Caught up in Case's 'Cyclone'

Smart, moody songs feel warmly familiar

Cd Review

March 03, 2009|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,rashod.ollison@baltsun.com

Neko Case

Middle Cyclone [Anti Records] *** 1/2 (3 1/2 STARS)

Neko Case is a stormy woman on her new album, Middle Cyclone. On "This Tornado Loves You," in her affecting, bell-clear alto, she croons: "I have waited with a glacier's patience .../Still you are nowhere." Toward the end of the song, she chants the title as if it were a prayer, "This tornado loves you." That's the opening cut, a lovely, haunting track you wish would roll on a little longer. But the brevity is part of its charm.

Middle Cyclone, in stores today, is full of such songs: ingratiating tunes that may not grab you immediately, but they enchant enough to warrant repeated listens. Plus the lyrics, dense with weather and animal metaphors, are some of the best Case has written. Working with the New Pornographers has undoubtedly brightened her musical outlook.

The country-noir element that has always enriched her music remains. But on Middle Cyclone, her approach is bolstered by pronounced pop melodies and atmospheric instrumental touches that echo the songs' cool-tough-girl sentiments. The best example is "People Got a Lotta Nerve," where Case sings, "I'm a man-man-man, man-man-man-eater/But still you're surprised when I eat you."

There's a lived-in warmth to the sound of the album. The ringing guitars, heavy reverb and hooky wordless refrains give the music a familiar feel, as if it could have been recorded sometime in the mid-'70s.

In fact, the album cover - Case crouching on the hood of a vintage muscle car, brandishing a sword - carries a retro-camp vibe. The swaggering cinematic music inside extends it, but not in a lame, self-conscious way. It's smart, moody music where song structures often dissolve. Far-off noises and echoing voices swell in the arrangements and heighten the suspense.

Case's Patsy Cline-influenced croon drives and anchors everything around her. She's often so smooth and calculated, her voice so inviting and sirenlike, that her acidic lyrics go down like warmed honey. It's a brilliant feat, especially from a woman ready to jump off the hood of a car with a deadly weapon.

Download these: : "This Tornado Loves You," "The Next Time You Say Forever," "People Got a Lotta Nerve," "Vengeance Is Sleeping," "I'm an Animal," "Prison Girls"

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