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Neko Case comfortable in The Middle

March 3, 2009

I proclaimed Neko Case the most beautiful thing I heard in 2006, when Fox Confessor Brings the Flood took its place at the peak of my top 10. I figured that would be the peak for this talented Virginian as well.

Perhaps unfairly, we are so often disappointed by The Follow Up. The Follow Up is the album that comes out immediately following an undisputed success, either in sales or praise.

Only a select few bands or artists can put out two good records in a row. Anything more than that and you’re the friggin’ Beatles or Dylan.

Neko Case

Neko Case

More recent examples include Spoon with Girls Can Tell and Kill the Moonlight, Radiohead with OK Computer and Kid A, Beck with Midnight Vultures and Sea Change. It don’t happen often.

Case, who moonlights as the New Pornographers’ most attractive vocalist, certainly earned the critical kudos and coming out party she enjoyed with Fox Confessor. It was equal parts sugary sweet and bitter smart, full of colorful stories and interludes that invited the listeners to draw their own sketches (see “Widow’s Toast”).

It was country and pop and delicately plucked chords: hushed tones and gentle screaming.
A majority of The Middle Cyclone is a wash: one Neko Case tune after another. Not bad, but not nearly enough to hold my interest.

There’s lots of repetition here: “This tornado loves you” and “I’m a man-man-man-man-man-maneater” are still ringing in my ears while I wait for something of substance to startle my brain.

Somewhere on what would be side B, “I’m An Animal” does this to a certain extent with its heavy, slightly disjointed sound. The dark “Prison Girls” finds Case with an unusual warble and more adventurous arrangements.

The undying sound of crickets chirping outside the bedroom window on a hot summer’s eve repeats at the end of the album. It’s a great touch that resonates with the pastoral scenery Case often offers.

Unfortunately, the evening drone is not unlike the tracks that lazily lead up to it. This is a fine placeholder for Case and, really, what I’ve come to expect from The Follow Up.

If anything, we’re in the middle of something great.

Post Rating (out of 5):

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Listen to The Middle Cyclone

Get People Got a Lotta Nerve.mp3

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