Release Date: Mar 3, 2009
Record label: Anti
Genre(s): Rock, Alternative, Country
I have a soft spot in my heart for Neko Case records. Very distinct memories of driving along twisty back country roads in the state of Virginia during the changing of the seasons are recalled every time I shuffle Blacklisted into my playlist. Middle Cyclone, her latest, is already forging my sonic impression of Spring, and the season hasn't even arrived yet.Middle Cyclone achieves a pristinely subtle musical backdrop for Case's soaring vocal talent to take charge over.
Songwriting siren’s engrossing exorcism (and celebration) of inner demons On the album cover she’s standing astride a muscle car, leaning forward, crouched and fierce with a sword in one hand—Neko Case certainly isn’t afraid to play up her '70s centerfold mystique.cartoon siren by the Adult Swim folks, after six albums, she’s still in no danger of being reduced to a caricature. Middle Cyclone only heightens the sense of danger and defiance surrounding her persona. Formerly queasy about in indulging in love songs, Middle Cyclone obsesses over the topic in all its forms.
From its opening evocation of a tornado surging with unrequited desire to the closing 30-minute symphony of animals snuffling by a pond, this fifth album by Neko Case takes a cool look at modern relationships and ancient nature, and finds them equally mysterious and destructive. The two themes collide invigoratingly on People Got a Lotta Nerve, a fizzing powerpop song that uses a killer whale as a fun metaphor for a fiery, man-eating woman. Not all the 14 tracks are as addictive; some suffer from being a touch earnest.
Of course, Neko Case already explored the animal world with 2006's Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, and Middle Cyclone devotes more time to weather, nature, and the stormy atmospherics provided by her backup band. There are few voices as haunting as Case's alto, and she flaunts her vocal chops over a number of semi-ballads, from the cinematic "Prison Girls" (a country-noir love letter to someone with "long shadows and gunpowder eyes") to the sparse title track. She does a surprise duet with chirping birds during "Polar Nettles" -- a result of the pastoral recording sessions, which took place in a barn -- before tackling a cover of Sparks' "Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth," whose title very well may be the album's mission statement.
The cover of Neko Case's sixth album has her crouching on the hood of a Mercury Cougar, ready to attack with sword in hand. The songs sound as if they were recorded from that same perch. [rssbreak] She's taken on an aggressive, breasts-out swagger and yet still retains her reverb-heavy charm. When she threatens to punch someone in the face, it comes off as mysterious and romantic, as always.
Flame-haired chanteuse Neko Case has spent years building her reputation as the reigning boss lady of alt-country — a status predicated largely on her unimpeachably rich, expressive voice. It’s only occasionally, though, that the material matches her gift; instead, a husky, atmospheric sort of placidity dominates. Middle Cyclone is the kind of record it’s nearly impossible to hate: a pleasantly swirling strum and twang of guitars, gentle percussion, and That Voice.
One of the many, many things that used to separate Neko Case from the country community at large was how honest to god terrifying she could be. “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die”? Oh did you now Johnny? Big deal. You could shoot all the men in Reno (not a terrible idea, actually, it’s awful) and still get the shivers from Case’s searingly lonely murder victim study ‘Deep Red Bells’, the Lynchian horror of ‘Ghost Wiring’, the apocalyptic prophecy of ‘Fox Confessor Brings The Flood’.
One of independent music’s most visible pin-up girls, Neko Case has all the right attributes to make the indie boys swoon (pale skin! red hair! sultry voice! artistic integrity!), and besides being decidedly easy on the eyes, she’s also easy on the ears. Being both attractive and talented, she is difficult to resist in any setting; her rich, clear-throated trumpet of a voice would be a pleasure to behold even with the worst of cacophonies accompanying her. Middle Cyclone disappoints for nearly every aspect of it, save for Case’s voice (and the riotous cover artwork), and is puzzlingly substandard.
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.
Neko Case has journeyed some distance since her first solo work a dozen years ago, growing from a tenderly tough alt-country songstress into the visionary and poetic pop auteur of Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. Middle Cyclone picks up the trail blazed by that previous album, taking it down darker roads and into deeper thickets, keeping the baroque dream-pop imagination while moving away from the succinct songcraft of earlier efforts. The songs here have engaging, melodic hooks to spare.
Lifting off as if Judy Garland just clacked together her sparkling red shoes, Middle Cyclone powers up Neko Case's rapturous howl while shards of femme fatale whiz about a musical jet stream of newly ancient Americana. Bookending the LP opener with "My love I am the speed of sound" and the song's chorus and title, "This Tornado Loves You," those marvels level all, though sooner or later all the singer's discs get lost in her wind-tunnel voice. "Prison Girl" pledge "I love your long shadows and your gunpowder eyes" takes the same pound of flesh as a killer whale in "People Got a Lotta Nerve.