Neko Case - Middle Cyclone
Release Date - March 3, 2009
Label - Anti-
It's easy to deify Neko Case. There's the good looks, the angelic voice that puts her as a logical descendant of Emmy Lou Harris, and her fair share of lookers on. But you almost have to put that aside for the moment and just listen. Her latest LP Middle Cyclone isn't as good as Fox Confessor but is the logical next step, the continuation of Case's career from punk to indie superstar songstress. That, of course doesn't mean that this album isn't incredible. It's beautiful, haunting, and at moments both at the same time. It feels bigger too. More guitars and goo-gas, more witticisms (my favorite being "the next time you say forever, I'll punch you in the face), and more of that persona that makes men's jaws drop.
If anything, this feels like the album where Case accepts her role as a force of nature. Fox Confessor was ethereal and intimate. This is an album for getting caught in a tornado to. An album for every inch of pavement between Jackson, MS and Tucson, AZ. What keeps it from spinning out is Case's command, her presence, and, yeah, her voice. It's always somewhere in the clouds. Her voice is so sweet that it makes you believe the old scientists were right when they said that ether held the universe together, but by ether, you know that they meant the sounds from Neko Case's mouth. She's almost the anti Tom Waits - you hear each cigarette, each half-cooked meal washed down with vermouth in Waits. In Case, you hear a future you'll never have. Waits is the past. Case is the future. Which, of course, is no judgment call on either.
A few days ago, a friend and I were having a discussion about Case's cover of Harry Nilsson's "Don't Forget Me." We were comparing Case to Marianne Faithful's Kurt Weil take on the tune. In Faithful's aged voice, you could tell that she's been through it. And the lyric - "When we're older and full of cancer / C'mon get happy!" was schmaltzy and sardonic in Faithful's hands. In Case's there's a jubilant irony, but it's never black comedy. Case is almost too pristeen to go there. Undoubtedly she's haunted and afriad, but we don't get an insight into the fear. What is offered instead is a recounting of how we deal with it. How we miss and fear and how we try to get bay in those minutes when we're taken over by these emotions. Faithful is jaded. Case is tongue-in-cheek.
My hesitance to say this is better than Fox Confessor stems from my respect for that album and possibly the best moment of syncronicity between music and lyrics (just listen to "Star Witness"). And, honestly, I hate saying that one thing is better than another. It isn't fair, by in large. If I lean towards Fox Confessor, it's because of the chamber-like sound. The way that it seems to fit in to dreams. Middle Cyclone, as the title suggests, feels at home in a whirlwind. It's a 60 mile dust storm of an album and should be listened to as such. And the beautiful thing about a storm as big and beautiful as Case has created, is that it's impossible to not get caught up in it.