Artist: Carina Round

Album: Tigermending

Carina Round’s moody, sculpted, constantly-evolving alternative-rock songs could have been played in the glory days of MTV’s “120 Minutes”. So I’m intrigued by how hard it is to find a good comparison for her. To predict whether you’ll enjoy Tigermending, it might help if you like carina_roundU2’s more evasive songs (Acrobat, Until the End of the World, Love and Peace or Else, a Man and a Woman). Or imagine Radiohead’s the Bends if the band had recorded each song in acrimonious compromise with their slightly older Amnesiac selves (no, without blowing up the space-time continuum; literal mindedness will not help here). Paula Cole’s tenser, more reserved songs — like Chiaroscuro and Hitler’s Brothers, not her hits — make a good comparison. Kristin Hersh’s solo albums show a similar sense of melody to Round’s. Also, if you know the genre term “shoegazer” and want to overlay it gently, as a thin laminate, on this whole paragraph, you might have a point.

The first half of Tigermending is built on songs that edge their way into powerful choruses. Much of the Last Time is just voice and raw, mildly syncopated drums, but bass piano notes and shards of guitar feedback and guest second vocalist build the song towards a full-fledged howl. Girl and the Ghost is voice and acoustic guitar early on; but the drums on the prechorus feel military, the later doubled vocals even moreso, and guitar again ends up experienced almost entirely as feedback. The rapid shifts between 6/4 and 4/4 time lend an insistent, tugging momentum. Set Fire feels immediately threatening in its array of echoed sounds (her singing included), and the danceable percussive momentum, when it starts, never hides the shifting distant sounds of warning. You and Me, on the other hand, is pure power ballad, a very good one — the surprise isn’t that her arrangement skills are perfect for 4-minute emotional buildups, but merely that she chose, for a song, to use them that way.

The rest of the album holds back from big choruses. You Will Be Loved, Marcel Marcel, Weird Dream, and the Secret of Drowning do so in order to interlock wider arrays of arrangement ideas. (Simplicity Hurts does so because it’s a weak ending to the record.) It’s not like her lyrical bent is for songs we’d link hands and sing together. The record starts: “Pick up the phone. I’m pregnant with your baby/ I wanted you to know the dreams that I’ve been having lately./ I woke up from an explosion, and the city speaks in sirens/ and the wreckage is my angel of devotion, a dying light inside him … Well it’s nothing that can’t be fixed with a hot bath and a fifth of mother’s ruin”. The Last Time is framed on the memory of being told “This is the last time I break your heart”, but it’s a chorus through the filter of time, while the right now is “full of giant snow balls five feet high/ The people had made families, played in the snow/ It made me feel calm so I stood for a while/ I listened, wishing I could burst into flames”.

The catchiest (to me) chorus on Tigermending asks “What’s that in your heart? The chorus of dust afraid to sing”. Unless the catchiest is the one led into by “When you find the truth, cut it out with a razor blade/ When you distribute, choose your voice like a hand grenade”. Carina Round‘s voice is fine: strong and tense and tuneful, with occasional hints of bluesiness. She saves her shrapnel for the guitars. And she would never plant an explosive in a place that wasn’t full of interesting things for unwary visitors to rummage through.

– Brian Block

To see the rest of our favorites, visit our Favorite Albums of 2012 page!