After taking some much-needed downtime between albums, KT Tunstall has made a bold re-entrance onto the music scene.
Working nonstop between her first two albums, Tunstall opted to take a break from worldwide touring and begin a period of globe-trotting self-reflection. The result is a new compilation of Tunstall’s works that blends raw acoustics with prominent electronic layers in an attempt to show that she has “the balls.”
Listeners will remember the Scottish singer-songwriter’s hits “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” and “Suddenly I See” from her first album, Eye to the Telescope and Tunstall’s other bluesy tracks. Her third album, Tiger Suit, released Tuesday in the United States, ventures into new territory by mixing her original acoustic sound with rhythm-driven dance beats.
The Grammy nominee qualifies her style on Tiger Suit as “nature techno,” but in this collision of musical genres, the self-proclaimed techno sound does not do Tunstall’s talent justice. Her sometimes hoarse, sometimes soothing vocals are best served when she sticks to the more natural sounds of acoustic instrumentation, which add to the richness of her verses.
Her voice is sweet, soulful and strong, cutting through sound on even the more electronic-based tracks. It adds cohesion to her album and is the standout of her work.
The album opens with the raw tones of “Uummannaq Song,” a tribute to Tunstall’s time spent in Greenland between albums, the beginning of her global foray. Tunstall holds nothing back, belting out lines like Hold your fire, I’m coming out/ and I’ll tell you the truth, promising the world that her words will be honest.
In terms of lyrics, “Uummannaq Song” sets the tone for the rest of the album with more organic instrumentation and, what appear to be, Tunstall’s war cries set this track apart from the rest.
Though the title reflects a somber message — consider the fifth track on Tiger Suit the album’s ear candy. “Fade like a Shadow,” the first song on the album to be released for radio in the United States, pulses with energy that seems contrary to its namesake. The track explodes with an upbeat sound and frank storytelling that provides a solid example of Tunstall’s recent experimentation with electronic tools.
Tiger Suit’s sixth track, “Lost,” is a vocal gem. Tunstall effortlessly flows between breathy falsetto and raspy full voice, adding force to lyrics that grow especially strong in the chorus. Here, Tunstall makes the background synthesizer and the more prominent instrumentals work in a wistful blend. The opening bit of the track is reminiscent of The Postal Service — if The Postal Service coupled its intros with acoustic strumming and oriental chimes.
Although the multi-tracked background vocals give Tunstall’s lyrics a layered feel, her story still shines through with her precise and powerful pipes. The 4:41 track is Tunstall’s best take on nature techno, and gives listeners the chance to get lost in the song itself. There is something haunting about Tunstall’s musings, as though listeners are tuning in to internal thoughts rather than vocalized ideas.
In “(Still a) Weirdo,” the first track chosen for U.K. airwaves, Tunstall keeps the promise she made in “Uummannaq Song” by taking a look at her identity. The self-aware lyrics Optimistic but never quite elegant / still a weirdo, still a weirdo after all these years, echo in a prominent background whistle, perhaps suggesting that Tunstall is satisfied — even proud — with these objective self-inferences.
Other highlights on Tiger Suit include the glam “Madame Trudeaux” and the aggressive “Glamour Puss,” which provide the similar explosive instrumentation and distinct vocal power present in “Fade Like A Shadow.” These contrast with more intimate tracks, such as “Difficulty” and “Golden Frames,” which in some aspects echo Tunstall’s earlier work and give listeners a variety of sound textures to sift through.
Will fans of Eye to the Telescope and Drastic Fantastic find Tunstall’s new syncopated dance beats contrary to the artist they knew? Maybe. Nonetheless, Tiger Suit might prove to be Tunstall’s chance bear her newfound synth-inspired fangs.