Middle Cyclone: What Happened Here?

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Neko Case performs on June 2 at Tacoma's Pantages Theater, and June 4 at Seattle's Paramount. There are still tickets available for her Tacoma gig.
If you have been reading this blog regularly, or know me personally, you already know that Neko Case is one of my favorite musicians of all time. I have her entire catalog (except Middle Cyclone, it's too new) memorized. And if you don't believe me, I challenge you to name any one of her songs and ask me to sing it for you, because I can and will. Go ahead, I dare you. I'll probably be at the Tractor Tavern on Thursday night; you can ask me then.

That said, by now, there's a process involved in which I must listen to new Neko Case albums several times before I decide that I like it. When I first pop in a new Neko record, which in this case is Middle Cyclone, I expect to be disappointed. I'm not sure why, but I always hate her new albums until I've listened to them a few times, and I think it's because part of me just can't accept that Neko could actually top anything she's already put out. But I learned to love Fox Confessor Brings the Flood just as much as my favorite album of hers, Furnace Room Lullaby, and I thought that my initial disenchantment with Middle Cyclone was just first-listen jitters.

So I gave it a while before I decided to discuss this album in detail, because I thought surely, the love would come. But it's been well over a month, the dust has settled, and I have to admit: while Middle Cyclone is still a decent record, it's also the worst album she's ever made. I really don't think Neko Case could make a bad record if she tried. But this is the first time I've ever listened to a Neko Case album and felt that approximately half of it sounds stale and uninspired.

Maybe it's just because my standards for Neko Case albums are so astronomically high at this point in the game that nothing she makes now could satisfy me, anyway. As if I've become the music fangirl equivalent of one of those people who had too much sex on E and now can no longer have an orgasm sober. Honestly, though, I think I just need to come to terms with my feelings and accept that to me, most of the songs on Middle Cyclone seem like lesser variations on different songs she's already made, except the lyrics aren't as well-written and the instrumentals aren't as engaging. There are moments when I wonder if this album wasn't compiled from the rejects that didn't make it onto Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. Some of the songs are melodically repetitive to the point of folly -- like "Vengeance is Sleeping" or "Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth," a song that actually grates on me so much that I have to skip it. I have never actually been repulsed by a Neko Case song before. It's a frightening experience.

And yet, there are good songs on the album. "This Tornado Loves You" manages to achieve some of the verbal and musical brilliance of her previous work. Meanwhile, "Middle Cyclone" drew me in with its sparse melancholy. And even though it's the most stripped-down song on there-- even though it contains one of the cheesy lines with which this album is unfortunately replete ("Can't scrape together quite enough/to ride the bus to the outskirts of the fact that I need love")-- it's one of my three favorite songs on the album, along with "Don't Forget Me" and "The Pharoahs."

But for me to only really like four, maybe five songs on a Neko Case album that contains fourteen songs (I am not including the soothing frog sounds at the end), well, that's just unheard of. I don't know, fellow diehard Neko Case fans. I'm not trying to hate, but I have to be honest. She's one of my musical idols and her music at its worst is still miles ahead of anyone else's, but this record is not doing it for me the way her other music does. And if anyone else is having this experience, I'd like to hear about it, as feeling this way is giving me paranoid thoughts about how maybe I just have a brain tumor, because that's the only thing that could possibly cause me not to love a Neko Case album.

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