Release Date: Sep 3, 2013
Record label: Anti
Genre(s): Country, Alt-Country, Americana, Pop/Rock, Adult Alternative Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Alternative Singer/Songwriter, Alternative Country-Rock
Neko the warrior. Six albums in, and I’m still getting my head chopped off by her music. I’ll find myself blandly thinking “wonder what she’s up to,” and all of sudden, I’m hit with a voice and musical vision so clear it makes you feel like a shaky, near-shattering windowpane in a wind-driven torrential downpour. I could say The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You is her best since Blacklisted, but she’s been consistently listenable for years, and I shouldn’t be surprised.
From her Fiona Apple-lite title and seeming repetition of themes from her previous album Middle Cyclone, it could be easy to write off Neko Case at this point in her career. But that would be tantamount to a crime, as Case, with her latest album The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, has released her best material since 2006’s Fox Confessor Brings The Flood, either solo or with The New Pornographers. This amazing album is a full realization of what Case just began to explore in Middle Cyclone, from familial drama to her conception of her own gender.
The cover photo for 2009's Middle Cyclone found indie rock civil defense siren Neko Case warning the masses of potentially deadly weather from atop the hood of a 1967 Mercury Cougar. It was a striking image, and one that perfectly captured both the album's quiet might and her distinctive Patsy Cline-meets-Rosie the Riveter allure. Once again barefoot and wielding a samurai sword, Case squares off against a trio of serpents on the front jacket of 2013's like-minded, yet decidedly more adventurous The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, a 12-track horn of plenty that taunts, comforts, bruises, and empowers, and like all of her previous offerings, rewards repeated spins with a multitude of riches.
Review Summary: I'll reveal myself when I'm ready, I'll reveal myself invincible soon.It’s never really mattered what Neko Case has been going on about, so long as that Voice is in play. Her shitkicking, take-no-prisoners vocal prowess has always been her defining trait, tied up inextricably with a combustible personality and a very real vibe that this is an artist who will do anything, anytime, anywhere – Northwestern punk groups, honky-tonk country standards, power-pop deans the New Pornographers. It’s a Voice that demands superlatives.
It feels quaint to think of the days when people called Neko Case a country singer; she has spent the past decade moving towards a sound that makes genre descriptions seem as confining and anachronistic as corsets. Case got her start playing drums in Vancouver punk bands. Then at some point, thankfully, someone convinced her that she could sing. Even italicized, that word feels inadequate to describe the meteorological event that takes place when Neko Case opens her mouth.
Epic, lyrical, dark and uplifting, Neko Case’s new album channels the demons that the artist apparently came to terms with in the years since her last release, 2009’s critically acclaimed Middle Cyclone. Back then, Case was described as an alt-country singer-songwriter, and her New Pornographers collaborations cemented her status as an indie darling. This time out, Case inhabits her own genre and, in doing so, her work has achieved an even more impressive stature.
Despite the family deaths and resultant depression Neko Case has dealt with since 2009's Grammy-nominated Middle Cyclone, vitality courses through every song on her sixth album. How could it not, with an assured voice like hers: hearty enough to carry across a football field and casually dropping F-bombs in a slight country twang that reveals her Virginia roots. Case's last few albums were rich in nature imagery and structurally experimental.
When Neko Case put out the excellent Fox Confessor Brings the Flood back in 2006, it was a logical endpoint of the gothic country sound she’d been using since the start of her solo career. That album was evocative, creepy and unsettling in all the right ways, with Case’s smoky, melodic voice keeping everything anchored and tuneful no matter how dark and weird the music got. 2009’s Middle Cyclone found Case opening up her sound a bit.
Coming after the deaths of several of the singer-songwriter's close family members, as well as a recently publicized bout with depression, Neko Case's sixth album, The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You, tackles difficult subject matter with sustained anger, humor, and—despite Case's penchant for fictionalized fables and storytelling—a strikingly autobiographical approach. Case has routinely adopted character voices throughout her work, from killer whales to cyclones, but on The Worse Things Get she drops the guises and sticks purely to a harrowingly personal perspective. From her metaphorical declaration on “Wild Creatures” that she's an “animal,” to the dissociative admission, “I wanted so badly not to be me,” on “Where Did I Leave That Fire,” the vagaries of identity—feminine, filial, post-traumatic—emerge as the album's central theme.
Proving herself to still be one of the most authoritative voices in the alt.country firmament, Neko Case’s sixth album is typically sumptuous and lusciously heart-rending. With its distant brassy peals, ‘Calling Cards’ comes over like the lazily loungey track an expectant ex of Tom Waits would hum over the fourth whiskey sour of the night, while ‘City Swans’ ramps things up into epic, twanging grown-up pop territory. “I’m not the runt of the litter”, she declares on ‘Man’, ahead of a killer, almost Weezer-sounding breakdown.
Neko Case doesn’t make things easy on herself. Her voice is so powerful, nuanced and pure that if she turned her mind to it, she could probably become a megastar like Taylor Swift or Norah Jones and ride the mainstream to sell kajillions of records and fill stadiums across North America. Anyone who has heard her sing in Jakob Dylan’s latest touring band can attest to the chills that her voice can send up and down her listeners’ spines.
Once merely a third of the New Pornographers' indie-rock-Avengers front line and a solo act with country-rock leanings, ginormous pipes and comedy-club-stage banter, Neko Case has grown into one of America's best and most ambitious singer-songwriters. Her perfectly turned sixth LP deals with identity and autonomy; it's got feminist musculature and the dirt of a working musician under its fingernails. The lean ballad "I'm From Nowhere" addresses road-life loneliness; ditto "Local Girl," an Aretha-echoing gospel-rock lament.
Neko Case's sixth studio album came after a period of depression as she struggled with the deaths of several close relatives and almost fell out of love with music. Her gift for peppy country rock hooks is undiminished on tracks such as City Swans, but there's no mistaking the churn of raw feelings beneath, and slight, sparely adorned songs such as Afraid, where she seems to address herself in a daze of resigned desolation, make for even tougher listening. The closing Ragtime offers a happy ending of sorts, but this is too honest a record about unhappiness and grief to deliver a neat, redemptive conclusion.
Two themes rear their heads in Neko Case's songwriting: a deft touch when it comes to showing us the icky, corporeal aspects of life and a fondness for externalizing internal turmoil, whether expressing baser desires through another's thoughts or projecting them onto the natural world. On The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, these tried-and-true tendencies emerge—but the album still represents a significant thematic shift for Case. The protagonists on Harder don't push themselves into the physical world; they imagine what it might be like to abandon it altogether.
Neko Case has talked openly about the fog of depression that shrouded the writing of her sixth album, but even if she'd kept silent in interview, the lyrics and frequently lurching, off-kilter, numbed music would have given everything away. Sometimes the allusions are fleeting: "I've revenged myself all over myself," she admits in Night Still Comes; in Wild Creatures, you sense it in the way the instruments never quite coalesce. Sometimes her directness is harrowing: Where Did I Leave That Fire? opens with sonar bleeps and a cold ripple of piano, and finds Case all but dissociated from herself: "I wanted so badly not to be me." If this makes the album sound self-indulgent, rest assured it is far from it.
At this point, Neko Case has atmospheric alt-country down to a science, and her last few releases have been characterized by nocturnal Americana ballads, belted-out vocals and offbeat imagery. The Worse Things Get, however, finds her stretching out beyond her comfort zone. "Man" is a brawny blitz of jagged guitars, while "Nearly Midnight, Honolulu" is an a cappella lament and "Where Did I Leave That Fire" begins with an ambient soundscape that resembles a submarine's sonar.
For years, Neko Case conceptually detached herself from her own songs. The lyrics were fantasies and metaphors, rarely delving into personal subject matter — a disconnect that allowed her to go anywhere and write about anything. Some songwriters get introspective; Case chose to have unlimited options. While her conceits varied, Case still had a recognizable, unified style.
Neko Case The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You (Anti) Not that long ago, Neko Case was hypercritical of her songwriting. On The Worse Things Get ..., it's obvious she's moved beyond that into a place of her own, where comparison to other songwriters proves fruitless. It's the first album in four years for the red-headed chanteuse, an interim wherein she lost both parents and a grandparent, then sunk into depression.
The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You is the story of Neko Case, prisoner of a neglectful and uncompromising world, taking her life back and running away with it. If it doesn’t hit you right away, it’s because she has to get to the breaking point before she’s ready to jump in her car. That doesn’t happen on the pulsating “Wild Creatures,” nor the deflating “Night Still Comes,” but on the vitriolic, self-isolating chants of “Man”: “My proxy is my own / You’ll have to deal with me directly.” Add exclamation marks where you want; this is where Case gets real.
Neko Case has come a long way. From New Pornographers member to solo singer-songwriter with a sly sense of humor, she’s quickly shone as one of North America’s most charismatic talents. While her solo records Middle Cyclone (2010) and Fox Confessor Brings The Flood (2007) both saw much deserved success for their slightly out of step melodies and glittering vocals, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, Case’s country-twinged full-length dotted with fluttering Americana guitar work from M.
Neko Case throws her emotional discretion out the window with her sixth LP The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You. Exposing her honest and disarmed self more than ever, Neko proceeds to open old wounds. Using only her voice and the harmonies of her backing vocalists, “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu” is a vulnerable song of encouragement for her inner child, despite damaging memories of her own mother.
The lucid and the cryptic mingle, unpredictably and strategically, in the songs on Neko Case’s sixth solo studio album, “The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You.” Usually it’s the music that comes across as straightforward. The melodies are ….
Midway into Neko Case’s new album, she sings a song presumably based on a memory of something she once heard between a mother and her child. It’s called “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu,” and she sings it a cappella. I won’t ruin the surprise of what she overheard that night and then recites on the chorus — and we couldn’t print it, anyway, because of the coarse language — but suffice to say that it’s one of the most startling moments you’ll hear on a record this year.
Sometime member of The New Pornographers and consistently thrilling solo artist Neko Case returns with her first album in four years, The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You. The title, coming in at 20 words, is ludicrously bloated, but aside from that debatable faux pas, the album itself is top notch – though it’s been a while since we’ve heard her stunning hybrid of torrid emotions, folk and rock, her ability with them is far from diminished. It’s her sixth full-length in total – her last being the incredibly successful Middle Cyclone, which burrowed deep into the US charts and made Case the name on everyone’s lips back in 2009.
Leave it to Neko Case to pull off a cover of the other great pop-music Nico, and make her version of "Afraid" feel self-aware, witty and totally heartbreaking all at once. The song is one of the centerpieces of the alt-country flamethrower's new album, "The Worse Things Get…," which is both her most personal and imaginative record in years. As always, Case's voice is a flawless, brassy instrument equally at home in the punk fuzz of "Man" as the lonely sound-art of "Where Did I Leave That Fire." "Bracing for Sunday" finds a perfect sweet spot between the two, with tumbling drums and the reedy saxophones of a hungover morning walk home in the city.
opinion byJERRICK ADAMS Much of the advance press surrounding Neko Case’s sixth studio album stresses that the record is a response to extreme personal grief. In an interview with The Guardian, Case herself suggests as much, saying of the four years that separated this record and her most recent, 2009’s Middle Cyclone, “I was going through really a hard time and pretty depressed. Just grieving.