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SOPHIE impresses with satire on “PRODUCT”

| Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Sophie Product_WEBLAUREN WELDON | The Observer

There is something about absurdity and nonsense that has gripped left-leaning electronic musicians as of late. I noticed it first back in 2011, when a ridiculously melodic squeak was paired with a gratuitously thick bass in Hudson Mohawke’s cult hit “Cbat.” That was only the start: In 2012, the notorious release of “TNGHT,” the first and only EP of Mohawke’s self-titled project in collaboration with fellow trap-producer Lunice, didn’t just hit the underground electronic scene with a blast of air-horn maximinimalism but jettisoned the scene as a whole to the mainstream (for better or worse). That fact alone would have one expecting a rather impressive affair of an album, not — as actually turned out — a dumbfoundingly catchy agglomeration of 8-bit chimes, baby noises and … bubbles? But at least, I freely admit, there was quality there. Let’s not forget, on the other hand, the almost idiotic simplicity of Baauer’s major worldwide hit (?), the infamous “Harlem Shake.”

The music, overall, was a parody of itself, and it’s not unlikely that it was, to a certain extent, born from the idea that the electronic music industry – laughably mediocre as of late – has been taking itself way too seriously.

At least, that’s where SOPHIE seems to be coming from on “PRODUCT,” a collection of eight singles recorded over the past couple of years, most of which have been previously released in other formats. (And there’s something hideously appropriate in this fact alone, in an age that has shirked the album in favor of ephemerally chart-topping singles.) Sonically, the best way to describe them is as the soundtrack to Sour Patch Kids learning how to twerk, an ineffably strange attribution that nevertheless shines through the comically saccharine vocals, sour synths and smacking, head-banging kicks.

But perhaps the most meaningful label for this music is “antiseptic.” Everything about this music is airtight, clean, perfectly produced, engineered and designed like … well, a product. And is not the title itself a point-blank announcement that this music, like most of the other popular electronic music being released these days, is intended to be nothing more than a product to be consumed and inevitably excreted once the fad has faded? Indeed, we find on the cover art for side-project QT single “Hey QT” another blatant stab at the advertising industry (and by extension the sales-minded nature of the mainstream music industry), in which a similarly “perfect” doll-like female figure — cue the synthetically high-pitched vocals that poke at our inaccurate modern conceptions of femininity — holds the eponymous soft drink she seductively attempts to advertise. But the video takes it to a whole other level, as we watch attractive, made-up models don Beats headphones while enjoying this apparently revolutionary new soft drink in a “formula testing lab,” as if indeed the whole purpose behind the music video itself were to merely excuse the blatant product placement (sound familiar, Miley Cyrus?). For the record, they give the drink glowing reviews.

But you wouldn’t catch any of it at first, because the music, after all, is pretty good. Satirical music doesn’t tend to beat around the bush; it’s usually purposefully terrible so as to parody the mediocrity of that which it is mocking. But therein lies the brilliance of these singles: They are the guy with the ironically wild dancing at the club who — wait a second — actually has some great moves. And as such, the moves sneak into the mainstream repertoire and, before you know it, you’re un-ironically doing them too. But more than being a compilation of trendy but ultimately forgettable singles, “PRODUCT” represents for dance music what vaporwave was to ’80s Muzak and what nightcore was to Vocaloid pop. It’s catchy, it’s stylish, it’s chic … but take that glittery mask off, and it’s subversive to the core.

4/5 Shamrocks

Song: “VYZEE”

If You Like: Arca, TNGHT, Eprom

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