Thank You Lord (for Neko Case)

Neko Case

Those who write about Neko Case are usually overwhelmingly adoring of her work and her performance; I’m not any different. From the first listen to Furnace Room Lullaby, hearing that unbelievable voice, I’ve been hooked. If you start to write about her gothic country sound, you’ll be forced to repeat favorite lines from her songs: “The girl with the parking lot eyes,” “looks a lot like engine oil and tastes like being poor and small, and popsicles in summer,” “you be my guest, and I’ll let you stay, leave me the check and I’ll pay with the rest of my life.” You can’t talk about the quality of her songwriting without noting the darkness of her best songs.

Her records (I’m not including the fine work she’s done as a member of The New Pornographers, or her other collaborations) are worth listening to with headphones: The Virginian, Furnace Room Lullaby, Blacklisted, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, and the live The Tigers Have Spoken all feature those dark, pretty melodies and lyrics — all demand your attention. But you’ll want the headphones to soak in that voice. Capable of transfixing you with its sheer power, like on the Furnace Room’s title track, or with a delicate phrasing, which fills Fox Confessor’s Edward-Goreyesque opening track, “Margaret vs. Pauline.”

I know she’s great live — as she demonstrates on her Live From Austin, TX (Austin City Limits) DVD — but I’m not planning on seeing her as she performs in Minneapolis tomorrow night. Although I’m sure she’ll be enchanting, I just can’t bear sharing the intimacy of her songs with a roomful of chattering drunks. I think I’ll just listen to her, alone in the dark.

Thank you Lord for Neko Case:

  • For “Hold On, Hold On,” which (and I know I’ll never describe it exactly the way I want) sounds like the sweetness and the horror of the 1960s mixed together in a potion that you want another drink of. Like the Mamas & the Papas joining the Manson family and recording a single.
  • For “Thrice All American,” a tribute to Tacoma, WA. “People they laugh when they hear you’re from my town, they say it’s a sour and used-up ol’ place,” she sings over a waltz, “There was no hollow promise that life would reward you. There was nowhere to hide in Tacoma.” Every teenager I’ve ever known — including me — was embarrassed about their hometown but looks back (or will look back) with sentimental fondness for the lameness and isolation that produced as a restless soul.
  • For “Star Witness,” a poem, apparently about a murder. “Hey pretty baby, get high with me — we can go to my sisters’ if we say we’ll watch the baby, the look on your face yanks my neck on the chain, and I will do anything to see you again,” sung like a lullabye, with the gentlest round as a chorus. “Go on, go on, scream and cry, you’re miles from where anyone will find you,” she taunts as the song nears its conclusion, and you’re still unsure who’s holding the knife. But it’s so pretty, you’ll be surprised you don’t care.
  • For “Hex,” Case’s cover of a song by her friends the Sadies Catherine Irwin of Freakwater, the sexiest siren song ever recorded. She stands in the woods, just outside the window’s glow, casting her spell. “Will you know, or must I tell you, this is my lover’s spell you have fallen into?” she whispers. “My voice is all you’ll hear.”

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