Plumbiferous Media

Middle Cyclone – Neko Case

Mar 8th 2009
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Middle Cyclone - Neko CaseNeko Case
Middle Cyclone
Score: 82

Neko Case, singer-songwriter in her own right, as well as by virtue of her participation in The New Pornographers, put out her newest album, Middle Cyclone, last Tuesday. Its origins are interesting: much of the album was recorded in and around a barn recently purchased in Vermont. The album itself is also quite interesting:

Neko Case has managed some incredible feats in her album. She has made a three minute track seem long (“Middle Cyclone”) by giving the guitar a part best suited to a “beginning guitar” lesson book. But she has also written one of the best transitions produced in the past year, located around the one minute mark in “Fever.” Numerous tracks on Middle Cyclone, such as “Vengeance Is Sleeping,” are close to perfect from a purely analytical musical sense, but still disappoint due to a severe lack of direction through the track. But then, “This Tornado Loves You,” though it begins with Case singing slightly sharp, has enough direction to last the next few tracks. Lastly, while Case has certainly written some wonderful lyrics, often, the ones she chooses to repeat, and in doing so emphasize, are the worst lines on the album.

Of course, the largest, and by “largest” we mean 30 minute long, hole in the album is the final track. This track is a field recording of crickets. Needless to say, there is nothing creative or reasonably musical about the track, and it makes absolutely no sense in the musical context of the album. But it does have some merit: we can now say that we have listened to a 30 minute recording of crickets.

Neko Case’s newest solo album was created in the same fabric as her earlier albums, but perhaps in a different manner. While Fox Confessor Brings the Flood was a somewhat deeper album, Middle Cyclone embraces the poppier aspects of Case’s presence. Her voice remains the force driving the direction of the album, and it’s especially rewarding to hear it put to such good use in the darkly vibrant “Prison Girls.” While it’s true that some of the lyrics on Middle Cyclone could use work (the contrast between the animal and human “man-eater” on “People Got a Lotta Nerve” is perhaps less than edifying, and certainly repetitive), when Case sings about “long shadows and gunpowder eyes,” the image evoked is incredibly vivid.

Musically, Middle Cyclone is extremely solid if not especially innovative, and it’s put together very well. All together, Middle Cyclone is an impressive album, between Case’s unforgettable vocals, their solid (if unmoving) musical backing, and the mostly-excellent lyrics which tell Case’s stories. The tale told from the point of view of a tornado in the track “This Tornado Loves You,” is especially potent, as is the one told in “Prison Girls.” Both evoke a strong emotional response – partially attributable to Case’s voice, but certainly thanks to their lyrical excellence.

Middle Cyclone, even with its faults, is still a very good album. Case has carefully crafted every element of the album, and it shows. Even the tracks with substantial issues redeem themselves – such as the title track itself, which suffers from serious musical issues, but is well-sung. With Middle Cyclone, Case has created an interesting, well-produced piece of music. But we’d expect no less.

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