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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