CD Review: Neko Case, Middle Cyclone

If there’s a prevailing theme that courses through Middle Cyclone, it’s the vagaries and dark alleys of love. In many cases, love is war — or at least a heated competition (“If you’re not by now dead and buried/ You’re most certifiably married”). By and large, Case’s narrator comes off as one hard chick — but not without her vulnerable side, as she reluctantly reveals on the title song: “Can’t give up actin’ tough/ It’s all that I’m made of/ Can’t scrape together quite enough/ To ride the bus to the outskirts/ Of the fact that I need love.”

Case — who wrote or co-wrote 12 of the 14 tunes and produced the disc with the help of her core musicians — concocted gauzy arrangements that use acoustic guitars as the bedrock, but also sprinkle in sweeps of cello and violin, an array of organic keyboards, chiming electric guitars and occasional horns. It all provides an apt backdrop for her clarion vocals, exquisitely calibrated, ranging from a sexy sigh to a pitch-perfect near-bellow.

Neko Case: Middle Cyclone (Anti-)

Perhaps in 30 years we’ll look back at Neko Case with the same reverence that we do now with, say, Joni Mitchell — as a true original. Will Case ever carry the same legendary stature? Hard to say, but it seems to me that legends are not as easily made these days.

That’s OK. We have Case right now, 38 years old and at the peak of her powers. Middle Cyclone is a more than worthy follow-up to 2006’s brilliant Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. The new one builds on Case’s heady blend of country noir and airy folk-pop, with oblique song structures stitching together melodies that at first sound a bit unlikely, but quickly ingrain themselves. This is boldly inventive, new-sounding stuff that somehow evokes an antique feeling. Postmodern roots music, a contradiction in terms. All of which equates to something like wisdom.

Case is among the few artists in contemporary pop who is a legitimate poet. Her lyrics are like funhouse riddles left wide open to listener interpretation, yet not so obtuse as to be precious.

About The Author

Eric Snider

Eric Snider is the dean of Bay area music critics. He started in the early 1980s as one of the founding members of Music magazine, a free bi-monthly. He was the pop music critic for the then-St. Petersburg Times from ‘87-’93. Snider was the music critic, arts editor and senior editor of Weekly Planet/Creative...
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