March 12, 2009

Test Spin: Neko Case

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Lunging forward from her 2006 gem Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, Neko Case tosses a golden egg our way with Middle Cyclone, the masterpiece promised by her previous four studio albums. Concurrently immersed in cerebral contemplation and frantic, visceral verve, the queen of alt-country seduces us with her atmospheric, luscious vocals.
Highlighting Case’s escalating lyrical prowess, turbulent verse on “Polar Nettles” (“She is the centrifuge that throws the spires from the sun / The Sistine Chapel painted with a Gatling gun”) melts with crisp, urgent finger picking. Throughout the LP, blended hues of gospel, country, classic rock and Motown are complemented by warming harmonies, bellowing stand-up bass and anachronistic, warbling acoustic guitar courtesy of Southwestern rockers Calexeo, Garth Hudson of The Band, singer-songwriter M. Ward and members of the maximalist pop conglomerate New Pornographers.
The Rickenbacker-chiming “People Got a Lotta Nerve” longs for a return to nature via animalistic metaphor. Donning her tough, resilient persona, the singer draws comparisons with Elephants and Killer Whales, booming, “I’m a man, man, man eatah / Yet your surprised, prized, prized, when I eat ‘yahh!” Wrapping up with a half-hour of hypnotically chirping frogs, Neko Case embroiders the album’s back grooves with an audacious seal of Zen-like naturalism.
From heartfelt fragility to savage rage, Case’s moody, full-bodied voice strikes a multiplicity of senses, summoning stark, impressionistic imagery to weave a patchwork of community, alienation, love and loss. In Middle Cyclone, Queen Case serves an Ace.