Thursday, March 5, 2009

Obessisons, Part 1: Neko Case

I'm trying really hard to blog more frequently, even though only about two people ever read this. I figured a good way to motivate myself would be writing a series of posts about people or things I simply can't get enough of, hence the "Obsessions, Part 1" in this here post's title. Credit to Jeremiah for the general concept, clearly, as he's very fond of list making on his blog. My first subject in the series, Neko Case, is an obvious choice as I have listened to her new album, Middle Cyclone, about 85 times since it was released.1On Tuesday. And I'm nowhere near tired of it yet. And that's just this album.

I have four others as well (Blacklisted, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, Furnace Room Lullaby, and The Tigers Have Spoken), and, according to my profile, I've listened to the 67 tracks contained on these albums 597 times, out 0f the 12,396 "plays" it has recorded, in total, since I joined. That means, according to, that about 5 out of every hundred times I'm listening to a song, it's by Neko Case.2 Considering the fact that my library has 630 artists in total, that's a pretty solid testament to how much I like her.

Suffice to say, I love the crap out of her. And here's why:

1. Her voice. Her other-worldly, elemental, lure-your-boat-to-the-deathly-rocks incredible voice. It's not a simple voice, or a clean voice, it's pure, but not like an angel's. It's strong, even harsh at times, but you can feel its beauty right down in your bones. When, at the beginning of Middle Cyclone, she sings a song from the perspective of a tornado in love with a man, you just listen and think to yourself "Yup. That's what a tornado would sound like if it could sing." I can't think of anyone else with a voice so magnetic.3

2. Her songwriting is out of this world. As far as music goes, I'm usually a lyrics girl first and foremost. A song can be a really bare-bones, 3-chord progression number, but if it's got lyrics that are smart I could care less about the rest. But with Neko, it's not simply a case of lyrics, because if I write down the words alone they just don't have the same meaning. Like here are the lyrics from my favorite bit of the title track on Middle Cyclone, which is (basically) about being in love with someone but trying to fight it:
"It was so clear to me/That it was almost invisible./I lie across the path waiting/Just for a chance to be/a spiderweb trapped in your lashes/for that I would trade you my empire/for ashes--/But I choke it back/How much I need love."
The words alone are strange, and smart, and beautiful, no question. But it's the writing of the song itself, and how Neko delivers it, that really sells the meaning. The lines in the song are generally very short, and sung rythmically to a brisk, waltzing beat-- until it gets to the part about a spiderweb. Then the reigning waltz tempo gets abandoned, and things slow down-- like Neko is so absorbed in relishing the intimacy of that spiderweb, that she forgets herself. And then, just when that languid phrase reaches the peak of its longing, she cuts herself off abruptly, returns to the 3/4 structure, and "chokes back" how much she needs love. The very fabric of the song mimics the way the thoughts would happen in your head-- that dreamy interlude where you let yourself feel, really feel, how much you care about this other person, and then that quick interjection of sense that says-- no, don't do this to yourself. Choke it back. It's incredible, and you can find moments like that everywhere in her songs.

3. Her subject matter. I'm a pretty self-centered person, when it comes to art consumption, so it's hard for me to really be obsessed with something if I don't personally identify with it. So Neko could write the best songs with the most perfect lyrics in the world, but if I didn't hear them and think "Hey, that's exactly what I've thought and felt but never figured out how to say!" then she wouldn't be my second most-listened to artist. Neko writes about heartbreak, but roundaboutly and wryly, so I can listen to her when I'm heartbroken without feeling like I'm just moping. She's sings a lot about women who are tough and smart and don't apologize for who they are, and even though I'm not always like that, she makes me feel like I am. Like I won't take any shit. And that can be great to feel.

4. Do you know those songs that are so perfect, that you love so much, that before the song can even end, you've already whipped your iPod out and skipped back to the beginning? I think Neko has more songs like that than anyone else. There are at least three of them on each album. And that's pretty impressive.

5. And did I say that she's awesome, and her music sounds great? Because it does. And that's obviously the biggest reason why you guys should check her out. In fact, you can listen to the entirety of Middle Cyclone for free, including the title track discussed above, at NPR's First Listens series. So give yourself 40 minutes and check it out. I don't know if she's everyone's cup of tea, but she's sure as hell mine.4

1 This is probably a slight exageration, but since I haven't unplugged from my iPod long enough to sync it since uploading the music, I don't have up-to-date playcount information to give you.
2 And that's just her solo albums, by the way. If you add in the amount of time I spend listening to The New Pornographers, it jumps to 6 songs out of 100.
3 I'm not the only one who thinks of her as a siren, either. She was cast to do vocals as one in an episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force, too.
4 Yeah, that's right bitches! I figured out how to put footnotes in my blogs. SUCK ON THAT!

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