Evolution is a tenuous metaphor for artistic growth, but it’s a good one for describing the kinds of progress that occur under pressure, when a certain natural selection takes place between the useful and the irrelevant. This kind of growth is thrilling to watch, not only because those developments are so terrifyingly high-wire, but because they can reveal so much.
Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides, the debut solo album by Sophie Xeon, the Los Angeles–based singer, songwriter, and producer who records under the starkly capitalized mononym SOPHIE, shows the artist experiencing this kind of metamorphosis before our very eyes. On Oil, we follow Xeon to a more rarefied place than she’s been before; while her earlier releases as an affiliate of the electronic collective PC Music were prismatic—all Day-Glo obfuscation—Xeon’s latest effort is clear, crystalline, and beautiful. From the first track—“It’s Okay to Cry,” which dropped last October—it’s apparent that what went into the album came out of Xeon’s intense conversations with herself:
I don’t mean to reproach you by saying this
I know that scares you
All of the big occasions you might have missed
No, I accept you
And I don’t even need to know your reasons
It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay…
I hope you don’t take this the wrong way
But I think your inside is your best side.
It’s as though she’s having a conversation with a mirror, one that doesn’t include declarations of who’s the fairest of them all. The video for “It’s Okay to Cry” is simple: Xeon, appearing like a marble bust with a shock of orange hair, sings in front of a series of changing skies. It’s the first song the artist has released where she’s singing with her own voice; her previous releases—loosies collected and bundled into the compilation Product in 2015—were more about SOPHIE as a pop project than as an artist. 2013’s “Bipp,” Xeon’s first big hit, boasted all of her trademark sounds, though it obscured the artist’s presence in favor of the song’s kinetic propulsion. It was a breakthrough production, and it made Xeon’s name. Oil, however, manages the same trick without playing hide-and-seek.
A couple of months after the release of “It’s Okay to Cry,” the famously interview-shy Xeon agreed to speak with the writer Michelle Lhooq for Teen Vogue and explained the transformation she hopes to document in the album. “ ’It’s Okay to Cry’ served a pivotal role in helping many realize that she is transgender,” Lhooq wrote. “When I ask why she’d chosen this moment to reveal herself, both literally and metaphorically, SOPHIE replies, ‘I don’t really agree with the term “coming out”…. I’m just going with what feels honest.’ ”