I’m not entirely sure what constitutes a “cool” female artist versus a “weepy” female artist. There must be some clear definition in some music reviewer’s mind which gets flagged the moment a word or turn of phrase is used in a female artist’s song indicating that, yes, this artist is indeed “weepy” and “uncool”. I would like to know precisely what this seemingly arbitrary definition is, because at some point Carina Round became lumped into this group and I’m calling bullshit. Fans of these supposed “uncool” female artists may claim that such a delineation does not exist, but to them I say: you don’t see Ingrid Michealson reviewed or promoted on any cool indie sites.
Carina Round has been consistently (save for her misguided attempt to break into the pop scene with her full-length sophomore release Slow Motion Addict) producing solid tracks that traverse such dark subject matter that would make even PJ Harvey blush. Now, with her third full-length Tigermending it has become clear that Carina Round will never be a “big deal”, which is a travesty. A profound songwriter, Round never relies on easy tropes or predictable lyrical content. She instead prefers to beat her own drum and create music that is simultaneously influenced by those that have come before her whilst paving a path forward. She is as simple and astute as Aimee Mann, tortured and dramatic as PJ Harvey, sporadic and impulsive erratic as Bjork, and yet she cannot be a clear descendent of any of those hugely talented women. She is her own beast, and with her failed attempt to capture the heart of the mainstream behind her, she’s gone back to a more authentic sound.
Tigermending is a thoroughly satisfying full-length from an artist whose enrapturing debut was left far too short, and whose sophomore felt like it was voiced by someone else. Beginning with the simple “Pick Up the Phone” where Round sings “Pick up the phone / I’m pregnant with your baby / I wanted you to know / The dreams I’ve been having lately”, meandering in a beautiful and seemingly aimless direction, but handled with such magnificent care, there is every indication that Round is a pro in complete control of her message and medium. Nothing is as completely straightforward on Tigermending as “Pick Up the Phone”, but most of it feels like you’ve thought it once before, but you can’t remember ever being as eloquent. Take, for instance, “Girl and the Ghost”, where Carina sings about the self-delusions we believe about ourselves. She sings:
What’s that coming down? / Shattering sky / Your whole world exploding with flashes of fire / Shards of broken dreams / Stuck in your hand / Pick the pieces out / Put them back together as best as you can / Through the imperfections and the crass / You will see the difference between / What you think you know and what you know”
Although it sounds like righteous indignation, Round manages to relay this concern with ease, concern and empathy. It’s heady stuff. The structure of the song is also, itself, an amalgamation of so many disparate pieces melded together with rough tape and presented in such a way to make you believe like every transition is completely natural. Once the second chorus erupts after the line, “What you think you’ve given / Is not what the world has received / Can you feel the distance between / What you think you know / and what you know?”, the rest of the song flutters from one bridge to the next, to the next until its fragile denouement—literally. The last two minutes consist of three separate bridges ending with Round singing in her highest soprano.
These seemingly effortless musical transitions are rampant throughout Tigermending, and they pretty much characterize her practically uncharacterizable sound. It’s beguiling and it can take your breath away. Parallel to her weirdly dark sound is the brightness and poeticism of her lyrics throughout Tigermending. She, much like Harvey, manages to create different spaces through which predominantly positive messages are relayed. There is soul searching here, guided by care and sympathy, but you’ll find yourself doing three or four takes to discern if this is really her intent. Once again, it’s perplexing in such a way that you become completely enthralled. It’s the sign of masterful craftsmanship.
Round is a superbly talented songwriter born far too late to truly be revered as such. The music-buying public will never come to their senses, pull their heads out from their factory-made, spoon-fed crap and grant her the adulation she deserves. It’s not going to happen and that is truly a shame, because Tigermending has everything that a superb record requires: heart, soul, mysticism, unpredictability, and complexity, which is never sacrificed for accessibility. Round isn’t making music only for herself. She wants there to be an entry point, and she knows precisely where to put it.