I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t reference the album title at any point in this review, it is a difficult typing effort each time and takes up valuable words. It is a strangely verbose title on a very musically economical album, but one that does perfectly sum up the mood that Case is trying to evoke on the album, and also her mental state when composing the songs. A Neko Case album is an unmistakable thing, not just because of her peerless vocals, but also the way that she writes and arranges her songs. However, each of her albums has a very different feel from the last. There is a darkness to all her albums but this is a much darker album than the superficially upbeat Middle Cyclone.
Early on we get the single ‘Man’, a song that would fit in well on a New Pornographers’ album, and one that features confident lyrics which border on aggressive – make no mistake Neko Case is in no mood to put up with any shit from anyone.
That track is a little uncharacteristic, a rock/pop blast on a record that has most of its standout moments in the quieter, sparser tunes that make up most of the album’s running time. Centrally positioned on the album is the stunning ‘Nearly Midnight, Honolulu’ an acapella that has the protagonists mother stating “Get the fuck away from me, why don’t you ever shut up?” in the middle of a tour de force vocal performance.
Aside from the vocals this is a beautifully played album with Case’s band, and a selection of musical guests, laying down beautiful accompaniments to the songs. Playing that supports the softness of most of the numbers whilst being capable of creating a bigger sound when called for, such as on the aforementioned ‘Man’ and the future single contender ‘City Swans’.
This is an album that has no sags, no filler and nothing that doesn’t feel like it shouldn’t be on the album. It is telling that the final two songs featured are as good as anything that has come before. The haunting ‘Where Did I Leave That Fire’ is a complex arrangement where the vocals draw in the instrumentation for two minutes before the final minute and a half sees the song float to a strangely understated conclusion. This is followed by ‘Ragtime’, the longest track on the album, where simple rhythms and stirring horns bring a sense of positivity to the albums conclusion.
Fans of Neko Case’s previous work will not be at all surprised that this is a brilliant album, the equal of anything else produced this year. One of the best vocalists of her generation, a songwriter of considerable merit and a brilliant band is a combination that always produces exceptional albums. This album has something just that little bit extra-special, and it deserves to be her biggest success to date. As Case herself says, a number of seconds after the end of the final song, “That was awesome”.
By Dorian Rogers