Confident and fully realized, Salt is one of those albums that’s hardly believable as a debut. And in some ways, it’s not. Colchester, England-born Kerry Leatham, the woman behind Roseau, has been on the scene for a while. She’s toured with Lianne La Havas and other pop stars whose greatest following is in Britain, recorded with producer Lapalux, starred in a campaign with Adidas Originals, had a song on Grey’s Anatomy, and scored thousands upon thousands of views on YouTube. What else counts as making it these days if not a sneaker deal, Grey’s Anatomy, and YouTube stardom?
In most ways, though, Salt represents a reinvention for Leatham and a full debut for Roseau. Now signed to Big Dada, she has abandoned her acoustic guitar for enchanting synth sounds and soulful, R&B-infused electro-pop with many of the elements we’ve come to expect from the genre: catchy choruses, aching songs about lost love, and dropped beats. In tunes like the up-tempo “Kids and Drunks,” with its refrain, “Please help me to leave you be,” a straightforward drum loop and buoyant synth arpeggio accompany Leatham’s lush, expressive voice, leaving no surprises but a lot of satisfaction.
Elsewhere, the music is not so straightforward. Much of the album has the unusual quality of being simultaneously sparse and noisy, apparently a product of the two locations of its recording. The first, the countryside of Essex (which sets the American imagination in dreamy motion), explains the quiet and closeness of the album—the feeling that even though it has been produced through a computer, the singer is corporeal and near. The second is a large, abandoned warehouse (which sets any imagination in creepy motion), where Leatham recorded herself smashing bottles, hitting tires, and creating a cacophony of other sorts. These sounds, filtered through electronic manipulation and scattered with a delicate touch throughout the album, add an unexpected and much-appreciated layer of weirdness.
The balance of pop gratification and electronic eeriness fluctuates throughout the album, hitting the perfect stride at its exact middle. “Grab,” a highlight of the LP, achieves that wistful-yet-joyful vibe (think Beyoncé’s “XO”), while using inventive production to abruptly cut in different sounds—an effect reminiscent of Phantogram’s “Don’t Move.” Leatham began picking up electronic production techniques in 2008, and the skill, along with help from Will Evans of Tape Club Records and others, has paid off big time.
One thing that Leatham thankfully did not shed when she picked up Logic and a new moniker, though, is solid singing and songwriting. Throughout Salt, her soulful and dynamic voice stands out even above broken bottles and moments of danceable synth, and her storytelling is so compelling that it even manages to make Florida seem like a magical, wonderful place (sorry, Florida). As a result, Leatham’s debut as Roseau will likely bring with it another round of sneakers, TV dramas, and YouTube views—and if we’re lucky, much more.