[30 March 2009]
Tornados. Essentially tornados abound in Neko Case’s sixth album Middle Cyclones, a brilliant pop/folk/rock/etc album. Maybe one of the purest displays in Neko’s career, the album is filled with density learned from composing and touring with her side super-band The New Pornographers. These songs are demonstrating growth in Neko’s song writing ability. Neko has constructed songs with limited space, she’s giving us a Neko Case pop sonic masterpiece that takes some time to find a spot to settle into and enjoy, but the album’s main purpose is to drive the idea that we live in a stormy world that we do not even work on our own behalf to enjoy fully. We all struggle, as Neko, to find love and to define it for ourselves, but we also push away those who mean us most joy. We are stormy creatures, afraid to communicate fully in a world filled with the ability to communicate anything to anyone at any time. Middle Cyclone is the love album for the early 21st Century. The songs are richly decorated; they spin the listener into the ground and then spend equal time allowing comfortable recoil.
So why tornados?! Neko Case has always taken the common elements of the pop song and twisted on the major themes with lyrical dexterity that takes a few listens to put together. The lead track, “This Tornado Loves You” is a brilliant execution of love in modern times. It eases into the jangling guitars. There is something familiar. It’s Neko, but there is also an element that is unfamiliar. It’s a rushed song. I almost want to slow it down. Neko lushes;
I have waited with a glacier’s patience
Smashed every transformer with every trailer
‘til nothing was standing
65 miles wide
Still you are nowhere
Still you are nowhere
Nowhere in sight
Come out to meet me
Run out to meet me
Come in to the light
Neko spins us away. The music spins and spins and then shutters down to the main contention on Middle Cyclone “I want you.” Neko is the tornado as she begs “What will make you believe me?” She employs similar dexterity all throughout Middle Cyclone. Again, the nomadic Neko calls out in “The Next Time You Say Forever” “I’ve lost my taste for home, and that’s a dirty fallow feeling.” A beautiful, haunting lyric that sticks to my ribs; for the eternal homelessness of Neko’s life, the lyric is brilliant as an autobiography, but it is also inviting to the homesick. We are all in the song “The Next Time You Say Forever”.
Middle Cyclone is an album about the impossible inconveniences in the world. The problems with love in a stormy, spinning world “The next time you say forever, I’ll punch you in your face/ Just because you don’t believe it, doesn’t mean I didn’t mean it” catches the paradoxes of modern love. A world of people storming through borders to find forever; laying down at every moment to find love and then to find a cynic on the other end or the person who scoffs at forever with sarcastic laughter. We may even be the person laughing, afraid of what may happen if we commit to love or home or both?
But then, in the middle of the album, appears the title track “Middle Cyclone”. I heard an interview with Neko that claims this was not done on purpose. I don’t believe her for a minute. The perfect center of this storm, “Middle Cylcone” spins to this point and then away. This is the catch-all song on the album. Where most may plug this song at the end of the album, Neko provides her thesis in the middle. A simple acoustic progression, a soft harmony, the basic waltz beat, and Neko’s alluring Siren song
It was so clear to me
That it was almost invisible.
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.
But I choke it back, how much I need love…
I don’t know if they hand out awards for lyric of the year, but this is my leader right now. A desperate attempt to catch the world in one moment, the natural element of a spider web to catch all those things spinning helplessly out of control; by the time Neko hits the clincher “But I choke back, how much I need love…” I can personify this in a million single men and women sick of the games we play with each other. The desperation of the essentials of the world; “we choke it back”. We are the antagonist to our own love story. When the song ends and the humming of the recorder in the background of the song softly ends the song, I’ve found the calm center before the album spins away.
Greatest album cover this century? Maybe so.
Middle Cylcone twists to the beautiful use of a piano orchestra in her cover of Harry Nilsson’s “Don’t Forget Me”. Nilsson’s song is a perfect fit for Neko. Love has been found, but Nilsson’s song is still filled with some of those paradoxical lyrics that have dotted the landscape of Middle Cyclone “’Cause nothing lasts forever/But I will always love you”. The piano orchestra counting the measures, holding together the truths of Middle Cyclone that love is all of our goal if we would only stop trying to say forever and trust each other enough to always love each other. A difficult sentiment, we are our own worst enemies in our singular attempt to love.
Middle Cyclone is quickly becoming my favorite Neko Case album. The album takes some patience to get through all its musical density. Neko has created an album rich in every way, but it must be approached with care. Neko is a brilliant songwriter and understands that she’s not the sugar pop of her bandmates in The New Pornographers. Neko is subtle and the density she uses to arrive to her contentions take patience, but Middle Cylone is the most rewarding album of the year.