11 March 2009

jamming: Neko Case- Middle Cyclone

Adorned with Juno/Napoleon Dynamite-esque cover art and sprinkled with midwestern tornado references this Floridian doesn't always quite get, Neko's new album is nonetheless a brilliant output of alt-country (if that what it's still called) textures, Patsy Cline vocals, and wordplay that ranges from playful to vulnerable.

Take the title track for instance:
Baby, why'm I worried now,/
did someone make a fool of me/
'fore I could show 'em how it's done?/
Can't give up actin' tough,/
it's all that I'm made of./
Can't scrape together quite enough/
to ride the bus to the outskirts/
of the fact that I need love.//

There were times that I tried,/
one for every glass of water/
that I spilled next to the bed,/
wretching pennies in a boiling well/
in a dream that it once becomes/
a foundry of mute and heavy bells./
They shake me deaf and dumb/
say, "Someone made a fool of me/
'fore I could show 'em how it's done."//

It was so clear to me/
that it was almost invisible./
I lie across the path waiting,/
just for a chance to be a spiderweb/
trapped in your lashes./
For that, I would trade you my empire for ashes./
But I choke it back, how much I need love...

As far as I'm concerned, that's about as good as it gets. As a singer, she's certainly carved out a discernible niche; you can always identify her voice. As a songwriter, she keeps getting better and more and more accessible. There is a certain Southern Gothic quality and pageantry to her work (a la Flannery O'Connor or Faulkner). Put aside all the muscle-car-vixen stuff that some of the music mags (Paste) say, Ms. Case is legit. And it is just this contrast between tongue-in-cheek irony and altogether seriousness that rounds her out. Her brilliance is evidenced not only by the record itself, but also from the cameo performances she's attracted (with her lyrics and not legs, no doubt): M. Ward, AC Newman, Calexico, etc. There are other great individual tracks, but all in all this is a summer album to be listened in toto. It is one of those special products that you can tune into either the music or the lyrics or both and one or the other might suddenly and profoundly affect you on the nth listen. Misquoting one of the tunes from this disc might prove to be apt advice for Spring 2009 listening, "Never Turn Your Back on Neko Case."

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