Case in Point

By Eric Kelsey

To hold the distinction as the only musician to ever be banned from the Grand Old Oprey is reserved only for Neko Case. Her album at the time happened to coincidentally be titled Blacklisted and Case was making sparse country music that revolved around ephemeral images, sounds and tastes. On her next, and most recent studio release, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (Anti-), Case has filled out her sound but the ephemera and pensive images remain a constant.

Case, for one, plays a spookier sort of alt.country, delving simultaneously further into the traditions of country and further away with the images she conjures. The title, for example, impresses an appropriately dark milieu that resonates much throughout the body of Caseƒ?TMs work, yet on Fox Confessor, Case hones her craft to the point of flawlessness.

At times in the past, Case has simply been too obscure pushing the listener away instead of drawing one in. From the beginning, Fox Confessor shows Case setting durable narratives, oftentimes reworking old traditions in her own inimitable ways. Case takes the spiritual ƒ?oeJohn Saw That Numberƒ?? and plays it as a friendly jaunt. Itƒ?TMs an odd pastiche to Caseƒ?TMs usually solitary workings.

Even more to the point is ƒ?oeStar Witness.ƒ?? Case takes a reference to the nearly gone genre of great car-crash songs that marked the 1950s and ƒ?TM60s. She sings wistfully, ƒ?oeMy true love drowned in a dirty old pan of oil that did run from the block/Of a falcon sedan 1969/The paper said ƒ?75/There were no survivorsƒ?Ýnone found alive.ƒ??
What distinctly puts Case in a category without peers is her vocal ability. The first thing that a listener will notice, Caseƒ?TMs pipes will at times, and to a fault, fill more space than they should. On Fox Confessor, Case strains, swoons and holds herself back at times, only to unleash its bombast when perfectly poised. Coupled with her stronger images and traditional narratives, Case smartly avoids any clichAcs that could quickly sink creative developments.

Fox Confessor gives one the feeling of a songwriter hitting her perfect stride with time as songs shift, topple and double-back when Case requires them to do so. Combining these elements with her inventive and kinetic images, she further cements her persona, intended or not, as an outsider, or a troubadour walking from town to town.

Case is the type of artist and person that wonƒ?TMt do something twice. She wonƒ?TMt contradict herself, but she has continuously defined herself in the forms of rebellion, outside of the brotherhood of rock and roll. Fox Confessor, like her previous work, is perhaps by default feminist because its narrative structures and we see Case as a self-invention bending and shaping the tired, yet omnipotent, rules which govern rock and country music.