still willing to adhere to this maxim with his collaborations with other artists (most notably the pristine pop of ‘Hey QT‘, but also more recently with Sfire‘s excellent ‘6‘/’7‘ and Namie Amuro‘s ‘B Who I Want 2 B‘), and even on one of the more recent releases on PRODUCT, ‘Just Like We Never Said Goodbye’, there are vestiges of pure pop music, even if presenting it in a very stripped-back and minimalist way could have hampered its overall impact, the song has enough legs in the vocals and its 5 or 6 synth patches to carry out what it needs to in order to catch the ear and incite an emotion. It works.

So SOPHIE clearly understands what pop music is expected to be, yet deliberately subverts its common tropes for one reason or another, flirting with chart-oriented hits without diving headfirst into the deep-end of mainstream expectations. I can see how this experimentation has its own charms, and can’t object when an artist tries to find a new, unique sound to distinguish himself from the throng of tepid, homogenised fare that gets churned out by the “majors” on a regular basis (not hating, just stating), but innovation can quickly become stale-sounding, and everything will eventually become old-hat.

“Though the cutting-edge of a blade will inevitably blunten, its inflicted wound will forever remain a scar”

What’s more, SOPHIE’s experimentation can often tread the fine line between interest-generating and annoyance-inducing. Case in point: ‘L.O.V.E’, a track that is both interesting and annoying at the same time; the shrill, high-pitched synth that resembles someone squeezing the blowhole of a deflating ballon could appropriately be described as maddening, and the jittery electrical silences (like someone keeps pulling a cable out of the sound circuit) that are intermittently interspersed throughout the track are incredibly jarring, but the brief snatches of music-box-esque ditties provide welcoming moments of blessed relief and make enduring the torturous elements at least partially rewarding.

At the other end of the spectrum, ‘Elle’ and ‘MSMSMSM’ are much more straightforward. Both are the only instrumentals included on the release, and in many ways represent the middle-of-the-road aspect of SOPHIE. Don’t get me wrong I enjoy them both, but there are thousands of 4-minute electronic tracks floating around on Soundcloud that are of a similar ilk to these two. Nice, perfectly enjoyable, but somewhat forgettable.

‘Vyzee’ is a more intriguing track, in that about halfway through it suddenly injects some impetus into the hitherto trundling progress of the wonky beat, before once again retreating to its comfort zone. It’s a decent effort but I find it leaves you wanting more (which may well be the creator’s intended effect).

Finally, we arrive at the most impenetrable of all the tunes contained on this disc, ‘Lemonade’ and ‘Hard’. The latter is possibly the stronger piece, but nevertheless I can’t quite comprehend what exactly it hopes to be (other than the obvious); there are glimpses of brilliance, and it ends on a pretty sweet note, but it is really all over the place, a chimaera of technicolour synth-pop and sensory-overloaded kawaisa mutated into a deformed banger. ‘Lemonade’ is even weirder, to the point where I don’t even know whether I like it or hate it; I listen to it, hear the sounds, but I can’t process the received information and refine it into such a binary critical choice; it just exists for two minutes and then it doesn’t, and then that’s it. I was confused by it 18 months ago and I’m still confused by it now.

Problem 2: Half of PRODUCT‘s tracks have been available to the listener for well over a year.

A year is now a long time in electronic music. Scenes can emerge and fade away within that kind of time frame. What was “hot” can quickly become “cold”; what was “cool” can suddenly become “square”; what was “fresh” can rapidly become “dated”, etc. Sometimes things can end before they ever really started.

I’m not accusing SOPHIE of being any of these things, yet I feel nothing can come close to having that feeling of “newness” that ‘Bipp’ had two years ago. It was an impact record; a beacon to guide a generation of hip (hipster) producers and underground populists, in a similar vein to Glass Swords, Far Side Virtual or Classical Curves. This coincided perfectly with the rise of PC Music, a surge in hyperactive pop/not-pop, a groundswell in the NXC/neo-trance/happy hardcore nexus and a reconfiguration of possibilities amidst the chaos of a post-EDM/post-dubstep/post-trap/post-vapourwave landscape. Which is to say SOPHIE felt relevant (or should that be felt relevant) in 2013 (and even in 2014).

Question: Is PRODUCT relevant?

Who am I to judge such a thing? Time will tell whether it is or not, but to me, right now, it feels like the ship has sailed; the horse has bolted. Why are these 8 tracks important when one can go check out whatever a tireless musical truffle hound like GRRL has recently unearthed from the Soundcloud terra firma and discover dozens of “fresh” tracks per day, some of which will be more relevant and more enjoyable than a compilation that’s “best” track is over two years old.

Anyway, at least SOPHIE has issued a physical artefact for all his fans to purchase and cherish, and putting things into perspective, the guy is making original music and potentially improving people’s enjoyment of the world in the process, so I can’t be too down on this record. Actually, scratch that, let me rephrase my thoughts: I’m down with the music on PRODUCT, but I’m down on the actual record itself (i.e. the grouping of these tracks into a single item). This kind of music makes sense as individual singles, existing in the digital realm, separate from the mundanity of the corporeal world; bite-sized nuggets of hydrogenated sonic snacks, washed down with a swig of fizzy pop, not served as a three-course meal. Presenting it in this way seems a bit unnecessary, like eating a chocolate bar with a knife and fork.

However, I wonder how many people who like the music contained on this are actually interested in owning the physical record (as opposed to consuming the digital files) or whether they just want to get their mitts on the accompanying paraphernalia.

To conclude, some meaningless ratings:

‘Bipp’ – 15/16
‘Elle’ – 11/16
‘Lemonade’ – 1/2
‘Hard’ – 9/16
‘MSMSMSM’ – 5/8
‘Vyzee’ – 3/4
‘L.O.V.E.’ – 1/8
‘Just Like We Never Said Goodbye’ – 13/16

~Product is released November 27th 2015 via Numbers.~