It’s hard to believe that Anja Plaschg, aka Soap&Skin, is only 21. With second full-length album, Narrow, the Viennese Plaschg tackles such weighty issues as loss and grief in a classical-goth style that takes a certain level of courageousness. Nor is she afraid to lay her soul bare as is clear from first track, ‘Vater’, a moving elegy to her father. Sung in German, it paraphrases the WH Auden poem ‘Stop all the Clocks…’ before rising to an anguished climax, Plaschg’s deep, operative vocal soaring over desperate piano chords before expiring with a cry to leave a deeply emotional piano section.
Elsewhere, Plaschg reprises the electronic sounds that made previous album, Lovetune for Vacuum, so compelling. With its jagged, industrial synths and lyrics of destruction and suffering, ‘Deathmental’ is strongly reminiscent of that other precocious purveyor of nu-goth, Zola Jesus. Like Danilova, Plaschg channels anger and chaos into something more complex and contemplative.
Amidst all the sharp edges, ‘Cradle Song’ is a softer though no less emotional affair. With its more restrained piano and vocal, it suggests that music is deeply cathartic for an artist who might not otherwise have an emotional outlet : “You ask why I keep still/Why I don’t pour it out into the night.” ‘Boat Turns Towards the Port’ has similarly delicate moments and layers samples and synths over a subdued piano, providing the backdrop to Plaschg’s strong, unflinching vocal.
Narrow is not easy listening, nor for the faint hearted. It is painfully candid, at times brutal, and swings between wild abandonment and rigid construction. It’s an album that mixes the anguish of youth with a startling maturity and yes, Teutonic stoicism, to find the beauty in tragedy. Music doesn’t always have to be easy, and this is an emotionally challenging masterpiece.
Words: Theresa Heath