It’s been five years since Carina Round released her last full album—2007’s Slow Motion Addict— but the L.A.-via-England singer/songwriter hasn’t been idle in the interim. She released the Things You Should Know EP in ‘09 and joined the more straightforward Early Winters and released an EP last year. She also joined Maynard James Keenan’s Puscifer on tour and on last year’s Conditions of my Parole as a background singer while Round’s music found its way onto the silver screen with placements on shows such as American Horror Story, Pretty Little Liars and Dollhouse.
And honestly, that Round does well as a collaborator and in film syncs is fairly telling of what Tigermending has in store.
Big, bold choruses in songs like “The Last Time” and the strummy guitars and “doo-doo-doo”s in “You And Me” beg for the screen. And as an arranger, Round boasts an abundance of ideas; her songs are stuffed with keys, horns, strings and electronics, though they rarely stray into ambient or overly textural territory. With such an array of timbres at her disposal, Round’s songs travel great distances. “Mother’s Pride,” for example, begins relatively sparsely, with crisp electric guitar and Round’s full, smooth voice; it boils over into a squall bordering on noise-rock as Round accelerates into bluesy belting. This is an artist ever on the verge of pop-chart indie rock, and ever willing to peel away with a daring move like this one.
And that’s Tigermending’s most compelling asset. The vibrant and varied arrangements are plenty approachable. Round knows her way around a hook, and she swings for the fences with every chorus. But none of that comes at the expense of her songs. Instead of writing vague tunes for the sake of easy licensing, Round uses her eclectic-pop approach as a vehicle for striking imagery and ambitious compositions.
It’s not likely a smart move commercially to open an album with a cynical story of domestic ruin, with the speaker as antagonist. But Round does, opening “Pick up the Phone” by informing its unnamed subject “I’m pregnant with your baby” Later, she sings matter-of-factly, “His wife didn’t stop crying/ For at least a week he told me/ But at least she got the kids and half a million/ I just assumed that she was sleeping.”
Round doesn’t let up much throughout the album. On “The Last Time,” she sings, “I’m hung/ Like a tongue/ From my open-mouth window.” On “Mother’s Pride,” she begins with an accusation — “Mother, Mother, you are a disgusting liar/ I have had the heart torn from my pure, white flower/ It was not beautiful/ It was not how you said it would be”—sung in her sweetest voice.
It’s little wonder Round’s been so frequently compared to PJ Harvey, another Englishwoman with a dynamic voice and an unflinching way with words. But Round’s a bit of a vocal chameleon, adopting different styles as they suit her songs. “Mother’s Pride” suggests, alternately, Nicole Atkins and Grace Slick. Elsewhere she evokes shades of Fiona Apple and Nick Cave, and on “The Secret of Drowning,” co-written with Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart, one can’t help but detect a tinge of Annie Lennox’s deep, cool vocal.
That makes it a bit difficult, perhaps, for Round to stake a claim as a singular voice. But with an album as accomplished as Tigermending, she makes up for it.