“Harmonium” is more successful than her previous attempt in many respects but primarily because of improvement in the album’s production. Carlton dropped her original producer and enlisted the help of Stephan Jenkins, Carlton’s steady beau from Third Eye Blind. According to Carlton, the business coupling resulted in the pair writing three songs together-a first for Carlton. “Stephan was my first successful co-write and he was careful not to foist anything on me,” Carlton told WOKR-13. “Instead he showed me that what is precious to me can be shared, not just protected, and I am a better songwriter because of it.” Another difference between her two albums is that Carlton made sure she was more involved with the second album. “I really figured out this time around just how to approach the arrangements of the song, not just writing the piano/vocals. It’s really keeping in mind how the rest of the puzzle works. I know so much more about what kind of guitar sounds I want, and all those things,” Carlton said on her Web site.
The album, which includes 12 tracks, is more mature lyrically as well. Carlton tries to abandon her former diary-like confessionals and focuses on allowing her songs to act as windows to her inner stream of consciousness. “Annie,” the album’s third track, was written after Carlton met a five-year-old fan dying of cancer: “Her little arms around my neck/And a dying girl wispers in my ear/Tell me now can you feel it?/I’ve been keeping company with ghosts.”
The album’s darker themes can also be found on the album’s hidden track, “The Wreckage.” Even the first single, “White Houses,” has a deeper meaning, despite its upbeat tempo. Carlton calls “White Houses” a metaphor for simple innocence. It’s about the irony of these simple mundane places that hold so much controversy and pain and triumph all at the same time. Carlton makes U2’s “Where The Streets Have No Name” her own by infusing the song’s melody with her beautiful piano adaptation. Also noteworthy are the tracks “Afterglow,” “Who’s to Say,” “San Francisco,” “She Floats” and “Private Radio.” “Private Radio” will be her next single.
Carlton continues to showcase her evolved voice and piano throughout each song, but adds creative flare by introducing horns, steady drums, string accompaniments or switching from a piano to a harpsichord keyboard. She even adds actual screams to capture the despair embodied in “She Floats.”
Carlton has matured during her two-year absence from our collective radar. Her music has evolved from wistful love songs to insightful scores filled with genuine emotion. “Harmonium” is an amazing album. While many tracks may appear indistinguishable from one another upon first listen, further examination allows one to truly appreciate Carlton’s work. Two years have done Carlton a world of good. It seems that she has found a perfect balance both romantically and musically-a perfect “harmonium,” if you will.