Soap & Skin announces new album ‘Narrow’

Soap Skin
Soap & Skin
releases second album ‘Narrow’
out 19 March 2012 on (PIAS)
– and announces 11 April show at London’s Scala –

The expression ‘an old soul in a young body’ has been attached to Anja Plaschg, aka Soap and Skin, more than once. The teenage wunderkind whose 2008 debut album Lovetunes for Vacuum charted all across Europe, attempted to look twice her age in the cover portrait, and if she didn’t quite pull it off she certainly made a convincing widow in weeds.

But since her initial success Plaschg has come to know real sadness, not just its verisimilitude. Her father died suddenly of a stroke in July 2009 and her response, the traumatic, cathartic wail ‘Vater’, is as openly emotional and intense as pop music gets, an outpouring of genuine pain in the face of death. The double tracked vocals, a Plaschg trademark, are unsettling and eerie, while the piano-led arrangement, owing more to modern classical than run of the mill singer-songwriters, slips into appropriately dissonant and discomfiting areas. Though sung in German the emotions expressed are identifiably beyond language. Yet even this harrowing love song to a dead parent concludes with a moment of levity, a clipped note that echoes and mocks the ‘everlasting chord’ that concluded the Beatles’ ‘A Day In The Life’. It’s strangely intimate, like a little window into their relationship.

A touching and spooky cover of “Voyage Voyage”, a global Europop smash back in the eighties for the curiously named (and coiffed) chanteuse Desireless, follows. Soap and Skin takes what was once a melancholic example of French disko and turns it eastward, its wistfulness now turned into mittel-European gloom. Though it was a hit here untranslated, British audiences are largely unaware of just how familiar the song is in Europe, the stuff of drunken singalongs at chucking out time. Plaschg’s version makes Susanna and the Magic Orchestra’s stark reworkings of hard rock classics sound like, er, hard rock, so bleak is it.  It suits her. Plaschg not only covered Nico’s ‘Janitor of Lunacy’ but actually played the late singer stroke model stroke junkie on the Berlin stage. Though Nico’s final, fatal bike ride took place before her birth, Ari Paffgen was impressed enough to congratulate Plaschg for her portrayal of his mother.

‘Deathmental’, with its crashing programmed stabs and gothic lyrical imagery, offers a few minutes of genuine sonic violence. Next to it the gentle ‘Lost’ suffers its loss with dignity. The stately ‘Boat Turns Towards The Port’, built round a loop of what sounds like an old typewriter (or perhaps a shop till), is over before a listener can decode it, tantalizingly out of reach. The deceptively slight lullaby “Cradlesong” might lure the listener in with its wonderfully lulling melody, yet its lyrics proffer only a sad and sleepless night. The orchestral force of the harried farewell aria ‘Big Hand Nails Down’, both intimate and expansive, cries out for a widescreen grand finale, a close-up twenty feet wide.

Still only twenty one, Plaschg still retains the fearlessness of youth, and if Narrow is more vulnerable than her debut then it’s proof that self-doubt comes with experience. The young Austrian remains a talent to be mentioned alongside Kate Bush and fellow farm girl Polly Jean Harvey.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.