(09 November 2003) Salt Box Lane. The second album from (Shelley) Harland is a collection of thirteen electronica-styled transfixing songs. Fans of Delerium (With whom Harland has just wrapped up a US toursinging alongside Kristy Thirsk) and other angelic female vocalists would do well to pick this album up.
Originally hailing from London, Harland moved to Brooklyn New York where she recorded Salt Box Lane. Presently, Harland is writing and working with various producers and has recorded vocals with Junkie XL and Joshua Ryan. Her collaboration with Delerium entitled "Above the Clouds" can be downloaded from iTunes for $0.99.
On Salt Box Lane, Harland has done a superb job of balancing fine pop aesthetic with languid and sensual musical textures and a dreamy siren's voice. Most of the songs on Salt Box Lane pulse steadily with late-night percussion and arpeggiated synth sounds.
Songs like "If your feeling different" and "Sleeping under stars in bloom" hearken back to mid-80s synthpop in the vein of Erasure or Maggie Reilly. In any case, the songs themselves are charming and highly addictive pieces of pop pleasure.
At other times, Harland's highly inventive style recalls Tori Amos, Kristy Thirsk and Kirsty Hawkshaw, relying upon melancholic piano. "Junk Misery," with its intense minor-key chord progression and bare-bones piano, is just such a song.
Occassionaly, Harland explores the realms of drum-n-bass a la SOlar Twins or Baxter. "Pounding" is a rhythmic adventure with breakbeat percussion layered over a lovely melody. Especially nice is the orchestral breakdown in the middle section of the song.
One of the best songs on Salt Box Lane is the haunting and heavenly "Treehouse" which would no doubt garner signficant attention if it were released as a single. Equally enjoyable is the calypso-touched "Lull," which is a warm and satisfying finale to the album.
Salt Box Lane is a more mature and nuanced album than Phoelarand signfies a marked development in Harland's songwriting skills. Without question, Harland's greatest musical assets are her clear and pretty voice and her fine melodies. Considering her recent collaborations and the increased notice of fans, Harland's future looks to be bright indeed. Salt Box Lane is an excellent recording that is highly recommended.--Justin Elswick
(09 November 2003) Phoelar. Harland's debut album is a more experimental and somewhat darker piece of work than her follow-up project. To be sure, Harland's exquisite and melodic voice can still be found on each of the tracks on Phoelar. However, the instrumentation is less predictable and many of the songs veer into the synth/goth genre.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, though--in fact, it is arguable that Harland's voice is more passionate and intense on Phoelar than on Salt Box Lane. Harland has noted that the debut is a more "raw" collection of songs. Nevertheless, some might find it more satisfying than Salt Box Lane.
The thirteen tracks that comprise the album are each distinctive in their own right, but several songs are worth mentioning. The ubeat "Circle" is reminiscent of Rose Chronicles with its dark/light textures. While the main guitar rift is instantly catchy, Harland's vocal performance lends the song a slightly manic quality.
Harland displays her industrial influences on "Snake" with its trippy repeating synth line and psychedelic vocal line. Strange, but somehow pleasing. "Lovers Greed" is a fantastic track that captures the creamy and urban vibe of a Quaterflash or The Motels song. Some songs, like "Phases" foreshadow Harland's subsequent transition into a more electronic sound and are more traditionally pop oriented.
The closing track "Imperfect Hostess" deserves mention because it is such a striking song both in melody and instrumentation. A dash of Portishead and a touch Tori Amos (minus the surreality and creepiness of both) equals a truly ingenious song. Overall Phoelar is probably not as strong of an album as Salt Box Lane. Notwithstanding this fact, Phoelar does include some very good songs that make the album worth owning.--Justin Elswick