OIL OF EVERY PEARL's UN-INSIDES is a record of heightened contrasts; fleeting droplets of silence and crystalline, susceptible vocals interjecting the draconian onslaught of pads, synths, and kick drums. Naturally, this is demarcated by emotional contrasts, by skeletal, agonised vulnerability and empowering self-possession; the latter incarnated in OIL’s cover art. Juxtaposition is hardly an original artistic mode, but executed effectively it’s one of the most moving. This is where another contrast presents itself; OIL is a triumphant celebration of identity that’ll mean so much to so many on an incredibly intimate level, but it’s also, objectively, a triumphant artistic achievement.

SOPHIE is an LA-based (originally Glaswegian) artist who first came to prominence at the start of 2013 with her instant cult-classic ‘Bipp’. Ever since she’s been affiliated with AG Cook’s PC Music branding; a shade of riotous, feminine vocal-centric dance pop that polarises music fans like nothing else (which isn’t hyperbole). In the five years since ‘Bipp’ she’s sporadically released singles (and in 2015 an album Product, which is more a compilation of said singles) that simultaneously consolidated her sound of uber-kinetic percussion and waveform-produced bitty vocals, and subverted it. She’s historically adopted a deliberately delicate artifice and self-described her style to Billboard as “advertising,” a sheen that belies the volatility of her music and the counter-culturally expressive veins running through it.

Until now she generally shied away from publicity; from a judgemental, voyeuristic, and still in many respects outmoded public sphere that might react adversely to her being a self-confident trans artist. Then came ‘It’s Okay To Cry,’ released last October initially as an isolated single but later found to be OIL’s lead, with a video in which she, unprecedentedly, sang, and, unprecedentedly, presented herself to the world. In both its promotion and musically, it was unlike anything we’d seen of SOPHIE before, an austere feel-bad-to-feel-good ballad that cathartically collapsed in on itself at the end. Although stylistically consistent, the song felt like the artifice was being torn asunder. This was SOPHIE.

Contrast, of all kinds, is laid bare in OIL’s opening three tracks, sequenced as such that they’re also the record’s advance singles released in chronological order. ‘It’s Okay To Cry’ is the sensitive reveal; ‘Ponyboy’ is a transgressive beat-strewn behemoth, with distorted vocals given a metallic splurge and a wailing synth the indomitable hook at its centre; ‘Faceshopping,’ though more inclined to the latter, is an effectual synecdoche of the record as a whole, the central vocal given ample room to deliver its sardonic take on gender fluidity misapprehension; “My shop is the face I front/ My face is the real shop front” and each verse is bridged by a shrieking vulture of a synth and rumbling basslines.

The remaining six tracks fluctuate more explicitly; ‘Infatuation’ and ‘Is It Cold In The Water’ align with the patiently naked sensitivity of ‘It’s Okay To Cry,’ weary and melancholic meditations, more elusively atmospheric than direct storytelling. ‘Not Okay’ and monolithic closer ‘Whole New World/Pretend World’ are abrasive marathons, wired up in scorn and frustration but propelled further by self-confidence and an optimistically inclusive mandate for SOPHIE’s personal life and the LGBTQ community.

‘Immaterial Girl’ is an immensely strong contender for Song Of Summer 2018. Perhaps the song most redolent of ‘Bipp’'s unabashedly synthpop sentimentality since that bop bopped, it’s brilliantly restless, darting back and forth in delight at possibility and poise, sprung by a trampolining synth and ebullient claps. The refrain, about an “immaterial girl,” is magnificent wordplay, both intuitively funny and a subversive attack on arcane definitions of gender. The rapport between what we’re hearing and what we’re inferring on OIL, between the painful minimalism and therapeutic maximalism, and the abstruse, specific images SOPHIE evokes, is entirely successful; extraordinarily so given their blaring dissonance, and that they’re framed within songs, between songs, within SOPHIE’s career and self-image, and within society at large. The music isn't a tool of expression, but an extension of herself, the inescapable consequence of her interiority.

I’m reluctant to dive into SOPHIE’s personal import, because this record wasn’t made for me. While I adore the record and like to think I understand its gravity and compassion as an observer, I can’t comprehend the depth and revelation of her experience. Have a cursory glance at social media or read writers better placed than I and there’s eloquent, ardently moving tributes to and deconstructions of OIL from the community it was made for. I don’t think it’s woke ally performance to abstain from commenting further.

Art isn’t immediately good just because it’s progressive or moral, but OIL isn’t moralising. It’s an invocation, a diarising, the personal becoming political through its own pertinence. In a discourse where half our “liberal” punditry are intent in othering and near-enough dehumanising trans people, OIL’s resonance and bravery – underlined by its acutely mapped volatile and enrapturing production – is inspiring, and the conception and execution of its testimony remarkable.