The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, The More I Love You.
With any Neko Case album, you can always count on that voice, a gale-force sound that grows more powerful with every held note until it seems strong enough to level a house.
On her sixth album, Case uses that voice to go inward, reckon with the past and take the biggest artistic risks of her career. In a recent interview with the Guardian, the 42-year-old singer/songwriter speaks candidly about the depression that struck her in the wake of her mother, father and grandmother’s deaths. The losses dealt Case more than a little pain, leaving her unable to connect with people or enjoy music.
On “Where Did I Leave That Fire”, she feels numb and fears her life force –– her fire –– may never return. “Will a stranger find it on a curb idling?” she sings. “Cold call from a time zone just short of outer space.” Sonar sounds add to the sense of dislocation, making it one of the most unconventional songs Case has ever written.
“Nearly Midnight, Honolulu” is similarly unusual and vulnerable. Performing a cappella, Case recalls a moment she witnessed between a young girl and her mother that’s dysfunctional and heartbreaking. Don’t put this one on at a party unless you’re comfortable bawling like a baby in front of your friends.
There are also familiar touches to please longtime fans. “Night Still Comes” is the type of slow burn country/soul ballad that Case nails with ease, while album opener “Wildest Creatures” has the haunting beauty and smart chord changes that call to mind 2006’s Fox Confessor Brings The Flood or 2009’s Middle Cyclone.
While the new album doesn’t always go down as easy as her previous records, it’s much more audacious. At a stage where most musicians run out of things to say, it’s inspiring to see Case putting herself out there and turning her hardships into great art.