What happens when the haunted become grateful?
Soap&Skin’s musical career to date has always been about having shimmers of beauty in demonic, haunting piano and electronica based funeral anthems. Her voice is unique and powerful in a way like Bjork’s sounds unchained and unleashed and it lends a childlike innocence to all the imagery she sings of. I say this as a preface because Soap&Skin’s new album “From Gas To Solid / You Are My Friend” steers her off down a more calmer, forgiving, positive and thankful path. It’s quite a shock from the lady whose usually screaming over pipe organs and its still taking time to adjust.
The album shows its intent with the gentle “This Day” which has soft piano and violin to offset Anna’s voice as she sings of salvation. You await the twist of evil to come but it merrily chugs along and into the warm and sentimental “Athom” that uses sparse militant beats to underpin an unlikely track of uplifting courage. Anna’s voice is transformed many times throughout the album but here it’s pitch-shifted to have several layers of voice as a bass hum under her own giving the track a calming yet oddly unnerving gospel edge. “Italy” was one of the singles and is possibly the easiest place to enter Soap&Skin musically. Soft harmoniums and brass create a swaying melody and cute drum machines and xylophone-like synths tinker away in an ode to feeling free. It’s a fresh embrace and it’s lovely to see a different side to Anna’s music. Even her choral piece “(This Is) Water” has a really interesting interplay between some of the darker tones being eclipsed by a regal lighter, higher pitched tone.
Fans of all her previous works do not despair though, Soap&Skin is still very happy to bring the gothic theatrical drama to the listener. “Surrounded” is one of the best examples of this, as a French-tinged waltz into quirky despair unfolds and lets Anna loose with her powerful vocal chops. It continues to show how the album is playing with a much wider instrument palette than before as accordions, brass, drums, synths, piano and string all merge together to create an undead sway. “Heal” see’s the other side of this experimentation with a brighter synth led arrangement full of catchy motifs and beautiful layers of voice and baby speech samples. Brass is a huge part of the album and “Foot Chamber” shows exactly how muted brass can create a really tense yet tippy toe quiet atmosphere. It runs slightly at offs with the warm vocals and marimba but works perfectly with the slowly growing stampede of marching feet as a percussive edge. Piano-based tracks “Creep” and “Safe With Me” will allude to Soap&Skin’s roots without ever retreading old ground.
After the album has finished exploring its lighter side, the final three tracks return to the darker side of Anna’s music and if I am totally honest, this is where her skillset really explodes into a top-tier musician. “Falling” is a five and a half minute instrumental of pipe organs, electronica pulses and sci-fi synths that slowly pick up pace and rhythmic layers as the track grows and unfurls. Again, it’s quite experimental and different to what she’s done before although she’s done some instrumental experiments – here the palette is wider again and it’s a maddeningly beautiful success. “Palindrome” is a solemn vocal, marimba and atmospherics track that oozes so much from its dense eerieness, it shows that you can be calm and utterly menacing at the same time. Anna pulls it off to perfection but saves her creepy factor for the final track – a cover of “What A Wonderful World”. It’s minimalistic fuzzy atmospheric background synths are the stuff of horror movies as Anna’s voice is doubled up. There is so much beauty there but it’s creepy all around the edges as notes detune as they bend across to the next one – it’s genius.
Which brings me to my overall thoughts of the album. It’s a real mixture – like 2 EP’s have been smashed together. I wonder if that’s why there are two parts in the title? Some of the lighter tracks are really well done but they also have a certain shuffle of the dead in pacing to them that makes them not quite pull off the joy that is being conveyed. As soon as things turn dark, the album hits all the right notes though. I’m really glad that this album exists and that Soap&Skin is busy pushing out her craft in different directions because that’s what makes an artist grow. Not all of it hit the mark for me personally, but I think that’s also because I so ready to burn down all the demons in the room whilst screaming and instead I got slow sways of brass and harmonium telling me that I can find the power to heal. I think this will be a grower over time.
Recommended track: Surrounded
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