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Salt Joseph Burnett , September 10th, 2015 09:49

Roseau, aka East Londoner Kerry Leatham, is part of a nascent-ish movement that could tentatively be called avant-R&B. The name Roseau, taken from the capital city of Dominica where her family has its roots, might suggest an affinity with the Caribbean influences that occasionally crop up in Rihanna's music, but Salt almost entirely draws its sonic palette solidly from the Estuarine zone where East London meets Essex, even if the album was conceived and created further out in a more pastoral environment.

According to the spiel promoting the album on Big Dada's website, the skeletons of these 11 tracks were created from recordings Leatham made by banging on bits of metal and screaming in an abandoned warehouse, but if that's the case, there's little trace of such industrial shenanigans in the finished result. Instead, Salt is a crisp, exquisitely-produced time capsule that crystallises the urban avant-pop scene of 2015 in just under 40 emotionally-charged minutes.

'Kids And Drunks', the second track, is so damn wonderful I can't look past it. There are hints of vintage 80s synth-pop in the sharp snare cracks and warm layers of synth, whilst the overall melancholic mood lands somewhere between the David Sylvian of 'Wave' and Burial's most recent EP Rival Dealer. Leatham's expressive lyrics deal with the irresistible allure of a commitment-phobic ex-partner with honesty and candour, but it's the sensitively-applied waves of synthesiser and her gentle, emotionally-charged vocals. It has "hit single" smeared all over it, and indeed, whilst Salt supposedly sits in similar territory to Cooly G's Wait 'Til Night, it is remarkably pop-friendly in a way Merrisa Campbell's album wasn't. I can imagine that for some who find Campbell's starkly sexual lyrics and musical austerity challenging, but mainstream R&B too tacky, Roseau's music is a nice and expertly-crafted middle ground.

One gets a hint at the warehouse found sound origins of Salt on the opening bars of 'New Glass', an acid story of a swaggering yob that lurches between grime's starkness and the storytelling of Kate Tempest. Leatham's lyrics are more oblique, less overtly narrative than Tempest's, but she delivers them with delicious venom, her voice dripping with sarcasm. 'Grab' is similarly driving and aggressive, albeit with more inward-looking lyrics (it kicks off with the smile-inducing "I'm fucking sick so I gotta get out"), all seesawing synths and industrial-style percussion, Roseau sounding punch drunk as she lurches through the track, her voice soaring as she implores an unknown interlocutor to take her home after a messy night out. These are all stories anyone can relate to, especially those living in the modern urban sprawl, and Leatham's talent is in honing in on the pure emotions of each scenario she touches on.

Salt is a promising debut, not perfect but certainly beautifully-produced, and with enough highlights (apart from the glorious 'Kids And Drunks', other stand-outs include 'Florida' and the minimalist and melancholic 'Accelerate') to keep drawing fans of oblique, intelligent pop back for listen upon listen. I'm not so keen on the presence of male vocals on a couple of tracks, because they tend to detract from Leatham's startling voice and disrupt the coherence of the album's flow, but that is really a minor quibble when stacked against the sheer emotional pleasure of this album.

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