Let’s say these two things first and get them out of the way: 1. Neko Case is a bona fide, beautiful woman and 2. She has a bona fide, beautiful voice. There, now that that’s out of the way, we can discuss the sprawling and amazingly compelling music presented on her latest album, Middle Cyclone. With every new album, Case has been able to perfect her style of music into something that many of us can recognize: it’s honest as ever and it’s always ravenously composed. Nothing changes with her new album and it’s this same identity that carries the album and that honestly, makes it one of the best albums of the year.
Case has always possessed those vociferous pipes and they are the star of the show. And with Middle Cyclone, Case has conveyed a true, personable, affection with our environment. Nothing is as obvious as the thirty-minute sounds of crickets and frogs, “Marais La Nut,” that close the album. Recording them on her own in her Vermont home, they close the album out with tranquil, peaceful sounds. It’s a bold and risky move, for sure, but it’s one that Case is known to do and it succeeds in every sense of the word.
The few covers on here are substantially strong, especially “Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth,” and with the help of a gospel-like choir, Case is able to make it neatly fit within the album’s sonic scope. She’s taken the role of an angry tornado and although it’s a forgiving one, when raged and angry, it’s uncontrollable. It’s all cryptically shared on the album’s opener, “This Tornado Loves You.” With the driving guitars and steady drums, Case sings about how she leaves everyone with “their souls dangling inside out from their mouths, but it’s never enough, I want you.” She’s a sorrowful and depressed tornado of love and rejection and she’ll stop at nothing to get what she wants. It’s one of those special moments where music is able to convey such a rousing new look at love-it almost makes you miss it.
Like her previous efforts, there is an even balance of full-fleshed songs with a wide array of instruments and vocals and a few quiet pieces scattered in between. Each holds that distinct identity and it’s because of it that whether you are listening to something like the deeply personal and hushed title track, or the rip-roaring, “People Got a Lotta Nerve,” that features Case declaring, “I’m a man, man, man-eater, but still you’re surprised, when I eat ya” you know that you are welcomed into her soul and music.
But there are also some nice shifts in styles on here as well. “Prison Girls” is a sultry, 60s TV show soundscape that features Howe Gelb on piano and electric guitar. It boils and swells under a tight lid for most of the song before the musicians allow Case, and the ensuing music, to let loose for some rushing steam. And there is also the guitar-led vibe of “Magpie to the Morning.” Pacing and almost performed in a trance, the electric guitar is what shines on this one. And if it sounds familiar that’s because it is M. Ward, who is cleverly credited in the liner notes as “And last, but first, M. Ward.”
It’s really hard to find anything wrong with the way Case has presented everything and it’s evident that she is only beginning to reign in all of her strengths. It’s an exceptional trait when you’ve been able to combine so many tremendous aspects into one supreme collection of songs. If anything, I longed for a few of the songs to be a bit longer but that’s tiny quibbling. Case has made a name for herself as the masterful songwriter she is with Middle Cyclone. It’s a welcome and welcoming feeling to have music as good as this in your life and if she says she loves us, I’ll gladly accept it.
Neko Case: http://www.nekocase.com/
Stream the entire album at NPR: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=100826714