Neko Case Reflects on Time, Space and Grief on Latest LP

Photo by Neko Case

Photo by Neko Case

For years the Pacific Northwest represented an outpost: at the edge of a vast continent, it was, in a sense, the world’s end — it was as far as you could go without setting sail. Accordingly, it became a repository for adventurers, misfits, individualists and the self-reliant, who drifted long miles west in search of their own rough-hewn freedom and the space to live as they pleased.

The idea of that space has always featured in Neko Case’s music, and no wonder: She grew up in Tacoma, and lived for years in Vancouver and then Seattle. Her songs play like a living soundtrack to a version of the Pacific Northwest as it must have been before the tech boom transformed it, evoking hints of the region’s industrial past in the deep guitar twang and brushed drums that most often support her massively powerful voice.

Case expands that sense of space to include time on her intimate new album, “The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You” (Anti-). It’s easily her most personal album: Case wrote many of the songs while adrift in a lifetime of accumulated grief, for lost loved ones and her own curtailed childhood (she left home at 15, and said in an interview, “I was kind of raised by a television”). Even the raucous first single “Man” is autobiographical — it’s a response to what she has observed as a cultural need to categorize people by gender. “I’m a man,” she sings. “That’s what you raised me to be.”

She muses over distance, both literal and figurative, on “Calling Cards,” a slow, somber song with intertwining acoustic guitar lines and a moaning muted horn framing her voice as she sighs, “I’ve got calling cards from 20 years ago.” On “Calling Swans,” it’s the distance between people: “I’ve got so many things I could tell you/ If you my stubborn mouth doesn’t let me down,” she sings, her voice cutting through a terse guitar riff and low, subtle strings. “And I can’t look at you straight on.” Closing song “Ragtime” considers the way people relate to periods they never personally experienced as Case pays homage to a song from the ’30s over a steady thrumming bassline and bursts of brass.

“When I felt really sad, I couldn’t really listen to music, but I could listen to ragtime, because it felt like a battery, like a happy energizer,” she said. “I just thought a lot about how I could have a relationship with 1935 because of a song, ‘Summertime,’ that I didn’t even exist in, or near.”

It’s the most outward manifestation of something Case’s music has always done, which is to exist in a time and place of its own. It’s there in the thunderclouds on the horizon of a vast sky on “Deep Red Bells” from “Blacklisted,” or twilight falling over an endless road on “The Needle Has Landed” on “Fox Confessor Brings the Flood.” Her ability to forge relationships with times of her own creation is Case’s most considerable gift as a songwriter. Add in her magnificent voice and the result is an artist whose music deserves all the attention it commands.

  1 comment for “Neko Case Reflects on Time, Space and Grief on Latest LP

  1. September 10, 2013 at 10:11 pm

    A road map of Neko Case’s journey into hell and back.

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