One of many remarkable things about this debut album is that it that theAustrian artist behind it – Anja Plaschg – is only 18. The sophisticationof Plaschg’s vision, and its realisation, would suggest a far older head,and this is music that impresses when judged on its own merits.
Running through this haunting record there appears to be a key theme, orrepeated motif, of the “natural” and organic juxtaposed with thesynthesised, man-made or mechanical, reflected in the choice ofinstrumentation. Plaschg is a proficient pianist, and many tracks soundlike classical compositions (in particular Cynthia, but also the piano-ledparts of Sleep, Extinguish Me, and Turbine Womb), also usingorchestral-sounding strings to evoke a range of emotions. The yang to thatying, though, is provided by her inclusion, too, of lots of pointedlynon-natural sounds.
A kind of mechanical, strangely 19th century soundingwhirring clicking sound is used to great effect on Sleep, Cry Wolf andTurbine Womb – possibly a camera’s shutter clicking. In other placesdeliberately jarring or abrasive sound effects are introduced, like theshrill electronically-generated whistle sound in March Funebre, or thesynths used in Fall Foliage, The Sun and DDMMYYYY, the latter being analmost totally glitch-based instrumental track which almost sounds like ithas landed on the wrong album, perhaps having been displaced from a naturalhome at the more experimental end of the electro/Krautrock spectrum.
Also key to Soap & Skin‘s unique sound is the astonishing vocal.It is probably this, as much as the backing, which endows the album withsuch a particular – part haunting and troubling, part touching andmelancholic – atmosphere. Sometimes deep and sombre sounding, but at othertimes high and fluttering or almost choral, Plaschg uses her voice like sheuses the piano: to the full extent of its range (listen to how the tunereaches down to those very deepest piano keys that are never normally used,on The Sun, and then how the voice soars and semi-screams, right at the topof her register, on Spiracle and Cry Wolf). The charm of the accentedEnglish in which she sings certainly adds to the effect, but this mostcertainly isn’t a case of “kooky non-English female vocal” syndrome: thereis much much more at play here.
If DDMMYYYY is the least representative track here, then MarchFunebre is probably the most, in which the full repertoire of effectsis deployed, from harsh-sounding synths, to piano, shouts, and solemnsinging. This is not an easy, nor a light album, and occasionally (onlyvery occasionally) can become a little too am-dram (Thanatos, parts of TheSun). Lyrically, too, it’s quite impenetrable, with the mood of eachsong being more effectively conveyed through the way they sounded thananything specific that was said in them.
If this is the kind of art – and it is art – that this young womanis making at 18 then I can only imagine the heights she will reach infuture. Not only one to watch – very much one to discover rightnow, on this extraordinary piece of work.