Tag Archives: country

Revisited: The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You

You’d think being a music blog, I’d make this post about the Grammys, but I didn’t watch the Grammys and I don’t listen to a lot of music that gets nominated for Grammys, so here we are! (Just in case anyone thought I was trying to be professional or that I knew what I was talking about.)

Instead, I’d like to revisit an album I reviewed way back when I started this blog (I’ll probably make “Revisited” a recurring feature, like Music Tidbits or Music That Made Me). Actually, this goes back to my very second post on this blog! This week, I’d like to revisit Neko Case’s “The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You”!

I feel like when I wrote that post, I wasn’t yet fully invested in the album. I read it again and I realize I really breezed over it. I’m terrible when it comes to giving my opinion about a thing immediately after watching/listening to/consuming it. I’m the worst person you could invite to a focus group. I need time to digest things, to really mull them over and think about what I did or didn’t like, and why. This is especially the case with music. I really, REALLY need the time to listen to the album as a whole – repeatedly – and then dissect it track by track. I need to get tired of it, put it away, then come back to it.

So now that it’s been well over a year since this album was released and I got my grubby little paws on it, I’ve DEFINITELY formed a better opinion about it! Well, it’s still not my favorite Neko Case album, BUT I do enjoy it a lot more than I initially did.

So let’s start at the beginning. (Where else?) “Wild Creatures” is a little underwhelming as an intro track. It didn’t have the same oomph for me that the opening tracks from her previous three studio albums did. I DO like these lyrics though:

“Hey, little girl, would you like to be
The king’s pet or the king?”
“I’d choose odorless and invisible,
But otherwise I would choose the king.”

There’s something about choosing to be “odorless and invisible” that I can relate to in my worst moments.

“Night Still Comes” is one of my favorites from this album. No clue what it’s about, but it kind of speaks to me as being about being fiercely independent and misunderstood for it, but then deciding you know what? I don’t need anyone to understand me. Umm, but really I have no idea. I still really like the line “But I’ve revenged myself all over myself/There’s nothing you can do to me.”

“Man” is still also my favorite! Oh my gosh, I LOVE this song. Neko is obviously playing around with gender roles and expectations here. It took me awhile to understand that. Like, it seems there’s this common theme that girls are either taught to be proper and ladylike (read: submissive, passive, seen but not heard, etc) OR they’re taught that to be feminine is to be weak, pathetic, and stupid. Neko (in this song) is playing with that latter theme here. She’s been raised to be a “man” – tough, bold, brave, strong – BUT she refuses to see women as the opposite. I mean, just take the line “A woman’s heart is the watermark/By which I measure everything” – and she really draws out that “everything” when she sings it. And then, of course, she sings at the end “‘Cause you didn’t know what a man was/Until I showed you.” It’s just fantastic.

I barely mentioned “I’m From Nowhere” last time, except for a few lyrics. I mean, what? This song is GREAT. It’s quiet – Just Neko and a guitar. It’s all about identity being tied to where you’re from. Neko’s father was a Vietnam War vet, and her parents divorced when she was young, so she moved around a lot growing up. I did too (but not NEARLY across as many states) so I can relate a little bit. So, she’s from “Nowhere” and that suits her just fine.

And how in the world could I skip “Bracing For Sunday”?? “I’m a Friday night girl/Bracing for Sunday to come.” These are just…FANTASTIC lyrics. Friday, the day everyone goes out and gets wild, and Sunday, the day everyone atones for it. I just really like the way she sings it, like she’s not afraid of it. She’s ready for it. This song is so charged and restless.

“Nearly Midnight, Honolulu” is still a wonderful, beautifully sad track. And I still really want to know where this one came from – but I also feel like it’s none of my business because it might be personal. Which makes it all the more fascinating and touching.

“Calling Cards” might be the only straightforward love song on here. Which makes it kind of an interesting track considering the rest of the album is so introspective, even when it seems to involve other people. I mean, this is pretty much the theme song to a long distance relationship. It’s sweet.

“City Swan” – another one that hardly got a mention! But it’s so good! It goes back to the theme of wanderlust that “I’m From Nowhere” flirts with. Sure, there are places that could be called hometowns. But when you’ve spent so much time away from them, going back to them makes you feel like an alien – completely out of your element. To be a city swan is to be someone who was transformed from a small town duckling. You’re unable to reconnect. And this part in particular just really hits me: “And it breaks my heart just like the day/That I looked down and I realized/I’d been sailing so long I’d become the shore.” Wow.

“Afraid” … Um. I don’t care for this one too much? Neko didn’t write it (but Nico did!), so I dunno. I do like the line “You are beautiful and you are alone” though.

“Local Girl” – This one is pretty nice, but for the longest time I thought she was singing “All of you lie about Sunday/You’re on a first name basis” – which made sense to me – but it’s actually “All of you lie about someday.” Which doesn’t make as much sense to me? I was listening to some old episodes of some podcasts I don’t normally listen to because they had interviews with Neko Case back from September 2013, when she released this album. Anyway, she was saying that this song is about how people talk about love all the time when they don’t know anything about it. It still doesn’t make much sense to me. But I still like it!

“Where Did I Leave That Fire?” is a really eerie one. Not just because of the dark, haunting, submarine sounds, but because it’s kind of got a little bit existential horror going on, at least for an artist. If you listen to it from the perspective of an artist, you’ll get what the “fire” is. And something about the way she sings “I wanted so badly not to be me” hits heavy.

“Ragtime” is another favorite of mine! This one really, really gets to me too. I talked about this one before (#5 on my list!). It’s very much like a phoenix rising from the flames. Just listen to the lyrics: “I’ll reveal myself when I’m ready,/I’ll reveal myself invincible soon.” I also just really like the lines “I am one and the same/I am useful and strange.” It’s so soothing, for how cacophonous it is at the end. It’s just feels like letting go.

“Madonna of the Wasps” – Another song not written by Neko! (It was written by Robyn Hitchcock. Just because I wrote that sentence, doesn’t mean I know who that is.) It’s so hippie-dippie. I kind of like it, but I also have to be in the mood for it, because it’s kind of uncharacteristic for Neko. It’s not really her style!

And OH MY GOSH, how did I NOT mention the version of “Magpie to the Morning” on this album, because it is one of my FAVORITE songs and I LOVE this version of it. See how disappointed I am in you, me from over a year ago? Well, I guess there were some things in my life that happened that changed that since then. This song just means to much to me, and I am so in love with the way it’s performed here. I could go on forever about it.

“Yon Ferrets Return” – Haha, I still like this one a lot! It’s just so much fun! There’s that wanderlust theme again. It just sweeps you right up! I want to jump on that covered wagon it makes me picture and ride off into the sunset. I know, I’m weird.

So that’s about it! What a much better review for an album that’s much better than I treated it over a year ago. Forgive me, Neko! And forgive me, readers. You both deserved better, so I hope I gave it this time!

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Middle Cyclone

I completely forgot to mention the Neko Case concert in my Music Tidbits post last week! Well, rest assured it was amazing. I actually guessed correctly on a majority of songs (maybe 70-75%) and there were a few surprises! She talked to the audience and her band quite a bit, and her backup singer was a regular chatterbox. And Neko was sassy alright. She told someone to put their phone away just a few lines into her first song without missing a beat. The theater went crazy over that. And she did not one, but TWO encores, which no one was expecting. She gave us some sass for that too (everyone had begun to leave after the first one).

So overall, it was a fantastic concert, but I’m not going to talk about that. I’m going to review an album I didn’t realize how much I loved until after that concert: Middle Cyclone. It was always kind of just A-OK on my list, but now I think that it might be my favorites – lyrically at least. Blacklisted  is still my favorite soundwise, though without personal bias, I still admit Middle Cyclone is the stronger album.

Let’s start with the album cover:

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How badass is this album cover?!? It’s on equal footing with the cover for Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell for me. Seriously badass. It’s been my desktop background for awhile now. I decided yesterday I needed to get it as a poster. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find this specific picture, but I found a similar one!

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It doesn’t have the text, and it’s only 11×13, but I can’t wait to have it framed and on my wall. These two pictures make me feel like I can do anything. I want them forever.

But enough about these amazing pictures! On to the album! As I mentioned before, the album opens with one of my FAVORITE Neko Case songs, “This Tornado Loves You.” I just love everything about this song. I’ve never experienced a tornado (not counting the Twister ride at Universal Studios Orlando anyway) but the opening guitar riffs sound like the closest interpretation to the spirit and sound of a tornado that I can imagine. Somehow, that guitar sounds like it’s spinning. And then those opening lyrics: “My love I am the speed of sound./I left them motherless, fatherless.” The whole song is just so metaphorical. I could post the entire song’s lyrics, I love them so much, but I’ll spare you. Other standout lyrics include “I carved your name across three counties/And ground it in with bloody hides.” Also “I have waited with a glacier’s patience.” And even “When I’d rake the springtime across your sheets.” The whole song, of course, is just one big metaphor, with Neko describing herself as a tornado wildly chasing after the person she still loves even after they’ve left her. (Neko did play this song in concert, but at a faster tempo than the album version. Which was a bit sad, because it felt like they were rushing through it and I wanted to savor it.) The whole song sounds like it’s being played inside a spinning tornado. It’s just brilliantly crafted, every bit of it.

“The Next Time You Say ‘Forever'” has the complete opposite message. In it, she wants nothing to do with this pathetic person who wants her to stay, well, “forever.” “The next time you say ‘forever,'” she sings “I will punch you in your face.” And in the end: “You never know when I’ll show you the never.” A great, great song. As someone who grew up moving a lot to have it result in some occasional wanderlust in my adulthood, I can feel for her in this song.

Next is the song I’m surprised wasn’t used in the movie Blackfish,considering it’s all about that sort of thing, “People Got a Lotta Nerve.”

I mean, you can’t hit it on the head any harder than

You know they call them “killer” whales?!

But you seemed surprised when it pinned you down

To the bottom of the tank

Where you can’t turn around

It took half your leg and both your lungs.

This song was actually written and released BEFORE the 2010 death of Seaworld trainer Dawn Brancheau, which makes it incredibly uncanny going back and listening to it.

Neko admitted she hadn’t played the next track in a long time: “Polar Nettles.” I usually skipped it before if it ever came up on my playlist, but after hearing it in concert I think it’s a song worth appreciating. It’s got this marching, contemplative, solemn sound to it. It’s appropriate considering it seems to be about death. Neko’s voice sounds downright creepy as she chants “Someday soon…Someday soon.”

“Vengeance Is Sleeping,” thematically, reminds me A LOT of Björk’s “Possibly Maybe.” Specifically in that it’s about someone who isn’t quite over an old flame and is wondering where they are and what they’re doing. Neko sings “If you’re not by now dead and buried/You are most certifiably married.” But my favorite part of this song comes later on:

My love has never lived indoors

I’ve had to drag it home by force

Hired hounds at both my wrists

Damp and bruised by stranger’s kisses on my lips.

It’s so visual and metaphorical at the same time. I just love the idea about her love never living indoors. Something about it speaks to me.

Next comes a very hippie-ish anthem, which is a cover, “Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth.” It’s a very good choice, because the whole album has themes of nature throughout. And she sings it beautifully. Good choice, Neko! Good choice!

After that comes the title track, “Middle Cyclone,” which carries the main theme of the album: reconciling the fact that she needs love rather than continuing to live the way she grew up, with a stronger attachment to nature and animals than people. She shows what a brilliant songwriter she is with lines like “Can’t scrape together quite enough/To ride the bus to the outskirts of the fact that I need love.” My absolute favorite part though (and it might stand as one of my favorite lines/lyrics of all time) is this:

I lie across the path waiting

Just for a chance to be

A spider web trapped in your lashes

For that, I would trade you my empire for ashes

If you’ve ever felt that way about someone, then her hushed voice speaks volumes to you. It works as the title track, and being smack dab in the middle of the track list, it works for the entire album.

I love the opening imagery in “Fever”:

In an open field at dusk

To footfalls I awoke

Marching ants across my temple, oh

Their feet had no intention

They followed some magnetic drum

Prisoners of their destination

The wobbly opening notes and the rest of the lyrics that follow make this sound like a song you would hear in a fever dream (or maybe it was inspired by one), so the song was named rather appropriately.

“Magpie to the Morning” may have sneaked it’s way onto my Neko Case favorite songs list without me knowing…She didn’t play it at the concert, sadly, but I’ve still discovered a new found attachment to it. I think it’s the way she sings it combined with the theme of the song. I feel like there might be a little wordplay with the “Morning” in the song…Though it’s spelled one way, it could be heard as “mourning.” Later she sings about how a vulture “…Laughed under his breath/Because you thought that you could outrun sorrow.” It’s a lot about having to be encouraged by nature to dig herself out of the dark pit she’s buried herself in.

“I’m An Animal” goes on with the main theme of the album. When she sings “I love you this hour, this hour today,” I can’t help but think of Nelly Furtado’s “I’m Like A Bird.” Now that I think of it, these songs make a great pairing, thematically. I love when, speaking about her fears, Neko sings “But my courage is roaring like the sound of the sun/’Cause it’s vain about its mane and will reveal them to no one.”

“Prison Girls” is an odd song, in that I can’t figure out if Neko is really in prison or is just dreaming about it. It’s ambiguous like that (or maybe it’s just me). But it’s a fantastic song. I love it when she sings “I love your long shadows and your gun powder eyes.” I’m kind of waiting to see if they ever use it in Orange is the New Black, but it doesn’t seem like the kind of song that would show up there, somehow.

“Don’t Forget Me” is another cover song, and another great choice. I guess there’s not much to say about it, but I love the way she sings “I’ll miss you when I’m lonely/I’ll miss the alimony too.” She sings it very bluesy, but very sassy too. Very Neko.

The next track she played in concert, which was a surprise to me, and that was “The Pharaohs”! I just love love loooooove the way she croons “You said I was your blue, blue baby…and you were right.” It sounds so pained, but not in an overly dramatic emo way.

“Red Tide” is the final song on the album. It’s a rather cynical track to end with, but she played it at the concert too and it sounded amazing.

Actually, I lied. The final track is “Marais La Nuit,” which is just a 31-plus minute-long track consisting of the nighttime sounds around a pond on Neko Case’s farm in Vermont. It’s truly an appropriate ending to an album she recorded in a barn on her property (which explains its big, almost echoing sound throughout).

Looking back on my past reviews, I think I might have to change what I’ve said and recommend Middle Cyclone to first-time Neko Case listeners. The whole album is just so well produced and lyrically brilliant. It’s a real treat to listen to, and I mean really listen to, not just treat as background noise (unless we’re talking about “Marais La Nuit”). If you value good songwriters, give Neko Case and Middle Cyclone a go.

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Neko Case

I’m going to see Neko Case on Thursday, you guys, and I’m so excited! I’ve been going over in my head which songs she’ll probably perform and which ones I hope she’ll perform. So here are my predictions, keeping in mind I’ve never seen her in concert before, so I don’t know what kind of songs she favors performing live.

It’ll be a lot of The Harder I Fight, of course. I think “Man” is guaranteed, which is good because I’m betting it sounds awesome live. It certainly sounds like it was meant to be performed live. I think we’ll probably get “Night Still Comes” which I actually really want to hear. The likelihood is fairly high — they’ve been playing it in the theaters at my local AMC before they start the pre-movie stuff (not the previews, but the commercials. If you’ve been to an AMC, you’ll know what I’m talking about).

“Bracing for Sunday,” “City Swan,” and “Local Girl” are likely. I wouldn’t mind hearing “Calling Cards.” I’m hopeful for “Ragtime” because I really like it as an album closer, though I don’t think it’ll be a concert closer. (That might just be “Man.”) And I really, really LOVE the dressed-down version of “Magpie to the Morning” on the deluxe version of The Harder I Fight. I’m really hoping she plays this version because I really like the way it sounds with the banjo and the guitar.

Moving chronologically backwards to Middle Cyclone, I would be THRILLED if she played “This Tornado Loves You.” It’s my favorite song off of that album, and one of my top five favorite Neko Case songs of all time.

I’d like to hear “The Pharaohs” but I don’t think it’s likely. However, “People Got A Lotta Nerve” is very likely. Possibly “Red Tide” and “Prison Girls” too.

Moving on to Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, I would absolutely LOVE to hear “Margaret Vs. Pauline” (another top 5 favorite) If she played that and “This Tornado Loves You” that would be wonderful. I’d like to hear “Hold On, Hold On,” and I think the odds of that are pretty good. “Lion’s Jaws” would be nice, but maybe not likely. I’d like “Maybe Sparrow” too, and I think that’s more likely. Other than that, I think the title track “Fox Confessor Brings the Flood” might be played, maybe.

Next up is my favorite (and first) Neko Case album, Blacklisted. If she played “Things That Scare Me”…Oh my goodness, if she played that one along with “Margaret Vs. Pauline” and “This Tornado Loves You” I think THAT might my perfect Neko concert. She can play anything else. I would just love love LOVE to hear “Things That Scare Me.” It was love at first listen for me. Instant favorite. I knew I was in for the long haul with Neko when I heard that song. Can’t say the likelihood of that one though…

Other than that one, “Deep Red Bells” just might be played — and that’s okay because I really like it! I love “Outro With Bees” but I’m not holding my breath. “Lady Pilot” is a maybe! “Stinging Velvet” would be lovely, and possible. Overall, the odds for anything on this album are pretty low. I’m guessing she’ll play very, very few songs from this album, if any.

If she plays anything else, it’ll be a puzzle to me! I don’t have any of the albums she made with Her Boyfriends, though I’ve been meaning to get them. In any case, I’m really looking forward to it! And I hope she’s a talker. (If she is, I’ll bet she’s sassy.) I love it when performers talk to their audience. I’d love the know the meaning behind “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu.” That song haunts me when I hear it.

In any case, I’m looking forward to her setlist, whatever it may be! And don’t worry, I’m not one of those people who shouts requests at the stage. I can’t stand those people. It’s like, I don’t know what hole-in-the-wall dive bar you go to see that band with the homeless, drunk drummer, but professional artists have setlists and they have them for a reason. Sheesh.

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Fox Confessor Brings The Flood

Late last year, NPR ran this piece about the top ten most loved albums by women. The list included, at #5, Fox Confessor Brings The Flood by Neko Case. Neko and her album are up there with some of the Greats. Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday… That’s some pretty lofty praise!

I think the album is pretty deserving. Why must the greatest albums be 40 years old (or older)? Why does it seem that a certain amount of time must pass for an album to qualify as “greatest”? Anyway, this sounds like it was fairly objective poll, when you set aside where the pool comes from.

What makes it so great? Let’s start with the opening song, “Margaret Vs. Pauline,” which is an instant favorite of mine. It lulls you with minimal guitar strings, then Neko’s voice comes in strong, but not overpowering. She tells the story of two women, very different from each other – one adored and the other ignored. One unbelievably blessed and the other inexplicably unlucky. It just breaks your heart with the line about the relative misfortunes each has to face: The worst thing to happen to Pauline was that she left her sweater on the train. Margaret lost three fingers at the cannery.

And then (later) there’s “Hold On, Hold On.” At the time it was the only autobiographical song Neko had ever written; it was actually about her. Something about the lines “In the end I was the mean girl/Or somebody’s in-between girl” just gets me.

“A Widow’s Toast” is a fantastic minimal track – Minimal and yet somehow Neko’s voice sounds larger than life. “Specters move like pilot flames” is such a great image.

A little gospel comes into play in “John Saw That Number,” probably the most upbeat song on the album.

“Lion’s Jaws” is another favorite of mine. Neko’s voice sounds so sultry and heavy – which is appropriate for a tale of seduction. Maybe it’s just my imagination running wild, but I picture two old friends at a high school reunion (20 or 30 years, at least) having one last dance together as they remember the night they once spent together after prom. It’s got this sort of melancholy, slow-dance feel to it.

The poetic “Maybe Sparrow” comes next. It’s melodic and plaintive and Neko’s voice works so well with the music to tell the story of this sparrow.

Actually, every song tells a story on this album. Whether it’s about Neko, the people or places she knew, or things she was just totally making up, every song stands out on its own, with some stand out lines that make me pause to really listen to them. And her voice? Just amazing. She has so much control over it, and it complements the instruments so well. They balance each other perfectly.

Fox Confessor is the music equivalent of a book of poetry. Will people still look back on it as one of the greatest albums 40 years from now? I think if more people heard it, they might. Neko Case occupies a comfortable place between wildly popular and vaguely indie. I do wish more people would give her a listen though. This is such a powerful album and I recommend it to anyone who hasn’t heard of Neko Case.

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The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You

Let’s start this entry with the correct pronunciation of Neko Case’s name: It’s KNEE-co. Not NECK-oh. It’s okay, I was saying it wrong for the longest time too.

So here’s something superficial about her latest album: I’m not a fan of the cover.

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What’s with that stretchy face? It’s like someone screwed up in Photoshop and was too lazy to start over. Why couldn’t we get the same cover as the vinyl edition?

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Ah, Neko. I still love you anyway.

Neko Case might have been my first true foray into the country genre, although I’m sure country music purists would say she’s alt country at best. That’s okay. The point is Neko Case is fantastic. Some of her stuff even reminds me a bit of Sheryl Crow in the 90’s.

Still, I have to say this isn’t my favorite Neko album — but that doesn’t mean I don’t like it! It just feels less country and more rock at times. I like both genres, but when it comes to Neko, I like it when she’s more country. Her voice was made for it. Also, her voice seems to have become stronger and bolder with age, so that’s a good thing.

Sound-wise, the album is pretty eclectic for Neko Case: From the wild country rock sound of “Man” to the sad yet supportive a Capella “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu.” The hippie folksy cover of “Madonna of the Wasps” makes me think of Neko and M. Ward (from She & Him, also the other vocalist on this song) playing guitar in a field with flowers in their hair, while “Yon Ferrets Return” conjures up images of Neko riding across the Wild West in a covered wagon with some of her closest band mates.

One of the things I really like about Neko Case is the way her lyrics make me stop and listen. Here are a few of my favorites:

Did it poison my food?/Is it ’cause I’m a girl?/If I puked up some sonnets,/Would you call me a miracle? – “Night Still Comes”

I was surprised when you called me a lady/’Cause I’m still not so sure that that’s what I want to be/’Cause I remember the 80’s/And I remember its puffy sleeves. – “I’m From Nowhere” (Also: God, if you only knew/What my candied fists could do.”)

And pretty much all of “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu” but especially: Some days you’ll feel like a cartoon/And people will rush to make excuses for you.

Overall, the album sounds very autobiographical. It might be Neko’s most personal album to date, lyrically. “City Swan” and “Calling Cards” are great examples. However, I feel like this album may be more for fans than new listeners. If you’re interested in trying Neko Case and willing to taste a little country without taking a big bite (you picky eater, you) then I would recommend Blacklisted.

Anyway, I can’t give a review of the album without sharing a track! So here’s the first single: “Man.”

Listen carefully for some of my favorite lyrics: I’m not the runt of the litter/Fat-fingered bullies were no match for me. Also: And if I’m dipshit drunk on pink perfume,/Then I am the man in the fucking moon.

I always cringe at songs where women compare strength to being (like) a man. But I feel like maybe that’s not quite what this song is about. Anyway, I still like it! It’s got an attitude and it’s not afraid to show it. So, without further ado (yes, that is Neko in drag and a cigarette in that horse’s mouth):

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