Neko Case: Spinning to Love

Neko Case's Sixth album, Middle Cyclone is almost a month old, but has quickly become one of her most important works in her distinguished career.

Neko Case

Middle Cyclone

Label: Anti-
US Release Date: 2009-03-03
UK Release Date: Available as import

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.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.