“Pick up the phone,” Carina Round whispers on the opening line of her fourth album, Tigermending. That her conversation immediately takes an unexpected, heady turn (“I’m pregnant with your baby”) speaks to the gift for misdirection that makes Round such a compelling artist. There are a lot of things she does well, but it’s that particular talent that marks the album as an invigorating return to form following 2011’s subdued Early Winters EP.
Round has drawn favorable comparisons to PJ Harvey throughout her career, and, particularly as a lyricist, she continues to mine territory similar to Harvey’s on Tigermending‘s strongest tracks. With a focus on a pregnancy and an elliptical recounting of a fever dream, “Pick Up the Phone” immediately evokes Harvey’s “When Under Ether,” but the shifts in the dynamics of “Pick Up the Phone” heighten the dramatic arc of Round’s narrative. “Girl and the Ghost” speaks of its protagonist’s “whole world exploding in flashes of fire,” and the song’s arrangement reflects that in its severe shifts from a straightforward, acoustic-based track to a furious, prog-inspired anthem.
That forward-thinking use of dynamics and tone is indicative of the approach Round and co-producer Dan Burns take over the course of Tigermending. If there’s nothing as flat-out creepy or off-kilter as “Into My Blood” and “Lacuna” from The Disconnection, standout tracks like “Mother’s Pride” and “You and Me,” on which the multi-tracked vocals make it sound as though Round is rallying a full-fledged army to help her search for a lost love, demonstrate a real mastery of developing and sustaining a mood of unease. Even a song like “Set Fire,” which starts off as a fairly straightforward bit of advice (“Sensitive one, are you cruel or are you just abused?”), takes a dark, visceral turn (“When you find the truth/Cut it out with a razor blade”) and becomes a stern admonition, with a powerful backing track that reflects the pointed intent of Round’s narrator.
Tigermending trades equally in healing and destruction, and Round’s versatile performances are effective in selling both of those competing forces. If there’s a knock against the album, it’s that the high drama of its production intermittently pulls focus from Round’s thoughtful, evocative vocal turns, which showcase the breadth of her range on tracks like “The Last Time” and “Marcel Marcel.” That said, Round and Burns rarely keep their focus fixed on any one aspect of the album’s narratives, arrangements, or performances for very long, and it’s that constant sense of movement that makes Tigermending feel so wonderfully alive.