New Zealand’s electronic royalty returns with an eclectic series of covers…

It’s been pleasantly surprising to see the talents of New Zealand musician and producer Princess Chelsea develop since her captivating 2011 debut album Lil’ Golden Book. Her 2015 follow-up The Great Cybernetic Depression demonstrated that she was again one of the electronic artists to keep an eye on, particularly during a period when a lot of synthpop being served up is poor quality tribute band material in-all-but-name.

Now comes Aftertouch, a collection of cover versions by Princess Chelsea which also features some of her experimental arrangements from her Soundcloud page. It’s an eclectic mix of artists, including Interpol, Elvis Presley, Marianne Faithfull, Lucinda Williams, The Beatles and a few choice New Zealand acts added to the mix.

Princess Chelsea’s approach to cover versions also served as a method of trialling musical sketches that would later be incorporated into Princess Chelsea’s own songs. So fans of her music will hear a few familiar tunes here.

The album opener ‘Next Exit’, originally recorded by US rock outfit Interpol, is transformed here into a shimmering slice of delicate electropop. Meanwhile, one of the more unusual choices – Nirvana’s ‘Come As You Are’ sees the grunge classic given a minimalist electropop workover.

There’s an icy simplicity feel to much of the arrangement on ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’ that preserves the hymnal qualities of the original. There’s also a more wistful delivery of the lyrics that lends the classic a warmth and charm that’s quite surprising.

When it comes to Marianne Faithfull, there’s a wealth of songs that merit being covered. But in this case, Chelsea has elected for the more obscure ‘Morning Sun’. Originally a B-side to Faithfull’s 1965 single ‘This Little Bird’, the baroque-folk styling of the original is kept in place albeit with a more electronic approach to the arrangement. In fact the baroque pop appeal of the arrangement here makes it sound like early 1980s Julian Cope.

Keeping in that folk style, ‘Side Of The Road’ is an adaptation of US singer/songwriter Lucinda Williams song. Once again, there’s a simple, stripped-down approach to the arrangement, augmented with percussive fills.

Dropping back to the classic pop choices, the cover of Beatles’ classic ‘And I Love Her’ is perhaps one of the more radical adaptations. The traditional guitars are swept aside for a synth winter wonderland.

Meanwhile, the album’s title track is a cover of an unreleased song by New Zealand chiptune/synthpop outfit Disasteradio. The pure synthpop arrangement with killer hooks and airy vocals makes this track one of the standout moments of the album with some neat vocoder effects. In fact this song would have slipped quite comfortably onto The Great Cybernetic Depression.

There’s a mesmerising quality to the fairy tale estethic of ‘Cold Glass Tube’ whose plaintive piano and wistful vocals builds up an eerie tale. Again, the storybook lyrics seems to slip very easily into the Princess Chelsea catalogue and the song’s slightly disconcerting piano melodies will stay with you.

If the opening bars of ‘After The Moment’ sound familiar, it’s because they were later incorporated into the wonderfully bleak ‘We’re So Lost’ from her last album. Craft Spells are a US-based indie outfit and this track (which originally appeared on their debut album) is given another radical transformation with evocative arpeggio synth rythmns and a nice use of space (with some effective big drum sounds).

This release is something of a pleasant surprise following so soon after the release of Princess Chelsea’s last studio album, but it provides both a superb collection of eclectic synthpop – as well as offering an insight into Chelsea’s process of crafting songs.