Initial perception and misconception about Carina Round: from the album cover, I’d guessed she was around, oh, 20. Which, after I’d listened to the album, left me impressed with her musical voracity and somewhat accepting of her often vague effusions. Regarding effusions, think the sort that some high school and college girls, often in black eyeliner and carefully torn fishnets, fill online journals with, the effusions that talk about blood and fire and death and usually have only a tangential relation to anything literally occurring in that writer’s (or anyone else’s) life.
But then I read the press release and found that, in reality, she was around 25 during the making of this album, which left me significantly less impressed with it. Five years isn’t much over threescore and ten, but it’s a lifetime in terms of what Round calls “morbid self-attention.” Five years, often between the ages of around 20 to 25, is all it takes for many to go from being self-flagellating self-obsessed goths to people actually holding down a job, maybe raising a family, maybe even both at once. But not Round, of course. At least not yet; she wears her self-attention as proudly as she would a crown of thorns. The musical voracity of the album remains, of course, but musical voracity without soul is—to use an extreme example—Styx.
Which isn’t to suggest that Round is Tommy Shaw in black eyeliner. She has feelings—instead of regurgitated tropes drafted because Styx was professional enough to know pop song form usually has lyrical accompaniment—and she certainly has no qualms about expressing them. And give her credit for admitting her own morbid self-attention, even if the complete phrase is “There’s a lot to be / Said for” said self-attention. Indeed, the lines (from “Lacuna”, the album’s best song) are a rebuttal to an unfaithful lover and are followed by: “The problem lies in my external obsession / Animal is hungry / Oh, baby, don’t make no / Difference, your preference.” She then concludes, with equal parts resigned lust and resigned animosity, “Come fill this lacuna, at least for now.”
Conflicted as it is, it’s true to life both emotionally and literally and, what’s more, she even takes the lacuna metaphor and runs with it. And her sing-speak in the song—alternately delicate and strident, delivering vocal hooks at unsuspected turns of a phrase, like P.J. Harvey on a jazz kick—is as perfect as the lilt she uses in saying “just right.” Both unmistakable sonically and meaningful, it’s clearly a pretty great song.
As aesthetic theory, though, the problem lies in her rejoinder to admitting that she thinks about herself a lot: “The problem lies in my external obsession.” Thus, the problem isn’t that she is morbidly self-attentive (how could it be?), but, rather, that she is also fixated on external things. She traces the conflict of the song back to its source, to that external world of hormonal urges and cheating boyfriends that doesn’t match the view inside her own head: if only she could be only obsessed with herself, everything would be fine. Or at least better.
In the song, it works. Everyone thinks that way sometimes and, like most other archetypal sentiments, it can—as it is in “Lacuna”—be conveyed with power. But actually living with that sentiment over time leads to a, ahem, disconnection with the actual workings of life that usually provide better fuel for art than internal narratives of thought beams, broken bones, and hidden truth (as in “Paris”). Rather than forging songs directly from the sort of (real or imagined) experiences that add emotional specificity to “Lacuna”, most of the songs dwell on the emotions themselves and try to express a free-floating passion uprooted from discernible context. Especially on the slow later songs where the crashing musical verve doesn’t take up the lyrical slack, it’s like hearing someone sing, “I feel really sad, bummed out, conflicted, morose, etc., etc.”, then refusing to explain any cause for said emotions.
She sings on “Into My Blood”, another highlight, that “I wait all my life / Just for the rush / The passing of fire / Into my blood.” Like many who live for the grand passions that sweep rational thought before them (because they sweep rational thought before them), Round fails to act on the notion that grand passions, except in the pathetically-not-inspiringly mad, are drawn from the events of life. For many of these artists, Round included, the devil is in the details—or the lack thereof. Still, while there may not be a lot to be said for her morbid self-attention, there’s something, sure.