Once merely a third of the New Pornographers' indie-rock-Avengers front line and a solo act with country-rock leanings, ginormous pipes and comedy-club-stage banter, Neko Case has grown into one of America's best and most ambitious singer-songwriters. Her perfectly turned sixth LP deals with identity and autonomy; it's got feminist musculature and the dirt of a working musician under its fingernails. The lean ballad "I'm From Nowhere" addresses road-life loneliness; ditto "Local Girl," an Aretha-echoing gospel-rock lament. Things amp up on "Man" (chorus: "I'm a man/That's what you raised me to be") and "City Swans," with a hot solo from My Morning Jacket's Carl Broemel. Case's vocals have never been more adventurous. She turns "Afraid," written by her near-namesake Nico, into an existential affirmation of self-worth. And "Nearly Midnight, Honolulu" is a multitracked a cappella ballad about transcending childhood abuse whose tenderness somehow survives a surreal choral arrangement of the line "Get the fuck away from me." Which goes to confirm: Case remains one remarkably tough broad.
From The Archives Issue 1191: September 12, 2013