Neko Case has pipes. Her voice is one of the most powerful in music, thus lending her songs a similar potency. Yes, this is why I wanted Middle Cyclone: to get another taste of her excellent singing. Unexpectedly, I also ran into what may be one of the greatest albums of the year, full of fun surprises and varied uses of Case’s wonderful vocal chords.
The whole thing starts on a great note with “This Tornado Loves You.” A weather-as-lover metaphor follows, built on a foundation of light drumming and a solid bass. From here, acoustic guitars pluck away at a melodic shape, giving Case more than enough guidance. Her singing starts light and eventually explodes with the same destructive force as the titular tornado. Her final cry, “What will make you believe me” is stunning.
Each song explores a different variation on this figure, each with interesting destinations. Generally light and folk-oriented, Middle Cyclone, has great musicianship, offering appropriately restrained strings, guitars and percussion.
However, the tone of each piece proves to be very important. Initial single “People Got A Lotta Nerve” has a fairly upbeat tone, offering a playful atmosphere for Case to flex her skills. Conversely, “Polar Nettles” and “Prison Girls” have minor chords and display a more somber version of the singer.
Not every song succeeds, as some outstay their welcome (“Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth” is a bit more forced than the rest), but the overall quality of vocal and instrumental blend is fairly consistent. Pieces like “Don’t Forget Me” have unmatched flow: the carefully undulating piano and vocals match the description of slow summer poolside love.
Emotional range and musical superiority combine to make Middle Cyclone an engaging and impressive work. I really look forward to what Case does next: while her voice has always been impressive, this musical compliment makes the whole package an instant purchase. More releases like this would prove Case’s importance as a great artist.