Middle Cyclone CD - Anti-

Wielding a voice that is still as striking and powerful an instrument as may be heard in pop music today, Neko Case lets go her sixth album following a three year break during which she has continued to work with The New Pornographers (who feature among a slew of guests here). Middle Cyclone offers a dozen new songs that, in the better part, shrug off the shroud of melancholy Case has worn to such great effect on previous efforts. Fans shouldn't worry, however. With that instantly recognizable voice, Middle Cyclone could be the work of no one else. Case's music itself steps just a bit away from roots on this effort in search of a brighter pop horizon. In addition to the originals, the record offers two covers, including the Mael brothers' "Never Turn Your Back on Mother Nature," which features a backing choir worthy of girl group glory days. Mother Nature runs through this disc as a unifying element, its subject matter blowing from the tempestuous to the serene. "This Tornado Loves You" opens things, and it's a tale of frustrated longing, not by a victim of love but by a woman of strength whose emotions and intent are as suddenly overpowering as a spring storm. Over a driving beat, guitars insistently jangle and pizzicato strings offer silk-like emphasis. "My love I am the speed of sound... I've waited with a glacier's patience," Case menaces as she contemplates an elusive object of desire, her conquest of which will suffer no denial. Asserting her love and intent, Case at last demands, "What will make you believe me?" The title tune is an acoustic charmer, complete with music box flourishes. Case muses, "Can't give up actin' tough / It's all that I'm made of," while a sweet multi-tracked chorus calls the song to a close. Just in case you may have overlooked her mission statement, Middle Cyclone concludes with a half-hour field recording - culled, doubtlessly, at her new Vermont farm - alive with lazy evening crickets and frogs. It's a (long) moment of what should only be called true dark ambient. This album may not reach the heights of The Tigers Have Spoken or Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, but it will surely sit well with longtime fans, and make new fans of the uninitiated.

By Michael Meade



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