Toni Halliday, best known as the glacially cool and menacingly seductive singer of U.K. dream-rock band Curve (alongside musical mastermind Dean Garcia) in the 1990s to 2000s, has resurfaced at long last in the form of Chatelaine. The debut album Take a Line for a Walk was released this past June, capping off a 3-years-in-the-making musical journey where Toni was accompanied by Louise Dowd, who co-wrote the songs, and acclaimed record producer (and Toni’s husband) Alan Moulder, who mixed the album. Take a Line for a Walk is comprised of 9 songs plus two remixes of “Broken Bones”, one by Kurt Feldmen (Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Depreciation Guild) and one by legendary producer Flood.
The lyrics-centered indie-pop songs reverberate with electronic touches, orchestral strings, and piano and provide a spare, but compelling framework for Toni’s ever-enchanting vocals and often-times starkly disillusioned, heart-wrenching lyrics. “Broken Bones” leads off the album with restrained piano notes, bell tones, a soft beat, and a backdrop of strings that support Toni’s rich, velvety, but resigned vocals. Bittersweet strings glow on the chorus as Toni intones with matter-of-fact regret “These are my broken bones / these are the sticks and stones / this is the end of the rope / no white horses to bring me home.”
The piano-based introspection on the verses of “Oh Daddy” lifts up on the chorus where an Enya-like, spacious sweep of swelling strings, chime tinkle, light marching beat, and airy wordless vocals buoy Toni as she (as Chatelaine) puts herself on the line with the bracingly blunt lyrics of “There’s no substance underneath the skin / I’m a vagabond, a liar, and I have sinned.”
The potent “Stripped Out” continues with this bleakly self-defeatist, hitting-bottom mindset as Toni exclaims urgently on the propulsive chorus against dramatic gusts of piano, heightened strings, cymbal crash, and layered wordless vocals. Her bitter lyrics are brightened by the lively instrumentation as Toni at first confesses “I hurt myself to feel alive.” and “I don’t have the strength to live this life.” As the song progresses, however, she reaches a life-affirming epiphany and in a sweetly defiant lyrics twist Toni declares “Watch my back / I’m going to leave / I can’t believe / I was so naïve / to be stripped out.” It’s a welcome relief to hear her sing those words.
Toni lithely tiptoes through the lyrics of “Shifting Sands” along with plucked strings, globular notes, Depeche Mode-like synths, and spacey sound as she gracefully sings-talks “You are built on shifting sands / You twist and turn but can’t find land.” The heartbreak-themed “Killing the Feeling” is framed with mid-range to lighter piano notes, a soft beat, and eventually pulled strings that vary from high and poignant to low and sonorous. Toni sings in a breathy, high register on the chorus, lamenting that “My heart breaks when I see your face / There’s nothing I can do to delete your trace.”
Album ender “Seen and Lost” is a standout, as Toni sings in a brooding, darker tone “Goodbye my friend / it hurts to let you go.” against antique piano notes that recall the opening of “Last Night I Dreamt that Somebody Loved Me” by The Smiths. Various vocal layers float by Toni’s melody line, sometimes as whispers, sometimes as light “Ooohs”, and by the end of the song, as two a cappella vocal lines touched by chimes as Toni achingly sighs “You will never know / I miss you so.”