With the economy tanking, homes being lost, and folks switching to survival mode, America may need Neko Case’s back-to-nature fantasias more than ever.On 2006’s gothic classic Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, she belted out soaring country rock, Southern gospel, and power-pop hymns about lions, sparrows, and two-legged creatures living outside civilization. Middle Cyclone carries Case’s unique vision one step further: here, she truly embraces the beast within. Whether she’s imagining herself as a killer whale or translating a magpie’s song, the message is clear. “I’m an animal,” she growls, “and you’re an animal, too.”
With cameos by Calexico, M. Ward, and the New Pornographers, Middle Cyclone finds its haunted heart in the tension between rootsy twang and man-made squall. On the smoldering ballad “Polar Nettles,” robins chirp just before Los Lobos’Steve Berlin wipes them out with a MIDI sax solo. And while “Fever” sways like a ’50s- style slow dance at the VFW hall, its guitar outro warbles like a melting motherboard.
The two forces dovetail with fragile grace on the title track, as Case pours out her throaty tenor over music-box twinkles and acoustic strums: “I lie across the path, waiting / Just for the chance to be / A spiderweb trapped in your lashes.” the instincts she channels — hunger, fear, lust — may be animalistic. But the ache in her voice is wrenchingly human.
Listen: Neko Case, “People Got A Lotta Nerve”(DOWNLOAD MP3)