Hear This: Middle Cyclone - Neko Case
I've been listening to Neko Case's stunning new album Middle Cyclone almost daily since I downloaded it in March. It's that good. So far, this is my album of the year. Case has been an alt-country darling for years, but Middle Cyclone is such an ambitious, timeless sounding record that pigeonholing is nearly impossible. It's full of often cryptic lyrics, a orchestra of old pianos assembled in a Vermont barn, jangling guitars and closes with 30 minutes of night sounds. Never has desire sounded so brooding and defiant.
Opening with the rollicking "This Tornado Loves You," Case casts herself as a hellish wind cutting her lover's name 65 miles wide across three counties, throwing trailers into power lines. Even with her mighty display, the lover remains elusive: "This tornado loves you, this tornado loves you, what will make you believe me?"
The distorted music box that leads off "The Next Time You Say Forever" is the perfect sound for this dark little lullaby about a lover's empty promises: "The next time you say forever, I will punch you in your face." Then on "People Got a Lotta Nerve," the sunny pop sound belies the dark lyrics about tigers and whales pouncing on their prey.
"Polar Nettles" sounds like the love theme from a David Lynch film, with its cryptic lyrics, dizzying guitar, martial drums and then a sudden -- and seamless -- move toward liturgy. "His eyes are closed, he mouths her name, the rosary her lips and tongue. She is the centrifuge that throws the spires from the sun, the Sistine Chapel painted with a Gatling gun."
Sounding almost Stevie Nicks-ish on "I'm An Animal," the soaring vocals, the purring organ, tambourine and rumbling drums make this song a highlight, especially when the church chorus arrives at the line "heaven will smell like an airport." It's 2:17 of absolute perfection.
Clocking in at more than five minutes, "Prison Girls" is a noir-ish tale of a woman who compares waiting in a lonely hotel room for the man she loves to being in jail. When she laments "I love your long shadows and your gunpowder eyes," it will give you goosebumps. And on "The Pharaohs," she casts herself as Cleopatra, cinematically awaiting for her love to return. "You kept me wanting...like the wanting in the movies and the hymns. I want the pharaohs, but there's only men."
Choosing to close the album with more than 30 minutes of frogs chirping on her farm, which she's titled "Marais la nuit," sounds self-indulgent, but it's so soothing and somehow musical that after the intensity of the songs before it, this is the ultimate chill out.