Tour dates announced April 2012
The expression ‘an old soul in a young body’ has been attached to Anja Plaschg, aka Soap&Skin, more than once and as she releases her new mini-album, Narrow, entirely self-played and produced, she again sounds wise beyond her years. The teenage wunderkind whose 2009 debut album Lovetune for Vacuum charted 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 vocals 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 rigorously purified cover of "Voyage Voyage", a global Europop smash back in the eighties for the curiously named (and coiffed) chanteuse Desireless, follows. Soap&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 hard rock, so bleak is it. It suits her.
‘Deathmental’, with its crashing programmed stabs and gothic lyrical imagery, offers a few minutes of genuine sonic violence. The deceptively slight lullaby "Cradlesong" might lure the listener in with its wonderfully lulling melody, yet its lyrics proffer a distressingly sleepless night. The first single ‘Wonder’ is an easier way into Plaschg’s world, a stark ballad carried by unearthly multi-tracked harmonies and a beautiful string arrangement. Next to it the gentle, brief ‘Lost’ suffers stoically while the stately, elegant ‘Boat Turns Toward 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, otherworldly and tantalizingly out of reach. 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.
2. Voyage Voyage
7. Boat Turns Toward The Port
8. Big Hand Nails Down
UK/ EU Tour dates now announced and on sale:
Feb 10 Vienna Arena (www.arena.co.at)
Feb 12 Berlin Volksbühne (www.volksbuehne-berlin.de)
Feb 15 Linz Posthof (www.posthof.at)
Feb 16 Graz Orpheum (www.spielstaetten.at)
Feb 19 Saint Malo La Route Du Rock Chapelle St.Sauveur (www.laroutedurock.com)
Feb 27 Munich Freiheiz (www.freiheiz.com)
Feb 28 Luxemburg Kulturfabrik (www.kulturfabrik.lu)
Apr 11 London Scala (www.scala-london.co.uk)
Apr 17 Paris Le Trabendo (www.trabendo.fr)
Apr 18 Brussels Ancienne Belgique (www.abconcerts.be)
Apr 20 Rotterdam Motel Mozaique Schouwburg (www.motelmozaique.nl)
Apr 21 Hamburg Kampnagel (www.kampnagel.de)
May 4 Dornbirn Spielboden (www.spielboden.at)