Neko Case has been through hell and back, and her rage has never burned hotter until now.
After the release of her Grammy-nominated “The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight. The Harder I Fight, the More I Love You” in 2013, Case has fought off stalkers and nosey reporters airing the acclaimed songwriter’s most intimate details after a fire consumed her 18th-century farmhouse, reducing all her possessions to “a hole in the ground” in her own words. Left with nothing else, the seasoned songwriter had no choice to rebuild, and ultimately rises with grace, finesse, and her classic biting wit intact on her gorgeous seventh solo album, “Hell-On.” This time around, Case looks inward to instill her most personal anecdotes and most sensitive nerves into her already acclaimed style of storytelling, and hits her musical sweet spot with her most eclectic and accessible album of her nearly 25 year career.
Throughout her career, Case has skirted around the barriers of genre, often being labeled as some mix of alt-country, folk, and Americana on her solo releases. However, she got her start in the seminal (though largely unheard of) indie pop band Cub, and achieved her some of closest encounters with mainstream success as a member of the storied Canadian power-pop project, The New Pornographers. And in her typical disregard for expectations, Case said to hell with all of those with the release of the album’s titular and opening track, which she admitted to it impossible to define genre. ‘Hell-On’ is slow-burning in its sparse arrangement, a haunting guitar strumming American gothic minor chords leaves plenty of room for her distinctive, unparalleled roar to wrap itself around her most cryptic lyrics ever written, such as “God is a lusty tire fire.” The song soon turns into a plucky, breezy track more attune to Case’s past work, but makes it clear for listeners to expect an album made for no one but herself.
Throughout “Hell-On,” Case dabbles in every genre she’s ever dipped her toes in, but does so with insight and strength that can only be awarded with time after all she’s been through. The rollicking folk track “Last Lion of Albion” is resolved in the face of extinction as she writes herself as the last of her kind, and the sweeping ballad “Halls of Sarah” is an early highlight on the album, imbued with the unbridled, lovelorn rawness that only she can pull off like no other.
Moving away from her traditionalist stylings halfway through the album, Case has struck power-pop gold better than anything she’s written with The New Pornographers on the swaying “Gumball Blue,” featuring one of her most biting one-liners to date, “Sometimes when there’s smoke, it’s just a smoke machine, honey.” You can practically see her exasperated shrug in the lyric’s delivery, which is nothing out of the ordinary with her singularly emotive voice.
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“Hell-On” also acts as Case’s most collaborative album yet. Although she acted as the main producer, a title she hasn’t donned since her 2009 album “This Tornado Loves You,” Case found peace in relinquishing her power for the good of the songs with the help of collaborators including Laura Veirs, Mark Lanegan, k.d. Lang, Beth Ditto and a plethora of others. In a testament to her recent feminist reawakening, powerful female voices help bolster each other, like on Case’s ode to women across the globe, ‘Winnie,’ which features Beth Ditto as Case’s warrior muse. In moments like these, the camaraderie is inspirational as it tends to the flames that Case has started herself. What “Hell-On” proves more than anything, is that Neko Case, even after a quarter-century, is inextinguishable.
“Hell-On” is out 01 June on Anti- Records. The full track list is included below:
02 Last Lion of Albion
03 Halls of Sarah
04 Bad Luck
05 Curse of the I-5 Corridor
06 Gumball Blue
07 Dirty Diamond
08 Oracle of the Maritimes
10 Sleep All Summer
11 My Uncle’s Navy
12 Pitch or Honey