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March 9, 2009 | by  | in Music | [ssba]

Neko Case – Middle Cyclone

Seeing New Pornographers play last year, possibly the lowest point of the already disappointing show was the absence of lead female vocalist Neko Case. Possessing an immediately distinctive voice, part Zoey Deschanel country-twee, part Stevie Nicks’ strength, yet wholly her own, it’s a drawl that defined her earlier works, defined solely by the alt-country tag. However, on Middle Cyclone, a decade of progress from album to album has resulted in a sprawling canvas of bestial imagery and tortured lyrics. From the self-personification as a tornado in the opening track, to tales of animals shot to death, Case’s voice warbles and soars through these fourteen tracks. Music boxes present themselves mid-track, ostensibly alt-country structures peel away as Case shies from typical song structure. Throughout, there’s a fierce sense of pride in her work. Her striking appearance: pale skin, flowing red hair, at once easy on the eye, translates into a sound that is equally striking and easy on the ear, despite being short on big hooks and over the top melodies.

It’s a compelling record, if somewhat tardy—the 30 minutes of animal sounds that round out the record, far from reasserting her control over the album, prove an irritating and meandering home straight. The missteps are few, but noticeable. The 60’s pop stylings of ‘Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth’ are hardly befitting of Case’s strong, impassioned vocal delivery, which isn’t helped by the sheer awkwardness of the track itself. Middle Cyclone is a strong effort. Case wavers towards the safe side of instrumentation, but upon the strong side of heart and lyric. What Case needs is a sense of adventure. Where tracks on her previous effort Fox Confessor Brings the Flood dabbled in pieces of experimentation, Middle Cyclone sets itself as a safe record. ‘Nice’ comes to mind, but Neko Case has too much cojones (maybe literally—she looks tough on the album cover) to quantify that judgement. Neko Case is a strong woman with a strong voice, who is starting to get to the point in her career where she needs more than her voice to get by. Release a hip-hop record. Dabble in tropicalia. Do some three piece fuzz-pop. Please, Neko Case, do something different.


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