Not often can you use one word to describe an album, but with Narrow, ‘haunting’ pretty much does the trick. Soap&Skin, otherwise known as Anja Plaschg takes the influence from the devastating loss of her father. This album is not a comfortable listen, the emotion in the music is raw and unrelenting, however this is a very beautiful work of art. Austrian by birth, musicians like Xiu Xiu, Cat Power, Björk, Nico, Aphex Twin and composers like Sergej Rachmaninow or Arvo Pärt have had a great impact on her music. In 2009 after her debut album was released ‘Lovetune for Vacuum’ she was hailed as the new star of Austrian pop. Pop is not the genre I would use to describe this album and The Germans have a word for gloom based music – Weltschmertz, and Anja disagrees with this comparison vehemently. Her music is deep, dark, and intense, gloomy, it is not. It has taken her nearly 3 years to complete this work, and with good reason.
The first song on the album ‘Vater’ is sung in German and is the opening lament to her father. Her voice sweeps with pain at the loss, and whether you can understand the language or not, you know exactly what she is saying. ‘Voyage Voyage’ is an interesting choice from such a young musician. It was hit for French singer Desireless in 1986, yet somehow this 80’s influence suits Plaschg well. It is simple, beautifully sung and touching. Deathmental changes the album’s pace completely with its almost industrial sound to it, and shocks you back into the reality and anger that death can envelop someone. Then comes ‘Wonder’ a complete change in mood with its hymn like quality. Her voice adapts to it with ease, and it is almost as if a different person is singing. If you are a lover of lyrics. ‘Lost’ will leave you broken hearted, and aching. They are lyrics from her very core, and I defy anyone not to relate on some kind of level. Big Hands Nail Down is the most phenomenal swan song to this album, and completes it with an orchestral monster that builds like a tsunami and leaves you emotionally stranded at the end.
Narrow is not an easy album to listen to. At times, I had to walk away, take a deep breath, and brace myself for the aftermath. However, this is by far, the most musically unique and influential album of 2012 so far. It is a classic. It buries its way under your skin, and into your bones, it confronts you with feelings and subjects you no doubt would rather forget. To listen to it is to leave your comfort zone and enter Plaschg’s pain fuelled world for under a hour. It is worth it though. Part of you will fall in love with this album, and part of you will want to hide it away forever. I’ll leave that choice with you.
Album Release 19th March through PIAS
Soap&Skin plays London’s Scala on 11th April