Spotlight on Neko Case

While in Starbucks, sipping a Chai tea misto* and reveling in my consumer whore-dom, I happened across a little album titled Fox Confessor Brings the Flood by Neko Case. Never heard of it, never heard of her, and the album art (a cartoonish drawing of a woman, holding a head and surrounded by foxes) was too reminiscent of Return to Oz for my tastes, so back in the carousel it went. However, lo and behold, the album shows up but a few days later on NPR’s Best CDs of 2006. Huh. All right. Time to fire up the ol’ iTunes and see what all we’ve got here. And in one listen, I was hooked.

Case’s type of voice generally isn’t my thing–it’s sweet, lilting, clear, and I usually prefer female singers with deeper or scratchier voices–but I was immediately drawn to the fact that her songs are, well, different. In today’s world of formulaic pop music, where lyrics and orchestration are crammed into the incredibly restrictive (and boring) verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-MODULATE!-chorus structure, Case’s songs are more free-flowing, more stream-of-consciousness. She insists that she didn’t set out to buck the trend, though, stating “It wasn’t so much saying, ‘Traditional song structure sucks. I’m gonna bend that.’ It was that the ideas I was having weren’t coming together in a way that suited repeating them. I thought they had a lot more emotional impact when things were said once.”

And indeed, the alt-country-leaning Case is a old-school-style songwriter. Her lyrics are haunting and deeply personal, she’s not afraid to tackle the grim and the grave, and her words paint extraordinarily vivid and specific pictures, instead of referencing vague, generalized emotions, as do so many schlocky pop tunes today. Indeed, this is a hallmark of country music, but Case’s lyrics are especially profound. Maybe that’s what intrigues me so much–her songs are so intense, her lyrics so raw, and yet her vocal tone is one of innocence and purity. The contrast is captivating.

And besides, how can you not love a woman who writes in her web autobiography, “My parents very much wanted me to become a crack-whore, but I gravely disappointed them by graduating from college. Though they did not notice until years after the event, they still take my failings personally.” True or embellished, hilarious or morbid, Neko Case’s stories will reel you in.

*They aren’t on the menu, you have to ask special, and be sure to tell them to make it with the teabags, not the syrup, and once you do your barista will get all huffy and tell you “well, you know it will be a few minutes, because it has to steep,” as if tea is some mystical, unearthly substance with which you’ve never dealt, and you’ll smile sweetly and say “I know, I’ll wait anyway,” and you’ll play out this little ritual even though you’ve been ordering the same drink for three straight weeks now. Eh. It’s worth it. Also, tell them to add a pump or two of vanilla. It really throws them.

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What the kids are sayin’



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