The Disconnection

Carina Round

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The Disconnection Review

by Johnny Loftus

Interscope's U.S. version of The Disconnection finds Carina Round staring out at us from the cover, a plain-faced beauty with a gentle gleam in her eye. It's not cheesecake by any means, but it certainly means to catch the shallow eye. But hey, what's that on the back cover? It's Carina tortured and smeared, a Videodrome diva with black holes for features. She still stares at us, but it's with a detached dullness. "I did this to me," it says. "If you want me, you get both sides." Most places in the world get the back cover as their front, but the duality of the domestic helps illustrate similar qualities in Round's music. There's beauty here, but it's qualified by gloom and suggestions of fetish. Equipped with pipes that wind from the sultriest depths to keening, aching highs, Round's vocals are a come-on and a put-down, a cry for help that chokes into anger or cynicism. She's indebted to PJ Harvey (Dry, especially) in the way her willowy words orient the raw, wailing guitar and primitive percussion of "Shoot" and "Into My Blood." However, it's the enticing darkness of the cabaret, not wiry punk or the blues, that seems to be The Disconnection's real muse. Bursts of horns join the catty flirt of "Lacuna"'s chorus, before its verses break into plunks of off-kilter piano behind Round's captivating intonation. "You're just looking for an excuse/To call yourself a f*ck up," she dismisses, and the song ends with an intake of breath, as if she has a few more things to say about your no-account ass. "Paris" and "Monument" link New York and The City of Light in the shadows, incorporating swishes of rangy acoustic guitar, subtle jazz rhythms, and overtures that devastate like that back-cover photo. While electronic programming and samples of Carina herself do tick around in The Disconnection's backgrounds, the album keeps its 21st century cabaret vibe alive by supporting Round's vocals with organics -- rich bass, spare percussion, aforementioned snatches of acoustic, the occasional horn part, and washes of Rhodes and harmonium. At the same time, it's easy to imagine The Disconnection as trip-hop, if it had been issued in the processed mid-'90s haze of Portishead and Morcheeba's Big Calm. It revels in the laconic dourness that made those albums great; it can be pretty and lazy. But when Round starts singing about black wings spreading overhead, or when the late-album standout "Sit Tight" starts drifting between dusky, throaty R&B and a groove more irresistibly lurid, you begin to wonder whether you'll need more quarters to keep this peep show going.

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