When DiS offered to run a Wears The Trousers spin-off column I had to pinch myself. A major indie music website making a dedicated space to talk about female musicians in a (hopefully) intelligent and nonhormonal way? Bold. And then I got the fear. But I know you’re not all rampant misogynists, and besides, we’ve never really been about the politics. You could say the very fact that Wears The Trousers exists is, in effect, a political statement, but we’re first and foremost a music website. We’re not The F Word or Feministing. I won’t even mention riot grrl once. To slightly paraphrase the woefully under-regarded Lois Maffeo, I don’t want to be in charge of educating you apes* about feminism. I don’t have the time.
(* her words, not mine; I’m sure you’re lovely)
Actually, what I want to talk about in this first column is much to do with time. It’s been on my mind lately as I accelerate towards 11,000 days of existence (I can’t bring myself to say it in years – in days it seems so happily abstract) and everybody else just seems to be getting younger. Or at least wiser and more advanced for their age. Case in point: Laura Marling. The acoustic introspection of Alas I Cannot Swim may not have been your cup of chai, but the sheer audacity of her tender years was a constant source of surprise and her measuredly poetic, teen angst-sparing riffs on topics like mental illness and sexual abuse were impressive. Then again, she was well schooled in the very fine works of Diane Cluck and Nina Nastasia so the blueprint was there to be followed, with a Home Counties twist.
There is no such thing as old age, only sorrow – I borrowed that from Edith Wharton; it’s always important when writing your first column to sound authoritative, knowledgeable and, failing that, to lean on someone else’s brilliant wisdom to prop up your own – and I’ll argue conversely that there is no such thing as youth, only shades of damage. Which leads me nicely onto the first artist I want to talk about, an 18 year old Austrian girl you’re about to hear much more of.
Anja Plaschg, more pronouncably known as Soap&Skin, projects a dementedly troubled persona. One promo shot has her sucking up her long, inky hair through her nose and mouth, like Björk being murdered in her hidden place by Sadako from The Ring. Coupled with an almost embarrassingly hyperbolic PR sheet – "Soap&Skin has already grown beyond the human form of Anja Plaschg: she is the Girl Monster, come to save us and to devour us" – her debut album Lovetune For Vacuum (April 13) has a lot to live up to. Amazingly, it mostly succeeds. Across its fourteen teeming songs, Plaschg really puts the damage on with her feverish piano and mutable, Nico-with-range voice. On ‘Fall Foliage’, she sounds like she’s grasping at the closed door of an airlock, knowing that any second she might be sucked into a nothingness of her own design. On upcoming single ‘Spiracle’, her hands casually navigate the keys with a loose and unsettling candour as ghostly wails foreshadow the end of all innocence; "I was a child", she repeatedly tells us, but it’s hard to imagine what she might have sounded like before the blackness got her heart.
Leaving such caustic nihilism across the brackish Baltic sea, a very different type of sorrow inhabits the Söderberg sisters of Sweden’s First Aid Kit. Klara, 15, and Johanna, 17, aren’t entirely doleful; their simply orchestrated narrative songs are just as likely to amble along a rustic melancholy streak as they are to skip down a mossy path with sanguine freshness. Songs almost seem to come alive with imagined smells of woodsmoke and citrus, and a lick of salt on a breeze blown in from the harbour. Harmonising in that preternaturally close way that only siblings can muster, Klara and Johanna are light years removed from the bratty indie-pop of where-are-they-now teen ‘sensations’ Smoosh. And while the massive YouTube viewing figures for their Fleet Foxes cover have undoubtedly provided an easy route into our hearts, other songs on their self-produced debut Drunken Trees (February 23) are of a similar calibre. Double A-side single ‘You’re Not Coming Home Tonight’ / ‘Tangerine’ is out next week.
Sharing some key influences with First Aid Kit – namely the kingpins of the Saddle Creek stable – 18 year old Alessi Laurent-Marke has gone one further in actually recruiting Bright Eyes producer Mike Mogis for her debut album Notes From The Treehouse (out at the end of March). Now recording under the name of Alessi’s Ark thanks to a threat of litigation from hyperaware Seventies duo the Alessi Brothers, the starry eyed West Londoner perhaps fits most comfortably in with the Laura Marling crowd despite her more esoteric and whimsical songs. Of our three acts, she’s the most childlike, but given time Notes... can be as absorbing as it is nimble. Alessi’s mannered vocal style at times recalls a de-sexed and less scratchy Bianca Casady (CocoRosie), which might take the fun out of it for some, but her distinctive sense of wonderment and borderline cosmological obsession bodes well for a Bat For Lashes-style word of mouth hit.
Hold on to your Haribo, the tiny masters of tomorrow are coming.
Some other terrifyingly accomplished young folk you might want to hark at:
Invisible ‘bandmates’ aside, fiercely independent Californian teen Ema Tuennerman creates a magical, twee world that’s all her own. Copies of her recent EP Boy In The Milkbox are scarce but worth the hunt.
America’s answer to Laura Marling, 19 year old Jessica Mayfield’s debut album With Blasphemy So Heartfelt gets its European release on March 2.
More Swedish sisters, this time twins. Taxi Taxi! follow up their 2007 self-titled EP with a debut album on Rumraket, out later this year.