What happens when the haunted become grateful?
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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