18 Oct 2016

Aftertouch by Princess Chelsea

From The Sampler, 7:30 pm on 18 October 2016
Princess Chelsea

Princess Chelsea Photo: supplied

Nick Bollinger reviews a set of covers from local synth-pop siren Princess Chelsea.

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Auckland-based singer-songwriter Chelsea Nikkel has been specialising in melancholic, synth-saturated pop songs since she debuted under the alias Princess Chelsea six-odd years ago. Aftertouch, her first album of cover songs, opens with a version of Interpol’s ‘Next Exit’. The song dates from the mid-2000s when Chelsea was in her mid-teens, a formative time for any listener, and the solemn, keyboard-soaked melody of the original might have been the template for any of Chelsea’s own songs. Her version here is faithful to Interpol’s original one; she just increases the keyboard quotient, while her voice renders the melody even more vaporous and moody. But from here on, things get a lot more eclectic.

‘Morning Sun’ is a genuine obscurity; a song that first appeared as a Marianne Faithfull B-side in the mid-60s adorned with harp, harpsichords and oboes, which Chelsea has now substituted with her trademark synths. And yet her vocal remains very much in keeping with the winsome, blue-before-my-time mood of Faithful’s original.

Anyone making a study of melodic pop will, at some point, tip their hat to The Beatles, and Chelsea’s version of ‘And I Love Her’ from their Hard Days Night period remakes the song as a wonderfully swoony slice of synth-pop.

In between the 60s and the 2000s, she briefly considers the influence on synth-pop of Kurt Cobain, with a cover of Nirvana’s ‘Come As You Are’, which is fine, although it seems to leech much of the urgency out of the song. More effective is her take on Lucinda Williams’ ‘Side Of The Road’, which loses none of its yearning in the transfer from rustic rocker to tinkly synth-pop. Though there is no longer anything remotely country about the arrangement, Williams’s melody seems just as aching, and comes perhaps even closer to conveying the essence of the singer’s search for her self, when set adrift in this cool, alienating landscape of electronica.

The album also acknowledges the influence of a couple of local artists. One is James Milne, who performs as Lawrence Arabia, with an epic reading of one of his earliest tunes. And the title track comes from a song by another local, Luke Rowell, who as Disasteradio has created his own synth-pop world. Though his music is generally more upbeat, he surrounds himself with electronics, to create a music that’s both ridiculous and poignant, solitary and universal – rather like this is.

Songs featured: Next Exit, Morning Sun, And I Love Her, Side of the Road, Cold Glass Tube, Aftertouch.

Aftertouch is available on Lil’ Chief Records.