You would be forgiven for thinking that the only headlines coming from the fair country of Austria at the moment were about children trapped in cellars for years or an Austrian lady jailed for seven years in an American psychiatric unit for stalking CSI Miami actor David Caruso.
Ladies and gents let me introduce the non-German speaking world to the latest ‘pop’ phenomenon to emerge from the sinister Alpine landscape that is Austria – Soap and Skin (aka Anja Plaschg). I had to control myself a little when I first started listening to 18 year old Soap and Skin as I kept inadvertently referring to her as Head and Shoulders. Oops.
One is the popular anti-dandruff shampoo and the other is the dark brooding ‘Wunderkind’ from a Styrian village in the south of Austria. I state ‘Wunderkind’ in brackets, as I am always dubious about capriciously labelling her, especially when one considers the context from whence she comes. Her’s is a recently stagnant and pretentious Indie music scene all to quick to pin their hopes and assign ‘Wunderkind’ status onto any new artist remotely young, different and with a hint of International crossover potential. I’m more inclined to dispense this title to the UK’s country/blues group Kitty, Daisy and Lewis, who are three utterly enchanting examples of musical prodigy.
Let me give those unfamiliar with Soap and Skin’s background a quick run through, afterwards the discussion of ‘Wunderkind’ status is up for debate left to you kind readers out there. My answer: No she isn’t a ‘Wunderkind’ sadly.
Introduced to the piano at age 12 > Shortly after was practicing the classics like Chopin and Schumann for 12 hours a day > First composition at aged 14 > School drop out > Attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna > Dropped out > Release of demo tunes on Myspace > Record deal > At 17 Releases debut album ‘Lovetune for Vacuum’.
Glad we got that out the way, now we can get to the nitty gritty, is she any good? Surprisingly yes! I was geared up to hate her due to the pre-record release hype, fixation with her age and the intellectual snobbery of the Viennese alternative press hailing her as the next musical messiah…yuck and no thank you!
Yet putting my personal irks to one side and listening to her debut ‘Lovetune for Vacuum’ I was enchanted by an uncommon expression of coming of age teenage angst. It is an unexpectedly short album made up of 13 (14 if you include the bonus track) melancholic, existential and ethereal tracks. Long repetitive monotone piano is twinned with high-pitched electronic strings and set against a menacing landscape of deep grumbling bass lines. It is a Kafkaesque backdrop where Anja Plaschg one moment sings soft forest nymph whispers and then unleashes stomach wrenching siren like shrieks the next. Also noteworthy is the whole album was predominantly written and composed on her own, where by her own admission she prefers isolation to collaboration.
The only thing that makes the album difficult to listen to, as a native English speaker, is her highly grating Austrian accent. Not that an accent of any sort should matter, as many artists use that to their advantage and transform it into a delighhtful and identifiable trademark. Yet somehow she doesn’t quite have the same charm as Björk’s Icelandic lilt or Charlotte Gainsbourg’s subtle French/English hybrid. In Soap and Skin’s case it is somewhat heavy and obtrusive, as a result at times it can be distracting working against the otherworldly quality of her voice and music, like coming across potato on a sushi platter.
Visually the press seem to play up the brooding dark princess image worthy of any Tim Burton character. A pallid pale beauty who, to her detriment, is most times styled and photographed to look as if she had survived some horrendous trauma. In some pictures she looks like she has been punched in the face or dragged through a bush – perhaps she is merely suffering from a serious case of hay fever?
Regardless of those distractive elements, the fact remains that Lovetune for Vacuum is a very worthy debut album released by a talented young lady. Soap and Skin has every chance of developing into an artist such as Tori Amos, if hopefully a largely cynical Viennese press doesn’t annihilate her before she actually does fulfil their calling as a viable commercial success. It is essentially a very sophisticated and elegant album to come from any a debut artist, even from someone who is a mere 18 years old.
‘Lovetune for Vacuum’ available now on Amazon.de and Itunes in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.