Sound: A mix of folky reflections and rural-flavored indie rock that can be both majestic and haunting. Twinkling piano, humming strings, echoey background voices, a brooding saxophone and even an eerie old music box add vivid colors to the mix. But the most important instrument on any Neko Case release is, of course, her powerful, resonating vocals. Whether the tone is warm and sweet or dark and despondent, the voice seizes you in its arresting grasp.
Look For: Neko tackles two covers of songs that were originally released in 1974. “Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth” was a UK hit that year for the oddball electro pop group Sparks. “Don’t Forget Me” was a track on Harry Nilsson’s notorious album Pussy Cats, a reckless free-for-all produced by his drinking buddy John Lennon and featuring several collaborations, covers and Harry singing with a ruptured vocal cord. Neko certainly gives both songs her own flavor and yields quite favorable results.
Heavy Rotation tracks: “Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth”; “Prison Girls”; “People Got A Lotta Nerve”; “Don’t Forget Me”
Medium Rotation tracks: “The Pharoahs”; “Polar Nettles”; “This Tornado Loves You”; “Fever”; “Magpie in the Morning”; “Red Tide”
Recommended: The strange part about Middle Cyclone is that two of its most memorable songs are the aforementioned covers. Not that it’s a surprise that a cover would be catchy, but usually, relying on other songwriters is a sign of an artist’s stunted creativity, in my book. But I don’t think that’s what’s happening here. Nearly every song boasts beautiful melodies and production. A couple of them feel like unfinished nuggets and a couple others feel like they’re missing a hook—not that either issue prevents you from enjoyment of the music, though it can leave you feeling slightly unfulfilled. Regardless of the minor inadequacies, Neko’s mesmerizing voice and captivating narrative sketches guide you through one inspired track after another. The second half is actually stronger than the first, so make sure you take in the whole album.
Grade: A- (Top 20 Albums of 2009 Candidate)