CarinaRoundNormanJeanRoy[1]“Deranged to Divine”; what a great title for a retrospective, and much better than “Wolverhampton to California”, the journey that Carina Round has made over the last fifteen years. The album’s a retrospective covering her career so far, a generous eighteen tracks on one CD or double vinyl and includes songs from her four albums, her “Things You Should Know” EP and two previously unreleased songs, but there’s more than quantity to distinguish this album. It’s packed with powerful songs and even the packaging is gorgeous, a 28-page booklet with complete lyrics and some classy studio photos taken over the period of collection.

Since 2001, she’s collaborated with Brian Eno, Dave Stewart, Lou Reed, Ryan Adams, Billy Corgan and many others, producing an eclectic body of work that’s held together by the quality of her intense and unflinching lyrics. She’s the type of artist that attracts a fanatical following; those fans will buy this for the two unreleased tracks, but the appeal is so much wider than that.

There’s no attempt to create a sense of chronological perspective; the songs are sequenced in the way that Carina wants you to hear them. The older songs from 2001, positioned in the middle of the album, have a an organic feel. “Message to Apollo” has a Latin rhythm with one-note piano, a claustrophobic mix and a Patti Smithesque vocal while “How I See It” is a jazzy, waltz-time piece with plucked bass, strings and a muted trumpet solo. The two songs from 2012’s “Tigermending” that close the album are very different; “Mother’s Pride” is a quietly menacing story of lost innocence while the slow, atmospheric synth washes of the Brian Eno/Dave Stewart collaboration “The Secret of Drowning” are genuinely divine. Among the rest of the highlights, the unreleased “Gunshot” from 2006 is a slightly skewed take on country and the intimate “For Everything a Reason” depicts the breakdown of a relationship.

Carina Round has a multi-faceted appeal; she’s not afraid of different approaches or pushing the boundaries. The lyrics can be raw and even shocking at times, but the sublime voice, tackling high and low registers and multi-tracked backing vocals with ease, and the varied arrangements work to create songs that are complete and satisfying. With quality of her songs and ability to sing convincingly in so many different styles, it’s difficult to see why Carina Round hasn’t had success on the same scale as Natasha Khan and Florence Welch. Maybe this time…

“Deranged to Divine” is released on Dehisce Records, distributed by Cargo,(DV1017CD) on Friday July 29th.

If you want to see Carina live, she’ll be play (with special guest She Makes War) here are the dates for her UK tour:

Wednesday 3rd August                   The Globe, Cardiff

Thursday 4th August                        Hare & Hounds, Birmingham

Friday 5th August                              The Lexington, London

Saturday 6th August                         Factory, Manchester

Sunday 7th August                            King Tuts, Glasgow

Tuesday 9th August                          The Loiusiana, Bristol

Wednesday 10th August                  The Craufurd Arms, Milton Keynes

Thursday 11th August                      Green Door Store, Brighton

DVAPreviously Bristol-based but now residing in Berlin, Emika’s self-titled debut album  two years ago was a study in contained, claustrophobic vocal dubstep.  I’m not talking about the stuff that catapults you onto the ceiling because of the sheer force of the bass wobble but a smaller, more accessible art pop alternative. It was quite low-fi and often beautiful with a palpable sense of menace. “DVA” is less reliant on dubstep, a genre so omnipresent now it is merely predictable (see latest offender, Kylie’s “Skirt”) and has been partially replaced by a more straightforward electronic sound with an orchestral slant and inspiration.

The tone is very firmly,  but also somewhat misleadingly, established by The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra’s appearance on the brief introduction track “Hush”, also featuring an operatic vocal by Michaela Srumova, never to appear again here. The fanfare of synths that opens “Young Minds” mimics the classically-structured arrangements that are at core of “DVA” and I say mimic because this is a predominantly electronic and not acoustic album. Apart from on one other track, the intricate and mournful “Dem Worlds” at the album’s centre which is just violins and Emika’s stranded vocals, strings are introverted and subtle and peek through  only occasionally with mainly piano and keyboard melodies creating a more traditionally classical sound.

“She Beats” is spooked and monotone, spoken word electro dub followed by “Filters” where separate piano and synth melodies make compatible companions. “Sing To Me” has a major dubstep whomp and “Centuries” is medievalist electro pop as perfected by Natasha Khan.  “Searching” begins as a misleadingly sweet sounding r’n’b girl group pop song, albeit in a minor key, and contains the surprising lyric ‘look into my eyes, tell me where your thoughts come from, Bitch’.  This track brings to mind more than anyone else Charli XCX  who successfully subverted the nineties girl group genre on her recent album although Emika does so in an even more fractured way here.

Throughout Emika’s delicate but unrefined and muddied vocals seem too keen to stay in the background; they  are often pitched way back in the mix and are at times whispered, played backwards and, in a year where there has been some excellent synthesiser work by the likes of Miss Kittin and Adult, some tracks sound under produced and dull. An anaemic cover version of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” only highlights  “DVA”’s flaws with bored and boring, semi-inaudible vocals and a flimsy soundstage and after a far stronger first half there are more of these far less engaging tracks to be found as the album’s considerable running time gets into its final quarter.

“DVA” does not fully live up to its initial, early promise of drama and clear-headed statements of a formal and electronic nature. Although Emika is a vocalist who may have a style of her own, it’s one which doesn’t always fit easily into the bold sonic stories she appears to be trying to tell here. Tracks that work well, and there are several, are more of a continuation of the dubstep, trip-hop sound of her debut and can stray closer into pop here. Emika is an unusual  artist, certainly, who will need to gain the confidence required vocally to at least bring a more expansive and dynamic sound to the fore and allow her to fully inhabit the fascinating and unsettling worlds she seems desperate to share with us.

So.  I won’t be referring to the album cover art, Kate Bush or Florence and her posh Machine in this review. It seems as though no-one can discuss Nastasha Khan aka Bat For Lashes third album without referring to one of these three, detracting from the music offered here which is always interesting, sometimes beautiful and at times complex beyond necessity.  Bat For Lashes does remind me of many other artists on this album though and because of this I’m still not convinced that she is the true original that I hoped she may be evolving into.

More than anything else Khan has proved that she is a skilled song writer, 2009’s “Daniel” was a brilliant piece of smart pop and this time the name “Laura” has been chosen for the best thing that she may have put her name to. When first heard it marked her out as someone to now be taken seriously and as a lead single it was a brave move such is its starkness and mournful beauty. Maybe if it was recorded by Lana Del Rey it would have been a big hit, the themes of fractured glamour and forged identities that are apparent in “Video Games” are replicated with “Laura” although Khan doesn’t play the victim role like Del Rey, the soaring strength in her vocal is a life saver. So is it just a coincidence that both songs were co-written by Justin Parker? Khan apparently wanted a simply structured piano ballad for the album and approached Parker after liking what he done with Lana Del Rey and who really cares anyway when Natasha Khan sings the song so well and the impact is so devastating. “Laura” goes some distance in giving this album its heart and soul; there’s nothing else like it here. Bat For Lashes has since conception been an artist inextricably linked with a  very strong  physical image, that of gothic, mystical, medievalist and with “Laura” that appeared to have shifted somewhat to Natasha Khan, the person behind the feathers and Steeple Hennin hat but that isn’t quite the case.

According to Khan this was an album that almost never got made, suffering from tour burnout and struggling for inspiration she eventually, along with some help from her very talented friends (Beck, David Sitek and Adrian Utley amongst others), got it together and recorded this album with a theme of re-found strength and a newly discovered love of life. Some of these tracks are from the prospective of the usual Khan heroine referencing wars, blood and dying men and it’s on some of these tracks where she sometimes struggles. “Horses Of The Sun” continues to add layers of sound to the final choruses but lacks the proper climax it’s crying out for and the title track has a stand-alone male choir and military drumming but it all seems superfluous and trying too hard in the absence of a really good song. The opening track “Lilies”, with its cry of ‘I’m Alive!’, again struggles amongst its own bluster of r’n’b beats and percussion and strings (this following an intro that sounds like “Song To The Siren”) and “Marilyn” is a complete oddity; half way through the twitchy, skittering beats and flimsy melody a middle-eight of yodelling, chipmunk ‘yoo hoo’s!’ appears. It’s funny and unexpected but little else.

Leaving these, albeit fascinating but not fully realised tracks aside, there are some incredible songs and sounds here. Second single “All Your Gold”’s strutting guitar line introduction is a shock, it’s funky and possessed and not at all an indication of how it ends up; flecks of harp, strings gradually unfurling and an angular synth motif wrap themselves around Khan’s sumptuous vocals. The electro triptych of “A Wall”, “Rest Your Head” and, in particular, the ghoulish “Oh Yeah” (a drum machine and a loop of distorted male chorus of ‘Oh Yeah, Oh Yeah’s’) have a lightness to them and are a continuation from some of the musical themes established in “Two Suns”. She knows how to use space on these tracks which is no small skill and takes it way beyond the standard, electro scare pop material. “Winter Fields’” encapsulates what I hoped this album would be though, a perfect mesh of electronic and acoustic and Khan’s cool vocals state ‘In sub zero I can’t stand still, colours of absence flooding the hill’ and you swear you can see them; gorgeous stuff.

“The Haunted Man” is an album made by an artist who genuinely wants to make something special, who cares enough but has struggled a little in making something bigger than they’re capable of, at least for now. Khan has proved several times over now that she is a diverting and distinct presence, her voice can soothe and scare in equal measure and this album, which is still her best to date, is a solid demonstration of that along with her sometimes inspired musical instincts and deft songwriting.