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Albums Reviews

Neko Case

Middle Cyclone
Four stars
ANTI-

Key tracks: ‘People Gotta Lotta Nerve,’ ‘Polar Nettles’

Samar Grewal Apr 20, 2009

It’s not for nothing that the editors at Amazon (and not a few other year-end lists) placed Neko Case’s Fox Confessor Brings the Flood at the top of their favourite releases in 2006. Listening to this disc, I see no reason for why she shouldn’t be up as a repeat honouree, come December. Filled with the awe and force of nature, Middle Cyclone turns Case’s favoured country noir on its head by bringing often strange and oblique musings about tornadoes, red tides, owls, elephants, sharks and glaciers into the genre’s mutedly proficient, bittersweet soundscape. The music on Cyclone is as alluring and unpredictable as the cyclones that seem to have rearranged it; as on ”˜Polar Nettles,’ where the large band (shaped by the versatile and distinctive guitar work of Paul Rigby and counting Garth Hudson of The Band among it’s members) takes more than a healthy dose of tempo changes yet retains the vitality of the short, haunting instrumental breaks. Similarly, songs built around those typically foreboding reverbed motifs (like the outstanding ”˜Prison Girls’) are mixed around freely with bare folksie numbers (”˜Vengeance is Sleeping’) and the odd rocker (”˜Red Tide’). But as for what is the chief instrument at display here, there is little doubt. Case’s high, clear, unsentimental yet achingly restrained voice needs next to no flattery. It is as capable of menace (“The next time you say forever/I will punch you in your face” she sings on the short ”˜The Next Time You Say Forever’) as it is of vulnerability and obsession. Believe everything terrifying and deific implied by the cover photo of Case perched on a Mercury Cougar, sword in hand. She is a force of nature.

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