Album of the Week:

  • Neko Case "Hell-On"

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    Hell-On was mostly written and recorded before a devastating fire destroyed Neko Case’s Vermont farmhouse, and yet the album feels like a reaction to devastation. There’s a mournful, mysterious underpinning that feels part warning, part wistful meditation, part vulnerable confession. And yet, there are moments of unadulterated exuberance. “God is not a contract or a guy, God is an unspecified tide” she sings in the album’s opening line. “God is a lusty tire-fire.” What you get from these and other lyrics points more to your beliefs than hers, which remain shrouded. Case’s view of the world is painted in poetic imagery and her beautiful, haunted melodies. Her songs teeter at the intersection of human existence and the natural world, an unsettling but exciting place to explore.Neko Case’s early recordings were full of bravado and reverb soaked melodies with a tilt toward country. Hell-On strips away the echo, leaving the singer’s voice naked, beautiful, and confident. Individual instruments ring clear, free of the echoing production, and what a glorious experience it is. Bjorn Yttling (Peter, Bjorn, & John) co-produced with Case in his Swedish studio, and encouraged Case to let go off the reins and allow new ideas to direct the songs. The twelve songs offer a range of variety new to Case’s repertoire without losing her distinct sound.“Bad Luck” is a perky pop number, “Winnie” hints at country without ever diving into the mold of the genre. “My Uncle’s Navy” bubbles with guitar licks reminiscent of Robert Smith’s best Cure songs. “Pitch or Honey” shifts from a slinky ballad to sunshiny pop chorus half way through the song. You can’t predict from song to song, or chorus to chorus, where Case is going to take you, but it’s a delightful ride.Hell-On is jammed with superb musicians and singers. Her New Pornographer band mates Kathryn Calder, John Collins, and Carl Newman appear, as does Gossip singer Beth Ditto. k.d. lang and Laura Veirs add their talents. The bravado of those early releases has been replaced by a self-assured bold voice secure in her talents and at the height of her creative process.Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix Host)