Highlights: Man, I’m From Nowhere, Bracing For Sunday, City Swan, Ragtime
Talking about now. If there’s a musical record I’m anticipating more than Reflektor (if such an arrangement is even possible), it has to be The New Pornographers’ new album. I honestly can’t think of another band that would have three (!) songwriters whose solo careers excite me quite as much. 2011 was the year of Dan Bejar. 2012 was the year of A.C. Newman. 2013 seems to be the year of Neko Case. Incidentally, The Worse Things Get… happens to be the strongest of the three.
As ever with Neko Case, first listen leaves you intrigued rather than content. You notice multiple flashes of brilliant. You notice the masculine adrenaline rush of the single “Man”. You notice the unlikely, inexplicable spoken-word triumph called “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu”. Then you go back to it, this time knowing full well this is going to blow you away like nothing else this year. Like of course it does.
Yes, she is a great songwriter. Anyone who can come up with the dark turnaround that is the second part of “Wild Creatures” is a great songwriter in my book. But it’s more than the melodies. More than the rich sound, her undeniable country roots or even that powerful voice (which is sensual in a most cool and detached way). It’s about the whole package: quite simply, the lady is overwhelming. Her personality is. I mean, who else could pull off something like the aforementioned “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu”? At first I thought what the hell, she’s pulling my leg. She just had a bet she could sing a clumsy, confessional piece in prose and record it for her new album, stuff it between the proper songs. But then you realise she is actually serious. She means it. There’s a rhythm behind it, there’s music. And I swear it works, in the most bizarre way possible. Coming out of anyone else’s mouth, this would be a bad joke. Not here.
“Man” is of course the highlight. It’s this album’s “Hold On, Hold On”. And I don’t find one weak idea on the album. In fact, much of it brings back fond memories of Fox Confessor. The vocal hooks of songs like “Bracing For Sunday” and “Local Girl” are immense. When she sounds vulnerable (“Afraid”), it’s heartbreaking. When she chooses to be tough (“Man”), she’s tough. When she does a rocker (“City Swan”), it rocks. When she does something more understated and experimental (“Where Did I Leave That Fire?”), she makes it challenging in a beautiful, clever way.
I don’t know whether this is better than Fox Confessor, but as of now, this is my album of the year. And my gushing doesn’t stop there. I will also say this: in the absence of Kate Bush’s albums, I’m more than happy to have Neko Case. Because regardless of your opinion, the lady is awesome. No other word for that.