Anti Records, 2009
By Andrea Bichan
Last year, Ithaca’s indie elite flooded the State Theatre to see Neko Case perform. During the concert, she played three songs off of her then-upcoming album, Middle Cyclone: “I’m An Animal,” “Prison Girls” and “Pharoahs.” Since then, all in attendance have been anxiously awaiting the record’s arrival.
Finding the right words for Middle Cyclone–Case’s first studio album in three years—is incredibly difficult. On first listen, I was wholly unimpressed. However, the second time around, its charm became apparent. It’s a good record, if you’re willing to give it the opportunity to prove itself.
The album opens with a solid track–“This Tornado Loves You”–an upbeat toe-tapper that shows off the clarity of her voice. Also in the beginning is her first single, “People Got A Lotta Nerve.” Unfortunately this is one of the less enjoyable moments, little more than a repetitive chorus that drones, “I’m a man, man, man, man, man, man-eater.”
It really begins to soar with “Polar Nettles,” vaguely unsettling in its quiet, haunting nature. The title track is equally quiet–a sad, lonely love song.
Middle Cyclone includes two covers: “Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth” by Sparks and “Don’t Forget About Me” by Harry Nilsson. They aren’t particularly bad covers, but they disrupt the flow of the album and aren’t the best choices to cover in the first place–especially “Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth,” which was seemingly picked solely to coincide with the record’s nature theme.
After this comes the final track, “Marais la Nuit”—32 minutes of frogs and crickets personally recorded by Case at the pond on her Vermont farm. With all the nature overtones, it makes sense for it to eventually conclude in actual animal noises–notably frogs and crickets—but it’s doubtful that anyone would want to listen to it nonstop for over half an hour.
Neko Case’s amazing voice is what holds this album together. Its tone and versatility is mesmerizing, so when she becomes a tornado, or an animal, or a man-eater, you can believe her.