A prodigious talent emerges...

It’s around track five, the awfully titled but effortlessly gorgeous piano solo of ‘Turbine Womb’, that you realise you’ve not moved for the past few minutes, exactly the length of time this record’s been playing. ‘Lovetune For Vacuum’ really is that arresting in its singular beauty.

And it’s the ugly side of beauty that Anja Plaschg, aka Soap&Skin, showcases throughout her debut album, the Austrian teenager’s songs emerging from their period of gestation bruised and broken, but wandering in a graceful daze that leaves the listener rooted to the spot. The toast can burn, the pot boil over; this is worth the clean up.

‘Lovetune…’ is a collection of skeletal arrangements, each written at the piano and each accompanied by Plaschg’s heartbroken croak of a voice – imagine Karin Dreijer Andersson waking one morning to be told a loved one had been lost at sea, or Björk with a more morose mindset and an upbringing some 1,700 miles southeast of her Icelandic homeland. Plaschg’s songs as good as hold their own against the work of both parallel artists of no little acclaim, and at only 18 years old there’s every possibility of her some day exceeding their abilities.

But let us not get too carried away – right now ‘Lovetune…’ is our one and only window onto the world of Soap&Skin, in long-player terms at least, and it’s a captivating collection that never once releases its tight grip on the heart of its audience. Every tender instance of finger on key, every half-whispered word; every aspect of this album is capable of crawling under the skin and resting there, afraid and in need of warmth, wary of the wider world it’s stepping so blindly into, wearing its emotions so broadly.

Melancholic doesn’t come close to conveying properly the mood manifested by ‘Lovetune…’; this is deeply depressing material if heard in the right – or wrong, I suppose – environment, its turns of instrumental phrase touching enough to coerce the most dramatic of reactions. Simultaneously, though, it’s a record of hope – for every announcement of insecurity Plaschg delivers, she strips away a layer of mystique that stands between audience and artist, and in doing so opens this record up as a source of reassurance that everyone reaches their lowest ebb at some point, that everybody should be encouraged to discover their own method of catharsis

‘The Sun’ is one such instance of our protagonist exploring the depths of her own dark places; while the title perhaps alludes to a bright outlook, the music – a portentous piano line meandering its way to an eventual fate – suits the lyrics of death and despair perfectly. A smattering of electronic embellishments suggest the compositional progression Soap&Skin could make over its coming releases – given a twist or two, this music could be as grand in scope and as experimental of beat as that of Denmark’s Efterklang or Icelandic experimentalists Múm. Here, such forays are subtle and brief, save for the rather misplaced screech of penultimate offering ‘DDMMYYYY’.

Haunted though ‘Lovetune…’ certainly sounds, as it closes with the sublime ‘Brother Of Sleep’ the tone lifts to bring the curtain down on Plaschg’s first record with the future looking bright on two levels: firstly, with regard to this artist’s lyrical inspiration, which seems to be dragging itself from despondency; and secondly, her amazing potential to become a solo artist of unfathomable brilliance.

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