Don’t let the soft, scented domesticity of Anja Plaschg’s stage moniker Soap&Skin or album title fool you; Lovetune for Vacuum is a mournful Frankenstein of a record – a young woman attempting to come to terms with the often twisted depths of her own feelings by imprisoning them within a fortress of ticking shutter sounds and mandrake violins.
With a beguiling voice pitched somewhere between Antony Hegarty and Karin Dreijer Andersson (Fever Ray/The Knife), 18 year old Plaschg (who grew up on a rural pig farm in her native Austria) cuts an emotionally bruised, shadowy figure on her extraordinarily precocious debut.
At the heart of the record is a shy, elegantly mechanical android, that ticks and whirrs with the sounds of typewriters, camera clicks and children’s toys, gradually expanding and dominating with each song. On the childlike ‘Cry Wolf’, it cowers reticently behind a background of Múm style vocals and a naïve flute, but gathers strength by ‘Turbine Womb’ (the lyrics can be a little sci-fi Sylvia Plath, but impressive for a second language) to sound like Optimus Prime doing the ballet; indeed, Plaschg’s strengths reach far beyond the stereotype of the quirky musical ingénue to join Peter Broderick, Hauschka and Max Richter as part of the exciting European scene of young classical protégés, such is her impressive piano work. Come the penultimate track, ‘DDMMYYYY’, the machine is fully-fledged, as industrial and aggressive as Leila or any of Richard D James’ Warp brethren as it drowns out a woman’s crazed histrionics – it’s no surprise that both Fenessz and DJ Koze have remixed her.
In parts, this is a terrifying record, and you can only imagine what it’s like to be her parents – an unpredictable raven haired pearl looming from the shadows of farmhouses in her press photos, even crouched naked amongst the pigs; with tortured scientific lyrics about the Greek daemon of death (‘Thanatos’, not dissimilar to the rousing layered vocals of Electrelane’s ‘The Valleys’) through to the slightly sixth form poetry words of ‘Extinguish Me’ (“I search in snow, in vain / For your footsteps’ trail / I have to kiss them / With my scalding tears”) and childhood pain (‘Spiracle’). It’s not always a pleasure to listen to, particularly as the tangle of piano and icy church intonations of ‘Fall Foliage’ rumble into that familiar elegant clunk of clockwork and whirrs, but it’s to her credit that she rides the motif through to the end of the record, and proves its worth – her bleak electronic dystopia could easily soundtrack Watchmen or similar. If this is how she sings Lovetunes…, heaven help us when she turns her pen to less starry-eyed subject matter.