Posts Tagged ‘Neko Case’

Neko Case Shares Video for "Last Lion of Albion"

“Last Lion of Albion” is a post-humanity track through and through. The video imagines a world in which the titular lion, long since disappeared from the industrial land of Albion (aka Great Britain), has returned to its kingdom once again, free from the crushing grip of people. Beautifully designed by artist Laura Plansker, the video features handmade miniatures and props that combine into a surrealist dreamland of verdant plastic trees. “She has a way of making something so artificial so very alive,” Case says of Plansker’s designs. “The turning of the lion’s head to look at the sky, or its own reflection makes me cry my eyes out. There is so much straight ahead compassion in Laura’s work, there’s no need to manipulate emotion of the viewer, it is the perfect balance.”

Neko Case is currently touring Europe, and will be returning to the U.S. for a West Coast tour at the end of November for a live show featuring glowing, life-size wasp nests and Case as the wasp queen

“Last Lion of Albion” by Neko Case from the album ‘Hell-On’ available now

The New Pornographers emerged in 2000, a conglomerate of talent from regionally successful Canadian bands like Zumpano, Destroyer, and Limblifter. Led by A.C. Newman, the band spotlighted Neko Case’s warm, sumptuous voice and Dan Bejar’s offbeat songs on a handful of tracks each album. They had their winning formula in place right off the bat – upbeat songs with complex chord changes, ornate harmonies, and clever arrangements. You could call them indie pop, power pop, pop/rock, but if you’re a fan of intelligent studio crafted guitar pop, The New Pornographers are one of the leading exponents of the genre in the 21st century.

There’s one thing to get straight about the New Pornographers. Even if you’ve ever listened to Limblifter, Immaculate Machine, the Evaporators, and yes, Zumpano, enlisting one member apiece from these bands does not make Carl Newman’s reigning power-pop coalition a “supergroup.” The New Pornographers, long-shining indie stars themselves for 17 years now, contain exactly two members whose solo fame is comparable to or larger than that of the New Pornographers: alt-country brainiac Neko Case, and Dan Bejar, who enjoys rapturous critical acclaim as the simultaneously showy and esoteric Destroyer.

The band is also known for Newman of course, but that ain’t because of his Zumpano work. He earned his winning reputation as a magician of hooks through this very band, and sure, the PR boost from being an alleged “supergroup” (albeit one comprised of artists no one had heard of in 2000) helped that legend in ways that don’t quite make sense in 2017. But ultimately this outfit, currently stocked with eight people, is famous for doing one thing: making loads of catchy, well-harmonized tunes whose often mysterious lyricism genuinely appears to have meaning to it, even if it’s often hard to decipher.

By contrast, their hooks are some of indie-rock’s most roundly pleasurable: “The Laws Have Changed,” “Use It,” “Letter From An Occupant,” “Sing Me Spanish Techno.” Even though this quirky but profoundly normal band has never enjoyed a level of influence to match say, Animal Collective or Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ respective moments in the sun, few recent rock fans dispute the fact that the New Pornographers have made seven albums of rarely challenged listenability. Only Spoon get talked about with such matching consistency, and frankly, their formalism is a lot warier of the sweet spot; even if you disagree, you’re less likely to sing along with long stretches of a Spoon album. This is partly unfair, because the New Pornographers have so many voices emphasizing and counterpointing their most brilliant moments that they’re pretty much showing you how a crowd would already sound chanting them. But rock ‘n’ roll is unfair.

Together (2010)

You’d be hard-pressed to find much of a narrative that explains why six other New Pornographers albums worked more than this one. There are clear anthems (one that even goes “put your hands together”) and the same three Dan Bejar contributions as usual. Even trying to explain why the usual brightly lit Neko Case single “Crash Years” has some weary element to it is hard; the band’s two most recent albums stake out fairly familiar territory and yet they don’t feel like they’re falling back on something. The New Pornographers’ fifth album just has some unmistakable “another one” feel to it despite plenty of legible hooks and an emphasis of string instruments on the steady-climbing opener “Moves” that should stand out more than it does.

It’s only in the album’s second half that anything emerges that could compete for territory on a best-of: the rollicking “Up In The Dark” with its rousing “What’s love? What’s love?” choruses, the gorgeous, banjo- and piano-employing ballad “Valkyrie In The Roller Disco” with its Fripp-and-Eno-esque guitar solo, and Dan Bejar’s electric orchestral waltz “Daughters Of Sorrow” that finally puts those grandiose strings to memorable use.

The New Pornographers continued the mellower sound of Challengers with their fifth album. Songs like ‘Valkyrie in the Roller Disco’ and ‘If You Can’t See My Mirrors’ are gentle and low key. Challengers is notable for the high number of guest appearances, including St. Vincent, Will Sheff, and Zach Condon, although the guest appearances are subdued enough not to overly influence the sound of the record.

Favourite track: ‘Silver Jenny Dollar’ (Bejar)

Twin Cinema (2005)

For many, the New Pornographers’ third album is the New Pornographers album. That’s largely due to the extravagant goodwill afforded by four of its tunes: the rickety shuffle and heavenly chorus of “Use It,” the chugging, psychedelic ’60s garage of “Jackie, Dressed In Cobras,” the insistent and inextricable-from-your-cranium momentum of “Sing Me Spanish Techno,” whose riff you’re singing along to well before the band adds their own “Listening too long/ To one song” lyric overtop, and, finally, the penultimate “Streets Of Fire,” which is probably the friendliest melody Bejar has ever composed. These are four of this band’s greatest, most joyful successes ever, layered precisely with parts that are in no way simple, yet go down like chocolate to the ears.

Then there are the 10 other songs, such as “Three Or Four” or “The Bones Of An Idol,” which top out at “interesting,” none less than pretty good and none with another hook again as all-encompassing as “Use It.” The bookends “Twin Cinema” and “Stacked Crooked” come closer than others, but the title tune is a particular harbinger of the other thing wrong with the band’s most explicit batch of hits-and-filler to date: Its crude banging and narrow audio scope portends this album’s shocking downgrade in production quality from the band’s first two albums. There’s never a moment that truly bursts from the speakers, and if there’s something else as good as the four best songs here, blame the flat, vaguely cavernous sonics for half-burying anything on the premises that isn’t surefire.

It’s reasonable to categorise The New Pornographers’ first couple of albums as high velocity, and their later albums as more ornate and subdued. Third album Twin Cinema captures them at the perfect place in their evolution between youthful enthusiasm and adult sophistication. And it’s full of great songs like ‘Sing Me Spanish Techno’, ‘The Bones of an Idol’, and ‘Jackie Dressed in Cobras’.

Challengers (2007)

In total contrast to Twin Cinema, its follow-up, Challengers, is the New Pornographers album that’s most guilty-till-proven-innocent. It’s easily the band’s least immediate album, with even fewer obvious hits than Together. But they’re worth finding: The opener and single “My Rights Versus Yours” echoes the widescreen gallop of “Use It” with even sweeter backing vocals and “Mutiny, I Promise You” is an addictive Rubik’s Cube of a rocker, equally punk and prog in its wall-slamming chord changes and sudden rhythm stops due to its bizarre time signature that switches between 4/4 and 2/4. Best of all may be the title track, a swirling Case-sung ballad that somehow employs the only prominent acoustic guitars in the New Pornographers catalog. Fan favorite “Myriad Harbour” is here too, if Bejar’s idea of a silly song is yours, too.

A.C. Newman’s niece Kathryn Calder joined the band in time for their fourth album, adding a second female voice. While there’s upbeat power pop like ‘All The Old Showstoppers’, the meat of Challengers is in the mellow tunes like ‘Go Places’ and the title track, while Bejar shines with ‘Myriad Harbour’ and ‘Entering White Cecilia’.

But more importantly, Challengers’ filler is just more interesting and harmonically diverse than that of its predecessor. Check out the low-buzzing horns on the bluesy throwaway “Failsafe,” or the multiple hoop-jumps of the key-switching orchestral passages of “All The Old Showstoppers.” This is the band’s least comforting album, as many sequences don’t land where a trained pop ear would expect them to, but the adventurousness has aged better and sounds less aimless than it did 10 years ago.

Brill Bruisers (2014)

Behold, the synths. By 2014, it was declared law that any respectable indie-pop stalwarts still kicking around had to buck up and get a sequencer in the mix. But that’s just décor; it’s the songs that dazzle, the chord changes that spin your head, the harmonies that soothe and formed a backbone to the Vancouver ensemble’s most captivating album in years.

Strong from start to finish, Brill Bruisers uses every weapon in the band’s arsenal, whether charging hard (“Dancehall Domine”), glistening placidly (“Another Drug Deal Of The Heart”), throwing memorable obliqueness into the air (“You’re gonna need your body,” chants the gorgeous “Fantasy Fools”), or a slogan worthy of their craft (“They say we can’t make this stuff up/ But what else could we make?” inquires Case on the candy-coated militaristics of “Marching Orders”). Even the stuff that seems a little annoying at first — the “bo-ba-bo-ba-ba-bo” hook of the title tune, Dan Bejar’s goofy-serious delivery on the burbling “War On The East Coast” — accrues heft over time. If only the last few tunes (hi, “Spidyr”!) didn’t trail off slightly.

I enjoyed the more mellow New Pornographers albums that preceded Brill Bruisers, but the return to a high energy approach is welcome here. The opening track is irresistibly upbeat and energetic, and Newman stated that “I am at a place where nothing in my life is dragging me down and the music reflects that.”

Favourite Track – ‘Brill Bruisers’ (Newman) – but let’s watch Bejar’s ‘War on the East Coast’, where Newman lip syncs all the lyrics on Bejar’s behalf.

 Whiteout Conditions (2017)

Except for Together, which is kind of a reheated mush of every New Pornographers album, the group’s other six albums all divide neatly into pairs, thusly: Mass Romantic and Electric Version as uncorked power-pop fizz with barely a moment to catch one’s breath, Twin Cinema and Challengers as two different sides of a more prog- and art-rock-informed version of same, and finally, Brill Bruisers and Whiteout Conditions injecting synthesized rhythm elements into a trickier and more urgent version of the formula. Call these most recent triumphs more horizontal and propulsive forward as opposed to the grand architecture of how the older releases stacked up vertically.

The New Pornographers most recent album is their only record not to feature Destroyer’s Dan Bejar, and it feels incomplete without the three quirky songs he usually contributes. But it’s still a very strong record, updating their sound with more electronics, but not departing from their core strengths of melodic, harmony filled songs.

Favourite track: ‘High Ticket Attractions’ (Newman)

Whiteout Conditions is the most monotonous New Pornographers album by some distance, as Carl Newman explicitly stated it’s chiefly influenced by the train-like motions of Krautrock. It’s also the most explicitly political, because even Canadians can’t keep their jaw from dropping at Trump’s blatant atrociousness. So repetition plus conviction equals, what, punk? Not quite, not on a record whose big showstopper is entitled “This Is The World Of The Theater.” But you can hear it foaming around the edges, in the chunky T. Rex-goes-Magnetic Fields groove of “Darling Shade,” in the robotic, distorted squeal of Neko Case’s glorious opener “Play Money,” or the chugging call-and-response of the anti-Trump single “High Ticket Attractions.” There’s a hard-driving relentlessness to the band’s seventh album, even on a moment of relief like “We’ve Been Here Before,” that hasn’t been heard on a New Pornographers album since their debut 17 years ago. It’s also their least complicated and most explicit record by some distance. So, punk? Maybe.

Electric Version (2003)

For some reason, the New Pornographers never again utilized the grand and vacuum-packed production of their first two albums. Just compare the bleeding-decibel straightness of 2017’s “Play Money” with the beautiful full-room-yet-tight-and-close drum sounds that kick off 2003’s “The Electric Version” and the parent album of the same name. Electric Version is the band’s shiniest record, which doesn’t mean it’s slick. It’s just one of the most wonderfully produced indie-rock albums of all-time, with keyboards sizzling in and around the mix, every lead vocal distinct and upfront, every drum hit bouncing and echoing off what appear to be walls and a floor, while guitars crunch and punch like boxers in a ring.

You can hear every distinct element on Electric Version perfectly balanced with loads of density and space in tandem: the glammy riffage and “woo-hoos” of Bejar’s surprisingly sassy “Chump Change” (though that “lesbian rage” line might scan more groaningly of late), the arcade-game bloops of “From Blown Speakers” that give way to full-chorus chanting, the ear-massaging organ and keyboards all over the place. And Case positively shoots out of the mix on the explosive, strutting “The Laws Have Changed,” which is arguably the most perfect song these unencumbered perfectionists have ever constructed. The others aren’t far behind.

The New Pornographers added more punch to their intricate songcraft on their second album, adding lead guitarist Todd Fancey to beef up their sound. The best known song is ‘The Laws Have Changed’, where Case, as she often does, steals the show, but I’ve always been partial to the tension build and release of ‘From Blown Speakers’.

Mass Romantic (2000)

Bands that write songs this fully realized tend to make their masterpiece down the road after the initial clamour of the debut has died down, and it’s true, “Whiteout Conditions” and even “Brill Bruisers” aren’t far from being “Mass Romantic’s” equals. Electric Version might’ve easily occupied this spot as well, and on the right day it does, though its more than the sum of its parts due to its gorgeous production. “Mass Romantic” has the parts, the whole, and a desperation that storms the castle like few other power-pop records; compare the seasick churn of Weezer’s “My Name Is Jonas,” for instance, to the way the song “Mass Romantic” kicks like a mule from the speakers.

Unsurprisingly, the band’s finest album is the only one to feature songwriting credits from the ever-clever Case, whose sardonic power helps the title track rocket off into Newman’s unfortunately relevant “The Fake Headlines,” and the windmill strumming of “To Wild Homes,” the only New Pornographers song to feature credits from all three of its expert principals: Bejar, Newman, and Case. Every tune on Mass Romantic sizzles and gallops: the bouncing dizziness and endless surprise codas of “The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism,” the spinning-off-a-cliff drumrolls of “The Body Says No,” and Neko Case’s breathless, hiccupping rocker “Letter From An Occupant,” an even rawer example of diamond-hard songwriting in its shining final form than “The Laws Have Changed.” Every chorus on this record is topped by another hook, higher and higher, and when the impossibly stacked plates all come crashing down, that’s just as life-affirming. It’s no wonder that on this evidence no one questioned that supergroup thing. Maybe they are one after all.

I’m aware that this is the most controversial placement on this list, placing the band’s popular debut in the bottom half. Mass Romantic is full of creative songs that are much more sophisticated than the usual I IV V chord progressions of power pop, but it lacks stylistic variation – it’s relentlessly uptempo – and feels a bare without a lead guitarist.

thanks to Stereogum

Neko Case, photo by Emily Shur

Neko Case returns with her new solo album, Hell-On. The Producer / singer / songwriter Neko Case has won a large and loyal audience for her smoky, sophisticated vocals and the downcast beauty of her music. Now more than 23 years into her musical calling, Case is the consummate career artist – fearless and versatile, with a fierce work ethic and a constant drive to search deeper within herself for creative growth. Anti-Records release Neko Case’s Hell On, an indelible collection of colourful, enigmatic storytelling that features some of her most daring, through-composed arrangements to date.

Produced by Neko with help from Bjorn Yttling (Peter Bjorn and John), Hell On is simultaneously the most accessible and most challenging album in a rich and varied career that’s offered plenty of both. Rife with withering self-critique, muted reflection, anthemic affirmation, and her unique poetic sensibility, the 12 tracks of Hell On – which features collaborations such as Joey Burns, Beth Ditto, Kelly Hogan, KD Lang, AC Newman, Paul Rigby, Laura Veirs, and more.  The singer-songwriter also received contributions from the likes of her New Pornographers bandmate AC Newman, Gossip’s Beth Ditto, Doug Gillard, lang, Veirs, and Eric Bachmann (Crooked Fingers/Archers of Loaf). She and Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan duet on “Curse of the I-5 Corridor”.

During recording sessions abroad in Stockholm, her home in the US burned down in a raging fire. The tragic incident is touched on throughout the album, especially on the single “Bad Luck”, but she’s since somewhat come to terms with what happened. Per a statement:

Case is now stoic about the fire. “If somebody burned your house down on purpose, you’d feel so violated. But when nature burns your house down, you can’t take it personally.” The month before the blaze, Hurricane Harvey had slammed into Texas and flooded Houston. Her home burned just as Puerto Rico was plunged into a nightmare by Hurricane Maria and wildfires incinerated California. “In the big picture, my house burning was so unimportant,” she says. “So many people lost so much more: lives and lives and lives.”

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In support of Hell-On, Case will soon kick off a sprawling North American tour, followed by a European stint that lasts well into November.

Hell-On marks Case’s first solo record in five years. The 12-track collection is the follow-up to 2013’s The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You; it also comes after her 2016 collaboration with k.d. lang and Laura Veirs and her 2017 album with The New Pornographers, Whiteout Conditions.


Her most notable collaboration was her time spent as a full-time member of The New Pornographers, a band which she still participates in actively to this day, finding time in between writing, recording, and touring behind her six studio albums and multiple live records.

Neko Case also released the box set Truckdriver, Gladiator, Mule, a collection of six aforementioned records along with an 2001’s EP, Canadian Amp, and her 2004 live album with The Sadies, The Tigers Have Spoken, notable for its inclusion of Case’s takes on songs not featured on any of her other studio albums.

Throughout Case’s solo discography,It’s one that moves slowly away from her more country-inspired beginnings to her more recent albums, which have positioned her as one of the most acclaimed and respected indie rock artists around.

Part of what makes Case such an intriguing artist is her penchant for storytelling. Early in her career, she was frequently compared to legends like Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline, crafting hard-luck tales about people living in America’s heartland, lifting the spirit of country music and delivering it to an audience who often avoided the genre. Case wrote all her songs with a lived-in approach, giving her characters agency and sympathy while mentioning places and cities specific enough to make her tales feel real and relatable. Some were about love and loss, but many were focused on anger, with Case drawing influence from artists like The Louvin Brothers to put together her own versions of murder ballads. Case has also been an outspoken and humorous artist, be it during her banter between songs at concerts or through her clever wit fully on display throughout her work. She habitually subverts gender norms and stereotypes about sexuality, always writing songs and forging her path forward on her own terms.

While Case’s music has shifted gradually and notably over the past 15 years, part of what makes her discography so inviting is how consistent it is in terms of the quality. She challenges conventional thinking in her songs, the artists she draws inspiration from, and the friends she works with.



“South Tacoma Way”: Of all her records, The Virginian isn’t steeped too deeply in any specific locale. Of the original compositions, the title track is the only one that references an actual place, and the song itself focuses more on a girl who fell away from the lord and was “free to do what she wanted” as she didn’t ask god to take her back into his graces when she died. For the covers, Case’s take on the Everly Brothers’ “Bowling Green” would be the first of many times she would use specific places in the west or Midwest to set her stories.

“Margaret Vs. Pauline”: “Karoline” is the only character who gets named on The Virginian, the “wild and unashamed” cowgirl who draws Case’s desire. Beyond that, much of the album is from a first-person perspective, whether it’s trying to scare away the “Honky Tonk Hiccups” or dealing with heartbreak on “Thanks a Lot”.

“I’m a Man”: On “Karoline”, originally written and recorded with her former band Maow, Case takes a traditional country melody about pursuing a partner for the night, but switches things up. The narrator wants to be the titular Karoline’s “slave” for the night, and while it initially seems an instance of Case taking on the male role in the story, the line “Cowgirl I’ve got that loving that puts all those men to shame” makes the song seem like an excellent gay country jam.

“Deep Red Bells”: The Virginian isn’t notably violent compared to Case’s other records but does feature its fair share of tragedy. “Lonely Old Lies” finds Case trying to drown her sorrows with “Moon River”, and “Jettison” finds her pleading with the “Sandman” to take her “much further than sleep.” The most combative character here is the character in “The Virginian”, who continues to defy God after death.

“Whip the Blankets”: Case’s first album features some of the more eclectic cover choices of her career, showing how she can fit songs by seemingly disparate artists into her own style. The record sees Case taking on traditional country tunes like Loretta Lynn’s  “Somebody Led Me Away” as well as ’60s pop through her takes on The Everly Brothers’ “Bowling Green” and Scott Walker’s “Duchess”, finishing up with her version of Queen’s “Misfire”. None sound out of place on the record, and while her take on the Walker track may be a highlight, each shows Case apt at reinterpreting songs from different genres.

Her Boyfriends: The Virginian was effectively Case’s first solo album and the first of two to be labeled under the band name Neko Case & Her Boyfriends. It marked the first of many collaborations with Carolyn Mark, who Case would play with as The Corn Sisters, and Carl Newman, who she would play with in The New Pornographers. Most notably, “Jettison” features a duet with singer Rose Melberg, the Olympia indie-pop artist who played in Tiger Trap, Go Sailor, and The Softies.



“South Tacoma Way”: Of all her albums, Furnace Room Lullaby seems to be the most focused on Case’s youth growing up in Tacoma. “South Tacoma Way” finds Case returning to Tacoma and remembering the death of a loved one whose funeral she didn’t make it to, as she “Couldn’t pay my respects to a dead man.” Here, Tacoma is a dark place full of memories where “the cross streets bare your name.” On “Thrice All American,” she remembers how removed her town was from the world, a town where “factories churn,” “buildings are empty like ghettos or ghost towns,” and where “you know that you’re poor.” The places in Furnace Room Lullaby are specific since they come from Case’s memory, and while she points out the faults, she still sings fondly of her hometown throughout.

“Margaret Vs. Pauline”: On “South Tacoma Way”, Case sings about returning to her hometown, wishing she could hold hands with J.P. and Mary-Jo. No one else in the album gets named, but there are plenty of characters throughout these songs. There’s the couple in “Whip the Blankets” that is “bound for damnation,” the scorned ex-lover in “Bought & Sold”, and the haunted killer of the title track. The album is full of rich characters, even if they aren’t as detailed as many in later albums.

“I’m a Man”: While there aren’t many songs that directly take on gender, there are plenty that showcase Case’s disdain for societal expectations. On “Whip the Blankets”, Case remarks how the narrator’s “instinct is dirty and morality’s clean.” On “Mood to Burn Bridges”, she takes on people in her town who won’t mind their business and tell other people how to live their life. She calls out hypocrites who rush to criticize her indiscretions and spend all their time waiting for people to slip up so they can judge them. Case says that her “mood to burn bridges parallels (her) mood to dig ditches,” implying she’s ready to take on her enemies.

“Deep Red Bells”: The title track of the album, Furnace Room Lullaby, was inspired by Case’s desire to write a murder ballad in the spirit of The Louvin Brothers. The song indicates that the lover she burned in the furnace still haunts the house, that “all night, all I hear, all I hear’s your heart.” As she becomes “wrapped up in the depths of these deeds that have made” her, she remains trapped with this ghost. On the other side of the coin, a song like “Twist the Knife” finds Case’s narrator bleeding herself, pleading with a lover to stay, saying that she would “pay with the rest of my life” and “tear out my heart” as the other person walks away.

“Whip the Blankets”: Furnace Room Lullaby is one of the few albums in Case’s discography to not include covers, as Case has a writing credit on each song. While all the songs were original compositions for the record, a couple familiar names did stand out in collaborators.

Her Boyfriends: Furnace Room Lullaby features a wide variety of artists, including frequent guests Kelly Hogan, Brian Connolly, Carl Newman, and Dallas Good. Canadian pop artist Ron Sexmith helped co-write “We’ve Never Met”, and “Twist the Knife” features a writing credit from none other than Ryan Adams.



“South Tacoma Way” (locations mentioned): True to its name, Canadian Amp is an EP centered entirely around place. Granted, Case isn’t technically a native of the Great White North, but it’s where her career started in proper, and she pays tribute to her musical heritage here by covering four musicians from above the US border. The States themselves get name-dropped in “In California”, and Hank Williams’ “Alone and Forsaken” pops up to show Arkansas (and the American South in general) some love.

“Margaret Vs. Pauline” (characters)Though most of the songs aren’t hers, it’s telling that Case gravitated towards tracks rooted in intensely drawn characters, from the fleeing lover in Mike O’Neill’s “Andy” to the doomed fling in “Poor Ellen Smith”. But the most vivid sketch comes from Neil Young, whose “Dreaming Man”‘s spurned, possibly violent lover (he carries a loaded gun in his Aerostar) undercuts the sweetness of the music.

“I’m a Man” (subversion of gender norms and stereotypes)Lots of gender flipping here, especially in the covers of Williams and Young. Case, badass that she is, never switches the pronouns either. This isn’t to specifically place the song from a woman’s perspective, but to show that perspective doesn’t matter. The songs could be a woman singing from a man’s point of view, a woman who’s in love with a woman, or the viewpoint from another character altogether.

“Deep Red Bells” (violence and murder ballads)There’s a threat of violence in “Dreaming Man” that may not come to fruition, and the two Case originals run thick with a redness that may be real or imagined. Closer “Favorite” finds her dreaming about a dead deer spilling blood onto her dress, and the creepier “Make Your Bed” is told by a drifter who promises to “tuck in” a young girl by throwing her in the river and letting the catfish feast on her skin. Canadian Amp’s centerpiece of death, however, comes in Case’s rendition of the traditional murder ballad “Poor Ellen Smith”, which tells the story of a man who kills his mentally challenged lover (one-night stand, really) after she won’t stop following him around.

“Whip the Blankets” (cover songs)Haven’t you been reading? This whole EP (almost) is made up of covers!

Her Boyfriends (personnel): The Sadies once again guest-star on “Make Your Bed”, and elsewhere, we get more brassy harmonies from Kelly Hogan, Brett Sparks of The Handsome Family, Chris Von Sneidern, and even some mournful violin by future chamber-pop wunderkind Andrew Bird.



“South Tacoma Way”: Blacklisted finds Case preoccupied with signifiers of American life. On opener “Things That Scare Me”, she remarks about being “haunted by American dreams.” On “Lady Pilot”, the titular character flies above the country, noting how Boulder City “looks like coals in the fire” and that the stars in the sky are losing out to city lights. Case’s ideal of America was never perfect or pretty, going all the way back to the encroaching Wal-Marts on “Furnace Room Lullaby”, and while Case never comes across as a “Back in My Day” kind of person, nostalgia and longing for something that is no longer the same is an inherent part of folk and country that Case does so well.

“Margaret Vs. Pauline”: There aren’t many named characters here, but still plenty of stories, from the pilot watching cities burn to the woman murdered on the interstate. The characters in Blacklisted are often longing to be somewhere else or to have things change, especially on the album’s centerpiece and one of Case’s most popular songs to date “I Wish I Was the Moon”. In the song, the narrator repeats how lonely and tired she is, exclaiming that she wishes she was something else for the night besides what she is, something calming and watchful like the moon. It’s a stark yet beautiful sentiment about wanting to escape your problems and fears and find some kind of peace away from it all.

“I’m a Man”: On “I Wish I Was the Moon”, Case exclaims, “God blessed me, I’m a free man with no place free to go” in a memorable passage. Beyond that, songs about gender pervade the record, from “Lady Pilot” to the women murdered by the Green River Killer. One especially poignant song is “Pretty Girls”, inspired by an experience Case once had at a Planned Parenthood in New York. In a 2010 interview with the New York Times, she recounted the event, saying, “I saw these girls waiting there, and it was just awful. It was cold, they were in gowns that didn’t really close, and their boyfriends and parents weren’t with them, and they were sitting under these bright lights, and the people were mean.” This inspired the lyrics “Your hearts are so tried and so innocent, wind your firmly blue gowns tight around you, around curves so comely and sinister, they blame it on you pretty girls.” Case always has a penchant for crafting sympathetic laments around real-life experiences, and this song serves as her message to the girls she saw in that waiting room one day frightened by protestors. Written almost 15 years ago, the song feels as relevant as ever today.

“Deep Red Bells”: Blacklisted contains one of the most harrowing murder ballads of Case’s career, the tragic “Deep Red Bells”, written from the point of view of one of the victims of the Green River Killer. Gary Ridgway was a serial killer who was convicted of killing 49 women in the Washington State area during the 1980s & 1990s, named after five of his victims were found in Green River. He was arrested in late 2001, right after Case had recorded the song, as she indicated in a 2006 interview with the A.V. Club. “I grew up while he was killing women, and on the news, they never talked about them like they were women,” Case said. “They just called them “prostitutes.” Myself and other little girls in my neighborhood didn’t make that distinction; we thought the Green River Killer was going to kill us.” Case taps into that fear here with the memorable song.

“Whip the Blankets”: After the covers-heavy focus of Canadian Amp, Case went back to just selecting two for this album. The first, “Look for Me, I’ll Be Around”, a classic jazz ballad from the ’50s with popular recordings by singers Sarah Vaughan and Ketty Lester, is kept faithful with Case’s smoky, slow rendition. On the second, Case delivers a thunderous take on Aretha Franklin’s “Running Out of Fools”. Unlike the folk or country covers on earlier records, Case took on soul and jazz here, signaling the transition taking place in her own music at the time.

Her Boyfriends: Blacklisted found Case settling into a groove with her band. Kelly Hogan, Brian Connelly, Dallas Good, and Tom Ray all returned from previous recordings. Canadian singer Mary Margaret O’Hara provided background vocals, and the album also marked the first of many collaborations with Joey Burns and John Convertino of Calexico.



“South Tacoma Way”: On her version of The Shangri-Las’ “The Train from Kansas City”, Case’s narrator tries to lightly let down her lover by telling him she got a letter from an ex in Kansas City and has to take the train there to tell the ex-boyfriend it’s over in person. The wit of the song is emblematic of the clever approach Case often took on her own compositions.

“Margaret Vs. Pauline”: In the songs Case chose to cover for this record, she tells the story of a woman asking her dressmaker to make the sweetest dress imaginable, so she can win back the man who left her (“Soulful Shade of Blue”); the woman who leaves her current lover for her ex back in Kansas City (“The Train from Kansas City”); and Loretta, who hugs sweet and low (“Loretta”). The characters in her original songs on the album include the narrator who pleads with her lover to stay rather than leave for the woman who “spends her daddy’s money and drives her daddy’s car” on “If You Knew”, the lonely tiger trapped in his cage on the title track, and the coyotes that yell to the moon on “Hex”.

“I’m a Man”: As the album is mostly covers-based, Case’s most pointed song here is her cover of Loretta Lynn’s “Rated X”, a fun, up-tempo track that takes the piss out of people who go around slut-shaming. The song focuses on the stigma about divorce, with the narrator telling a woman that “the women all look at you like you’re bad, and the men all hope you are.” Originally written in 1973, the song has become a country staple about divorce and the antiquated notions that surround it. The song has remained continuously relevant, to the point where Miranda Lambert made a statement at the ACMs this past September covering the song as a tribute to Lynn, noting that the song spoke to her experience as a divorced woman in country music.

“Deep Red Bells”: There’s no murder here, but on “Hex”, the “lover’s spell” Case puts on her mark seems particularly harrowing, as she tells him that the night his dying and that his punishment for casting her aside is that her heart beating will be the only sound he will hear ever again.

“Whip the Blankets”: The only live album featured in Case’s upcoming box set reissue, The Tigers Have Spokenfeatures more covers than most of her other releases. The album includes a cover of “Hex”, written by Freakwater singer Catherine Irwin, “Soulful Shade of Blue” by Buffy St. Marie, “The Train from Kansas City” by The Shangri-Las”, “Loretta” by The Nervous Eaters, and “Rated X” by Loretta Lynn. Case even concludes the record with her take on traditional folk songs “This Little Light” and “Wayfaring Stranger”. Tigersfinds Case indulging more in the alt-country material of her earlier days while also hinting at the more straightforward rock approach she would move toward with her subsequent records.

Her Boyfriends: Tigersfeatures a murderer’s row of people Case has worked with before. Carolyn Mark of The Corn Sisters and Kelly Hogan and Brian Connelly of her normal backing band all make appearances. The Sadies, who helped Case write a few of the original pieces on the album, also serve as the backing band for the live performances that make up the record. Of all her records, Tigers does the best job of capturing both the influences that drove Case’s sound as well as the contemporaries she worked with to help form it.



“South Tacoma Way”: St. Angel Church and Spanaway, Washington (in “A Widow’s Toast” and “John Saw That Number”), are the only properly named locations, but all of Fox Confessor Brings the Flood seems to take place in a distinct world where nature is equally as dangerous as killers, drug dealers, and false prophets. There’s some beauty, sure, but it often gets blackened out by the darker elements in the songwriting. There’s a reason Case dubbed this record as “country-noir” upon its release.

“Margaret Vs. Pauline”: Those two very characters make up the opening track, with each one coming from a different socioeconomic background. By the end, we’re painfully reminded how some folks are born with the cards stacked against them, while others aren’t. Later on, John the Baptist becomes a controversial figure in Case’s reworking of the traditional “John Saw That Number”, where even God himself doubts the preacher’s miracles.

“I’m a Man”: There are some pointedly specific comments on gender throughout Fox Confessor, most notably in “Margaret Vs. Pauline”, which posits that, from a class standpoint, young girls are more predisposed to be pitted against each other than boys. There’s a higher currency on what they wear, how they dress, who they hang out with, etc. But there are also some more umbrella statements to be gleaned from all of the violence and mysticism, mainly the blunt idea that all of us — men, women, children, and animals — are all stuck in a world that don’t owe you shit.

“Deep Red Bells”: Where to begin? Fox Confessoris easily Case’s most violent album. Right after the socioeconomic divide of “Margaret Vs. Pauline”, we’re transported to Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood (where Case lived for a time) to wince at the young woman who sees her lover ruthlessly mowed down. Despite some romantic respites throughout (“That Teenage Feeling” is unabashedly nostalgic and sweet), we get God putting out a hit on John the Baptist in “John Saw That Number” and what may be Case’s most gruesome murder ballad of all, “Dirty Knife”. After getting mortally stabbed in his cabin, a woodsman has to contend with the menagerie of vicious wildlife outside. He sings nursery rhymes to try and soothe the beasts, but it’s useless — a pack of wolves is soon upon him, tearing through his three winter coats to get to the soft, very human skin underneath.

“Whip the Blankets”: Given that the album shirks Case’s more traditional early country influences for something more sweeping, ominous, and in touch with the dangers of both the urban and the natural worlds, it’s no surprise that the only cover to be found on Fox Confessor Brings the Flood is “John Saw That Number”. And even then, it feels disingenuous to call it a cover, considering how much Case reworked it.

Her Boyfriends: The usual suspects (Kelly Hogan, various members of Calexico and The Sadies) are joined by rugged songwriters such as Howe Gelb, rockabilly musicians like Dexter Romweber, and Garth Hudson of The Band, who shows up to further rep Canada and brighten some of the shadows with his honeyed organ and piano playing.



“South Tacoma Way”/”Margaret Vs. Pauline”: Aside from Mother Earth, no characters — or specific places for that matter — get mentioned by name. That’s because on Middle Cyclone, Case abandons the country-noir of Fox Confessor Brings the Floodfor something warmer and more optimistic. In her own words, it’s an album that yearns for human connection and her realizing that she needs love, just like anyone else. The songs are still stories, but they’re more internal stories about exploring emotion rather than building a linear narrative.

“I’m a Man”: Using a string of ferocious animal metaphors (an angry elephant, a bear in a cave, a killer whale eating his trainer), Case proudly proclaims herself as a man-eater on “People Got a Whole Lotta Nerve”. This predatory kind of approach to romance is usually reserved for AC/DC and KISS songs, so why shouldn’t she get to play along, too? The video takes the beastly content even further, depicting a young, cardboard cutout version of Case wandering around a mansion full of dangerous wildlife. There’s not a man in sight, however — the only people able to tame these creatures are little girls.

“Deep Red Bells”: The violence is expectedly toned down here in favor of pastoral ambience that comes from the barn where Middle Cyclone was recorded (and stocked with a stage and six pianos). Several songs contain real-life animal noises in the background (owl hoots, cricket chirps, etc.), and the final track, “Marais la Nuit”, consists entirely of a field recordings Case conducted at a nearby pond.

“Whip the Blankets”: After the almost cover-less Fox Confessor, she returns with two knockouts here: a more epic, orchestral version of Harry Nilsson’s “Don’t Forget Me” and a more lulling take on Sparks’ “Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth”, both of which tie into the record’s comforting connection to nature (a far cry from Fox Confessor’s more anxious one).

Her Boyfriends: It’s mostly the same personnel from last time (even Hudson returns), with some additional guitar work from M. Ward.


9333 Dissected: Neko Cases Albums from Worst to Best

“South Tacoma Way”/”Margaret Vs. Pauline”: Same deal as Middle Cyclone. The Worse Things Get eschews specific locations and characters to make room for an exorcism of sorts. After Middle Cyclone, Case plummeted into a deep depression after losing her grandmother, and this is the sound of her getting out of it. “Night Still Comes” appears to document this through geometrical and astrological terminology, and much later on, “Ragtime” sees her coming to peace with death by imagining her departed relatives all in a marbled room together, laughing and encouraging her to enjoy life.

We do get one heart-wrenching character sketch, however. “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu” tells a completely true story of Case witnessing a mother being verbally abusive to her child while waiting for an airplane shuttle. The singer empathizes with the kid, telling him to never lose faith, even as his loved ones let him down. “I still love you, even if I don’t see you again”, she reminds him. That story’s a far cry from her murder ballads of old, but also much more relatable to the average listener.

“I’m a Man”: “Man”, the song that gave this category its name doesn’t view maleness as specific to one gender, but as an emblem of toughness. As a result, Case never has to justify the gender swap or explain that she’s not speaking in literal terms. Anyone who’s had to fight is a man, especially her. Devouring bullies, getting dip-shit drunk, and burrowing a home in the fucking moon are just a few of her accomplishments.

“Deep Red Bells”: There isn’t a lot of physical violence here, and not a single murder as far as I can tell, but the emotional turmoil that Case — and many others on the record, especially the kid in Hawaii — had to endure can be just as damaging.

“Whip the Blankets”: “Afraid”, in which Neko Case gets playful and finally covers Nico. Both versions rely mostly on piano, although Case’s sounds as if it were plucked right from a starry sky, probably because she — in a direct bird-flip to her younger self — ditched the original’s country touches of harmonica and fiddle.

Her Boyfriends: More sonic majesty from the likes of Kelly Hogan, Paul Rigby, and company, with some all-star appearances from M. Ward (again), Jim James, Tom Waits’ axe-man Marc Ribot, and fellow Pornographers (at the time, at least) Kurt Dahle and AC Newman.

Other Neko Case recordngs include:

The Corn Sisters

  • The Other Women (CA: Mint Records, 2000)

The New Pornographers

  • Mass Romantic (CA: Mint Records; US & EU: Matador Records, 2000)
  • Electric Version (CA: Mint Records; US & EU: Matador Records, 2003)
  • Twin Cinema (CA: Mint Records; US & EU: Matador Records, 2005)
  • Challengers (CA: Last Gang Records; US & EU: Matador Records, 2007)
  • Together (US: Matador Records, 2010)
  • Brill Bruisers (CA: Last Gang Records; US: Matador Records, 2014)
  • Whiteout Conditions (Concord Music Group, 2017)

The Sadies

  • Make Your Bed/Gunspeak/Little Sadie (7″) (US: Bloodshot Records, 1998)
  • Car Songs My ’63 / Highway 145 (by Whiskeytown) (Split 7″) (US: Bloodshot Records BS 037, 1998)

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Neko Case  is releasing her first solo album since her 2013 record The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You. Her new album is titled, “Hell-On”, due out on June 1st, it is a 12-song, self-produced LP. Case has given listeners a taste of the new record with tracks “Bad Luck” and “Hell-On,” and now with “Curse Of The I-5 Corridor,” Case has left a final bread crumb before the release of the full-length.

The seven-minute song winds like the long interstate it references: I-5 runs along the West Coast of the U.S., from the Mexican to Canadian border. A duet with Mark Lanegan, who is known for his solo work in addition to collaborations and his work with Queens of the Stone Age, “Curse Of The I-5 Corridor” is a haunting combination of lyrics and sound. The song reflects on the past, and uncovers an unsureness of the future and what it could have brought. Lines like “in the current of your life I was an eyelash in the shipping lanes” and “I fear I smell extinction in the folds of this novocaine age coming on” reveal these aspects. Lanegan’s voice at times becomes an eerie echo to Case’s, lurking in the background, and adds to the tension the song’s instrumental breaks carry.

“Curse of the I-5 Corridor” by Neko Case from the album ‘Hell-On’ available June 1st Anti Records.

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Neko Case’s first solo album in 5 years, “Hell-On”. Is the hyphen some kind of slang for our current hell on Earth? Per that wild album artwork, are haberdasheries going to update their stock with hats made out of lit cigarettes? Can human hair really emit such a dark and ominous plume?

Here’s what we do know. Out June 1st, “Hell-On” will feature contributions from Beth Ditto, Mark Lanegan, k.d. lang, A.C. Newman, Eric Bachmann, Kelly Hogan, Nada Surf’s Doug Gillard, Laura Veirs, Calexico’s Joey Burns, and others. While she’s often shared producer credits in the past, this is the first time Case has completely self-produced her own album, saying in a press release: “Producing a record is a huge task and there were times I was deep in the weeds, but that is normal for a record that takes a year plus. The weeds aren’t so bad.”

The opening title track is typically Case, which is to say, unpinnably suited to any sound but her own, as her voice coils around such choice lyrics as: “God is a lusty tire fire.”

In that same press release, Neko Case reflects on the kinds of songs she writes and — with every right to brag, but still self-effacing — why she’s the only one who can write them that way:
I write songs from a feeling of solidarity with folks who feel alone or isolated, I think I’m trying to comfort people in this way. It’s not a forceful way rather “No commitment necessary;” take it if you want it, take it as you can.


My style is odd, I don’t know what genre this is. I don’t have a pretty voice or a trained voice, and I am constantly disappointed that I don’t have a “tough” voice, no matter how hard I practice, but it’s mine, and for all its loud, heavy-handed, nasal, vibrato-less qualities I accept it. The closest sound I have found to compare it to is Bulgarian Folk singing. My Eastern ancestors could have been proud of me a century ago? I could have been a droning “caller of wasps” perhaps? I just invented that job, I like the sound of it.  We do, too.

Neko Case’s ‘Hell-On’ comes out June 1st.
Neko Case goes on tour with Ray LaMontagne this summer. Hell-On comes out June 1st via ANTI-Records.

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In the 14 years since The Tigers Have Spoken, Neko Case has long since transcended her alt-country beginnings to become something more complex and harder to define. The Tigers Have Spoken captures her on the precipice of a shift that would begin on 2006’s Fox Confessor Brings The Flood. Here, Neko Case stays close to her twangy roots, leaning heavily on covers (from Loretta Lynn, Buffy Ste. Marie, traditionals, and others) and performing only four originals. One of those, “Favorite,” remains one of her best songs ever, and it was unavailable elsewhere until 2015, when a studio version finally appeared on the box set Truckdriver Gladiator Mule. Although The Tigers Have Spoken may disappoint fans looking for a more representative set, the album nicely captures Case’s voice and artistic restlessness.

The New Pornographers Whiteout Conditions

The New Pornographers have always insisted that they aren’t a supergroup, but no one has ever believed them. Between A.C. Newman, Neko Case, Dan Bejar, and a stellar set of supporting players, the band includes some of the finest musical talent Canada has to offer. Their collective résumé is damn impressive, but their chemistry is even more so. Since their debut Mass Romantic, the New Pornographers have always sounded like natural collaborators, seamlessly integrating Newman’s natural ear for melody, Bejar’s quirks, and Case’s pathos and enchanting voice (and vocalist Kathryn Calder’s, for that matter). You can say they’re not a supergroup,

Whiteout Conditions, the New Pornographers’ seventh album, is the most compelling twist on the supergroup narrative in the band’s discography. Two of their main members aren’t on it. Dan Bejar was too busy working on Destroyer’s follow-up to Poison Season to participate, and Kurt Dahle, whose phenomenal drumming was essential to much of the band’s early work, has left for good. You can feel their absence, but it doesn’t slow this record down. Despite losing a part of their signature sound, the New Pornographers have made their best record since 2005’s Twin Cinema.

In Bejar’s absence, Newman takes on full songwriting duties and shines. He’s always been the principal songwriter in the New Pornographers, but on Whitehouse Conditions he outdoes himself with eleven tracks that put the power in power pop. The four opening tracks—“Play Money”, “Whiteout Conditions”, “High Ticket Attractions”, and “This is the World of the Theater”—stand among the band’s best ever songs.

Each one balances the talents of the band in intricate, infectious melodies. Voices are edited into fragments and rebuilt into complex and original frameworks. The synthesizer holds over from 2014’s Brill Bruisers, but it doesn’t dominate the record in the same way. The tempos are faster than they are on most New Pornographers records, especially the mellower Challengers and Together, but Whiteout Conditions manages its momentum so that its energy is never exhausting. Closing on album standout “Avalanche Alley”, you’re left with your blood pumping, ready to play it through again.

The New Pornographers have a knack for generating positivity from darker moods. In that regard, Whiteout Conditions is a welcome spring escape. The title track’s enchanting melody distracts from its somber lyrics about struggling to get through the day, but Newman’s refrain of “Such a waste of beautiful day” feels like an admonition to get outside and embrace whatever beauty you can find.

Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about Whiteout Conditions, however, is how well it meshes with the rest of the New Pornographers’ discography. Brill Bruisers was a solid record, but there was the sense of a band getting its bearings with updated tools. Here, the music feels more organic and in line with the songcraft that has formed the band’s backbone to date. True, Bejar, who traditionally wrote about a third of each record, is missed. The album sags slightly in the middle, and one wonders if his touch might have added an interesting surprise here and there. But the heart of the New Pornographers, an undeniable chemistry and pop sensibility, remains and thrives. They’re not just a supergroup, a collection of talented musicians. They’re a great band,


“Where have all sensations gone?” Neko Case asked on this Vancouver band’s debut. A lot of indie-rockers were wondering the same thing during the music’s late-Nineties nadir. The New Porno’s gave the scene a jolt of energy and sorely missed fun. Burt Bacharach fan Carl Newman, Bowie obsessive Dan Bejar and alt-country barnburner Case didn’t have much in common on paper but on songs like “Letter From An Occupant” and the title track they came up with music that surged with electric smarts, roundhouse drum-pump and hooks atop hooks. It’s power pop that never lets up for a minute.

Initially billed as the biggest Vancouver supergroup that no one had heard of, the New Pornographers were burst to life fully formed on Mass Romantic. There’s three different vocalists competing for your attention here – Neko Case, A.C Newman and Dan Bejar all the while the band opts to throw everything into the same blender. What the New Pornographers excel at is making everything sound like a massive sugar rush with their voracious love of synths and guitars and catchy melodies. With Mass Romantic, the band proves themselves studious in their noted appreciation of the pop form and its classics but too hypercharged and frenetic to come across as retro. The highlights are many: The vocal harmonies on “Letter From An Occupant”! The way those brash synths build up and let loose on “Mystery Hours”! How it takes less than thirty seconds for the band to get to the chorus for “The Mary Martin Show”! The New Pornographers would scale greater heights in later albums and make big names out of everyone involved but Mass Romantic was where they thrillingly laid down the blueprint.


The New Pornographers fans have to hold out until April to hear their next LP, but the band’s making the wait a little easier with the release of the set’s second single, “This Is the World of the Theatre.”

The new track, now on streaming services and embedded below, arrives a month after the release of previous single “High Ticket Attractions” — which was released along with a announcement that they’d be putting out their new album “Whiteout Conditions” on April

The upcoming LP, the group’s seventh overall and first since 2014’s Brill Bruisers, opens some new chapters for the New Pornographers: it’ll be the first album for new drummer Joe Seiders, a touring sideman with several years of tenure, and it also marks their first record without guitarist Dan Bejar. As is generally the case with pre-release tracks these days, “This Is the World of the Theatre” — which features lead vocals from singer Neko Case .

The New Pornographers, who are scheduled to start a U.S Tour shortly after Whiteout Conditions arrives, are taking full advantage of streaming services with the album’s promotional campaign. Frontman A.C. Newman recently put together a Spotify playlist, “Things I Like” offering fans a window into songs he currently has in his personal heavy rotation. There will be a white vinyl edition of the new album.

Listen to the New Pornographers Perform ‘This Is the World of the Theatre’