Highlights: Vater, Voyage Voyage, Cradlesong, Wonder
It has to be said that Soap&Skin is a remarkably silly name for grim, glorious piano music like this. Narrow is the second album by this young Austrian lady (goes by the name of Anja Franzisca Plaschg – on the cover), and I wouldn’t really say it’s much different from that lovely debut (Lovetune For Vacuum, 2009). Confident, emotional songwriting with certain gothic undertones.
PJ Harvey’s brilliant album from 2007, White Chalk, would be a good reference point – only imagine it recorded by Nico. This should give you a good idea of the album’s sound. The opening “Vater” is sung entirely in German, but even if you don’t get the words – the overpowering, emotional vocal delivery and piano playing will get to you in no time. Next is “Voyage Voyage”, and it’s a bewildering, unlikely triumph. We all know that silly French hit, but on Narrow it is transformed into something else: an atmospheric, somewhat mysterious sounding piano ballad. Suddenly, that trite excuse for a pop tune becomes… art.
However, it’s not all about gorgeous piano patterns – there’s also some experimental, ‘difficult’ stuff like “Deathmental” with its gruesome, deliberately ugly beat. Like Nico at her most Aryan. Still, it’s for gorgeous, heartfelt confections like “Wonder” that you would need to hear this. Subtle orchestration, and that majestic chorus will surely make you deplore the length of this album - which doesn’t even reach the 30-minute mark.
A couple of unnecessarily operatic tracks on side two prevent me from giving it an even higher rating, but what do numbers have to do with anything?.. Apparently ‘gothic’ can mean many songs, but these days it so rarely stands for substance. Soap&Skin, however, is that wonderful exception.