Blue Hawaii’s previous album, Untogether, ended with singer, Raphaelle Standell-Preston, letting the listener know: “The other day, I had a beautiful thought: What if I didn’t really care?”

Coming at the end of an album that bristled with anxiety and explored themes of disintegration and disconnection, it felt like a revelatory moment; a glorious letting-go. It turned out to be a turning point. Between then and now, Standell-Preston and her collaborator, Alexander Kerby, put out two songs called ‘Get Happy’ and ‘Get Happier’ respectively, and then announcedtheir second full-length by releasing ‘No One Like You’, a glistening disco-pop gem that takes the Bobby Youngblood featuring Kenix track, ‘There’s Never Been (No One Like You)’ and augments it with a dramatic string arrangement, a stuttering disco beat and Standell-Preston’s otherworldly vocals. It couldn’t be any different from the icy and glitchy folktronica of Untogether. In fact, in a just world, it would have been the song of the summer (fuck off, ‘Despacito’). That’s not a case I thought I would be making for the Blue Hawaii of 2013.

But, it would appear that a lot can happen in four years. Standell-Preston did actually release another album in the interim, with her other project, Braids. On that record, she railed against misogyny and bravely confronted her past on excoriating tracks like ‘Miniskirt’ (which would, incidentally, have been my vote for song of 2015, if, you know, Björk’s ‘Black Lake’ hadn’t come out the same year). Tenderness finds Stendall-Preston exploring less confrontational lyrical territory; this is an album almost entirely preoccupied with love and relationships. Refrains like “do I make love stay?”, “how I want to be dancing in the moonlight by your side,” and “no, I won’t let you down,” pop up across the album and gel perfectly with the lovestruck disco vibe. Standell-Preston’s vocals are also placed front and centre and untreated, where previously Kerby would have chopped her voice up and strewn it over the tracks like so many digital fragments.

Let’s just take a paragraph to step back and appreciate that voice. There’s an otherworldly strangeness to how Standell enunciates her vowels and lingers on consonants that recalls Iceland’s favourite daughter, or even Jenny Hval. It’s a beautiful, versatile and incredibly expressive instrument, that gets stretched more on Tenderness than on any previous Blue Hawaii or Braids release. She pulls off disco diva mode on ‘No One Like You’, the soft breathiness and contrasting soaring choruses of tropical dance-pop on ‘Versus Game’, the feisty post-RnB of ‘Belong to Myself’, the manic, dubstep-inflected art-pop of ‘Blossoming From Your Story’ (which recalls labelmate Claire Boucher, aka Grimes), and even the gently strummed folk of album closer, ‘Far Away Soon’. It’s a virtuoso vocal performance that never loses sight of the emotion it’s conveying, and makes even the less engaging cuts off the second half of the album worth a listen.

There are three clear stand-out tracks on the album: ‘Free At Last’, ‘No One Like You’ (of course!), and ‘Do You Need Me’. These are the tracks on which Stendall-Preston’s voice and Kerby’s production approach a perfect synergy, where some others can come across as genre exercises in search of a hook. ‘Free At Last’ is a perfect opener; with its driving beat and off-the-reins string arrangements, it actually sounds liberated, and Stendall-Preston’s lyrics are at their most evocative in lines like, “My cheek pressed against the window/ wondering if that was the end”. ‘Do You Need Me’ is a gorgeous number that opens in understated fashion before rising in tempo until it reaches a glorious crescendo as Stendall-Preston repeats the word "again," her voice reaching higher and higher each time. The instruments fall away and the song is left suspended in the air like Wile E. Coyote, before plummeting gloriously. “How many more times are we gonna go around,” Stendall-Preston asks over and over, as bass lines drop around her and strings straight off Björk’s Vespertine cut stridently through the air.

It might be a coincidence, but it’s worth noting that all three of these tracks feature string arrangements by the wonderful Owen Pallett. Once his contributions have been established on the first two tracks of the album, the absence of them on the rest of the record is keenly felt. Beyond the sultry and defiantly independent, ‘Belong to Myself’, the mid-portion of Tenderness drifts pleasantly if somewhat unmemorably. That is, until ‘Do You Need Me’, which helps the album ride out on a high. It really does feel like Pallett’s work is a vital component of the aesthetic Blue Hawaii are reaching for on Tenderness; those strings add that extra layer of widescreen romanticism and urgent drama that the compositions cry out for.

Despite the unfulfilled promise of what might have been, Tenderness firmly establishes itself as a fascinating follow up to Untogether in how it contrasts with it so sharply. In some of its explorations of dance music’s sub-genres it is less successful, and can come off as a bit too cheesy for its own good, but it’s all produced, performed and sequenced with such careful consideration and bountiful charm, that its few shortcomings in pure songwriting terms can be overlooked. It will no doubt be equally fascinating to hear where Stendall-Preston and Kerby take the project next.