Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Soap&Skin - Lovetune For Vacuum (2009)

There is certainly more to Anja Plaschg than meets the eye. The Austrian singer-songwriter's image is shrouded in darkness; case in point, her press photos are dark, her press release states, among other things that the "Girl Monster will save and devour us", and the album art for her debut full length album, Lovetune for Vacuum, conveys an atmosphere that is as cold as it is depressing. So it wouldn't be all that unreasonable to assume her music follows the same general direction. And yet, wonder of wonders, it doesn't. Well, not completely. Plaschg utilizes dark elements in some of her songs, and others maintain a clear dark wave influence. But Plaschg's first album as Soap&Skin is more than a gloomy collection of songs.

Lovetune for Vacuum has been described by certain individuals as "ambient music for torture chambers", tracks such as "Mr. Gaunt Pt. 1000" and "Cry Wolf" suggest otherwise. It wouldn't necessarily be accurate to label said songs as happy, but they convey an intimate sort of atmosphere one wouldn't expect. "Cry Wolf" is the most exceptional of such tracks, serenading the listener with a warm piano melody that comforts as much as it mesmerizes; Plaschg isn't so much concerned with impressing listeners with virtuosic talent or macabre lyrical imagery as she is with crafting gentle, enthralling musical environments. Plaschg's singing even plays second fiddle, as "Extinguish Me" demonstrates. Following a similar template to "Cry Wolf", though perhaps a little sadder, the track places greater emphasis on Plaschg's piano and violin work than her wispy vocal efforts, though the latter compliment the instrumentals exceedingly well.

That isn't to say that the more sinister elements that Soap&Skin seems to have become most well known for don't play a significant role in Lovetune for Vacuum. The album opens with minor chords in "Sleep", giving a preview of what is to come, but such elements are not capitalized on until the jarring "Thanatos", a track that disposes of the quiet sentiment of "Cry Wolf" in favour of louder piano and a more intense vocal presence. "Spiracle" explores themes of insecurity and regret, though interestingly the song is Lovetune for Vacuum's catchiest, most cordial piece, and certainly the most memorable. The frightening "Marche Funèbre" is the album's darkest song, throwing violin and synthesizer to the forefront and relegating the piano to a more rhythmic position. It's a stylistic change which effectively maintains Lovetune for Vacuum's fresh soundscapes. Plaschg completely foregoes classical instruments with "DDMMYYYY". Changing things up again, the song incorporates IDM and glitch elements to a surprising degree of effectiveness. "DDMMYYYY" carries a more robotic overtone than of Lovetune for Vacuum's more emotive tracks, making for an interesting contrast.

Lovetune for Vacuum leaves very little to complain about. I suppose the short song lengths may disappoint some, as the average track is just under three minutes, but the shorter run times help keep the record concise. Anja Plaschg allows each track enough time to fully develop before picking up and moving on to the next one, creating a sense of mystery. In any case, it works exceedingly well, and ensures that Plaschg never descends into needless repetition. As it stands, Soap&Skin should have a bright future (Plaschg is only 18, believe it or not), and given the quality of Lovetune for Vacuum, it'll be interesting to see where she takes it next. Sputnic Music

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