Tuesday, March 17, 2009

On Neko Case, and Natural Disasters

New Pornographers’ and Sadies alumni Neko Case has officially blown my mind… again. My first solo introduction to this brilliant artist was 2002’s Blacklisted – which, fyi, is still a regular on my iPod playlist. Until that album, I was in fervent country-lovin’ denial. Fast-forward seven years, and we have the evolution that is Middle Cyclone. Swaddled in the imagery of the forces of nature, Middle Cyclone takes you roughly by the wrist, only to stroke your face gently: Neko’s voice at once both forceful and beautiful. While it’s certainly drawn a dozen of the same comparisons, I can’t help but think of her decision to write material that revolves around forces of nature as a metaphor for her versatile and striking voice (she references herself multiple times as a tornado – way to point out the obvious Chels).

Aside from her amazing vocal capabilities, Neko took some liberties with recording that add to the atmosphere of the album. Recorded in a barn, careful listeners (with good headphones) can catch the occasional animal sound, which never really sounds out of place. Add to that the abandoned piano orchestra and 30 minute frog/pondscapes, and you have a wonderfully playful dyi sound that suits Ms. Case just fine.

The music box opening of “The Next Time You Say Forever” serves like a relic of girlhood days gone by; a reclamation of sorts that had me nodding my head in agreement. At just under two minutes, it’s easily one of the most solid tracks on the album… it’s not everyday that you see a soul laid bare so quickly.

The next stand out for me is easily “Magpie to the Morning” . On the first listen, I couldn’t help but draw comparison of the sound to Canadian folk-chanteuse Sarah Harmer’s work, who I later discovered contributed backing vocals on the album. A tribute to the versatility of her work, this song seems just as at home on Middle Cyclone as it would on Harmer’s I’m a Mountain. The heartbreakingly ethereal vocals are of the rare breed that I find have me tearing up while singing along, evocative of a point in our lives where we have all wished that we had appreciated the whimsicality of childhood just a little bit more. Don't let this fading summer pass you by/Don't let this fading summer pass you by

With no hint of ever planning on looking back at her past and laughing, “The Pharaohs" is a harsh glare at a tumultuous relationship of heartbreak, infidelity and the path to becoming jaded about what a partner is supposed to be like. The idea of a “Fairytale love” and the desire for her “Prince” (or Pharaoh, if you will) is shattered by the reality that the only people that really exist in life are men: who cheat, deceive and leave you wanting. Not that I think this is Neko’s clarion call of man-hating; rather, it serves as her dismissal of the unreality of idealized love - Like the wanting in the movies and the hymns – while simultaneously underlining her desire for it; her struggle for balance. That fact that she turns down the vocals for this track really only serves to strengthen the message. I can’t get enough of it.

All in all, Neko comes out, sword blazing and surprisingly cuts you with only a pound of pressure. An amazingly retrospective look at all the things that we've lost by making the choices we've made... I'm sure this will be on my iPod as long (if not longer) than Blacklisted.

You can grab a copy of this amazing album at most music stores (especially your local ones, as Case's website urges) or on Amazon.

1 comment:

  1. Great album... couldn't agree more.