A striking second set of enveloping sounds from the young Austrian.
Mike Diver 2012-03-22
Although essentially an invisible medium, music has frequently proven its power to construct convincing worlds through wordplay and melody. Soap&Skin, the music-making moniker of 21-year-old Austrian artist Anja Plaschg, paints rather better worlds than most – and this, her second album following 2009’s strikingly beautiful Lovetune for Vacuum, is her most vivid and enveloping achievement to date.
If Lovetune’s typical tone was carried on a whisper, Narrow dares to take an occasional turn for the strident; at times this collection clatters like mid-90s Björk caught in cacophonous tumult. Deathmental in particular buries its head within quaking ground shaken silly by clangourous industrial noises, yet it remains an oddly tender thing for all of its gnashing and writhing, Plaschg’s central presence rising above the commotion to register heart and soul atop a ruckus of rambunctious machinery. She’s developed thick skin since her debut, taking the challenge to an unseen party rather than awaiting their command; "Stop faking suffering, like a child…" she instructs with no little disdain, increased confidence palpable. If any song of 2012 encapsulates the expression uneasy listening, it’s this one.
Mercifully for one’s listening gear, Narrow isn’t dominated by such voluminous violence – elsewhere, calmness descends, and the line from debut to follow-up can be more accurately plotted. Voyage Voyage, a cover of a multi-million-selling 80s hit by Desireless, is delivered in its original French but rendered in ethereal splendour and soaked deeply with gorgeous strings.
Key throughout is Plaschg’s piano playing – on this reinterpretation she is subtle, adding elemental colour between sheets of greyscale, but on Lost her keys are pressed harder, their order less formal. Here, they are centre-stage on an affecting torch song, likewise on opener Vater, sung in German and characterised by some frantic, passionate hammering. Penultimate cut Boat Turns Toward the Port employs gentle electronic touches – perhaps the sampling of a typewriter snapped back to the start of each line – and features this record’s finest vocal, Plaschg soaring and finally fading atop an accomplished and grandstanding arrangement.
After Boat Turns…, Big Hands Nails Down feels like an unnecessary epilogue, but its buzzing ferocity makes it a fine partner-piece to Deathmental. Those seeking a maturing talent perhaps capable of Polly Jean Harvey levels of critical and commercial appeal would do well to seek these singularly impressive sounds out, for while Soap&Skin may still be young her voice resonates with the potential of a thousand might-be-types from the Florence-flock, but capable of conjuring braver and newer worlds than the rest of that throng.