Roseau, aka Kerry Leatham, first came to my attention on some Ninja Tune-associated releases I really like: Bonobo’s Late Night Tales, the DELS track, ‘Pulls’, from his Petals Have Fallen LP, and Lapalux’s brilliant track, ‘Without You’ off 2013’s under-rated Nostalchic (for me, the best of the bunch).
The bar had been set then for Salt, Roseau’s debut solo LP for Big Dada Recordings, and I was very interested to discover how it would stack up.
The album starts strongly. The vocal refrain on the opening (title) track is irresistible, as Leatham exclaims in a world weary sigh, ”I can’t block it out”. Right on the word ‘block’, a kick drum beats and Leatham can begin her tale of heartbreak. The line itself seems ironic once you discover that this is an album which contemplates the abundance of blocks and obstacles; to a happy life; to lasting relationships; to feeling like you belong.
One of the highlights of the album is the excellent third track and early single, ‘New Glass’. Certainly in terms of production, this is one of the boldest statements on the record. A ripping low slung bass line underpins a wobbly synth line as the percussion is piled on and pulled out alternately throughout. This approach is complimented by Leatham’s vocal performance; her voice taking on a playful M.I.A.-like cadence as she talks of horrible tasting cigarettes and still being awake at 10am.
Leatham switches between vocal styles freely over the course of the record, moving from aggressive to skittish to ephermeral with equal confidence. Her performance expresses an undeniably distinctive personality; the way she delivers the hook on ‘Florida’ oozes charisma.
Despite this, there is a deep vulnerability and paranoia at the heart of the record. The songs are littered with references to being left behind, not wanted, laughed at (‘Hot Box’), or not being truly known (‘You Don’t Know’). Much of Leatham’s subject matter conjures a dystopian mood. However, this is cleverly alleviated by the shiny, sparkling sounds which envelope the darker lyrics.
Salt‘s sound palette mixes electronic pop with more organic, natural sounds – the record’s sonics were apparently inspired by a walk around a giant abandoned warehouse nearby, a favourite walk of Leatham’s. She recorded herself in this space, screaming and singing and making noise with the surrounding debris – an extinguished bonfire, an old car tyre, bottles and sticks. The resulting recordings are littered throughout the album, creating a unique and physical atmosphere befitting Leatham’s distinctive voice and weighty themes.
‘Kids and Drunks’ is a fine example. The track fades in with a pulsing electronic rhythm as Leatham’s lyrics paint a picture of a relationship, soured by history and ultimately doomed, but difficult to tear yourself away from. The fruits of Leatham’s warehouse experiment can surely be heard here, as various crashes and whip cracks puncture the bittersweet melody and vocal harmonies.
The album isn’t all clatter and bang however. The instrumentation on ‘See You Soon’ is sublime and relaxed. To a steady groove, cooked up with a clean drum loop and burrowing bass line, the track drifts along casually but purposefully as the artist meditates on the different paces at which we live out our lives and the difficulties this can cause.
The warm synth line which opens ‘Alright’ has a beautiful organic quality. With Leatham’s tender and hopeful vocals layered over the top, the song is very easy to become blissfully lost in. The same can be said of the gorgeous, mandolin-inspired ‘Accelerate’.
Unfortunately not every track hits. The album sags briefly in the middle, with the pairing of ‘Grab’ and ‘Hot Box’ failing to leave quite the same impression as the songs around them.
In many ways, there is a modesty to Leatham’s ambition on this record, perhaps summed up best by the closing track, ‘Lunch’. With it, Leatham has chosen to give the record a quiet and understated finale. Perhaps this is how she wishes some relationships would end. The title itself, ‘Lunch’, is a bizarre one for a closing track – or any track for that matter – evoking neither a new dawn nor closing chapter. It’s just another meal; you’ve eaten before and you’ll eat again.
Whereas Leatham began the record straining to ‘block it out’, she ends it in a state of almost wilful surrender. She’s not got the time nor the energy left for any bullshit – ”don’t ask me questions, I might tell you the truth”. She is happy to sleep on the sofa, to contemplate why ‘we broke again so soon’. Before you know it, the song and album have slipped suddenly and quietly away.
I enjoyed Salt. Admittedly, it did not thrill as consistently as some of those releases which first introduced Leatham, but it still stands as an enjoyable and promising effort from a refreshingly experimental new talent.