by / May 15th, 2009 /

Soap & Skin – Lovetune for the Vacuum

 3/5 Rating

(Couch Records / PIAS)

The fact that eighteen-year-old Anja Plaschg resembles an attractive Edwina Scissorhands on her debut album cover should be a mood setter from the get-go. Having composed music from age 12 from her bedroom on an Austrian pig farm, she mastered the flute, harmonium, violin, piano, accordion, and carillon before discovering a spot of electronics. After a couple of EPs and a stint scoring and starring onstage as Nico in a play on the Velvet Underground, she rose to critical acclaim via Myspace and local radio play. Lovetune was soon recorded and mixed in her sleepy hometown. But immediately dispel any notions of pastoral Austrian soundscapes because there’s nary a quaint note to be had here- the ol’ pig farm must have been a very glum place indeed.

Deftly slipping into the vocal slippers of Bjork or Kate Bush, Plaschg’s voice is lush and acrobatic, effortlessly going from cool, breathy desperation to unflappable banshee wail in seconds. This is a passionate lady with a flair for dramatics and an unfilled prescription for lithium- every inch of this album says Greek Tragedy set atop the foggy moors of Wuthering Heights.

The puzzling thing about Lovetune is how beautiful abject misery can sound. Plaschg’s sound has little electronic quirks scurrying beneath lashings of abyss-like piano that are reminiscent of PSAPP’s wind up toy effects on -Tricycle’ and this, paired with the vulnerability in her vocals, fills what should be leaden with air so that tracks hang like macabre glass ornaments.

-Spiracle’ is the easiest entry point into the album, being the most user-friendly track here. -Cry Wolf’s’ nostalgic violins (which of course she plays) stand out as the most sentimental while -Turbine Womb’ is a gorgeous instrumental that unfolds to reveal little sonic cogs and mechanisms that make the deepest depression sound romantic.

The downside to the emotional weight in the album is that it’s intensity levels are so high that after a few spins it’s oppressive qualities induce a sort a claustrophobia that could have your quivering hands reaching for Abba Gold. Still, with words publicly attached to it like ‘mesmerising’, ‘harrowing’ and ‘mysterious’ Soap & Skin’s drowning intimacy is often touching and well worth a look- you just might need a dose of Disney afterwards.

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