Thursday, 16 July 2009


I first encountered the music of Anja Plaschg about a month ago at Meltdown, in support of Patti Smith & Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra. From my seat on the highest tier of the Royal Festival Hall, the figure that walked onstage was small, a featureless blur that settled in front of a piano, chest and face aglow from a laptop screen. The music that emerged was unexpected, and startling; layers of piano melody forming a delicate spider-silk web into which jarring stabs of percussion and found sound became hopelessly entangled. In stark contrast to such impersonal surroundings her skeletal torch songs drifted into the ear and lodged as though whispered from a distance of mere inches rather than fifty metres, almost uncomfortably intimate yet equally intangible. Their elusive, claustrophobic quality, making the environment close in upon the listener, could not be further from the direct in-your-face energy of the headliner, who immediately afterward took control of the stage with scathing, bilious spoken word.

Lovetune for Vacuum, Plaschg’s debut album as Soap&Skin is a distillation of these simple elements – piano, voice and the merest shadow of skittish electronics that rattle in the background like the clicking of crystalline mandibles – and is pretty unique in its vision. There are reference points, sure: the sparsest of Cat Power’s early piano dirges, Nico’s detached ice queen aura or Bjork at her most fey and frosty, even the crooned everything-and-nothings of Sigur Ros circa ( ) before they went off and did that overblown whalecore thing – but the songs of Soap&Skin are shot through with a kind of central European, black forest gothic that convincingly sets her apart from her closest contemporaries. So the subtle thrum and clank of kitchen sink electronics that pervade the understated drama of album opener ‘Glass’ sounds less like the background hum of modern life than the hammer-and-tongs industry of a medieval smithy. And when she tells of her youth, of ‘[killing] all the slugs that I bored with a bough in their spiracle,’ there is not a hint of nostalgia in her delivery, only a childish willingless to toy with her prey borne of curiosity and a hint of maliciousness. At only eighteen, she seems an old head on young shoulders.

Although Lovetune For Vacuum was released on Couch/PIAS in April it emerged with a minimum of fanfare – slightly odd given that the all-pervading nature of the internet tends to ensure that many releases reach ridiculously proportioned levels of hype by the time they’re physically available. Given the current glut of female singer/songwriters mostly treading the same old ground, it’s refreshing to find life in the medium yet. It’s certainly deserving of far more attention than it’s been given in the music press, mainstream or otherwise; Plaschg is a precocious talent and given the strength of her debut it’s likely that the future holds far more. She is playing a short UK tour in the autumn – apparently her last as a solo performer – I strongly advise you find your way to one of the dates.

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