Can a trademark ever be a burden? Neko Case’s unmistakable voice is pure country, but for her sixth album she’s decided to branch out. As one of alt-country’s premier artists, it’s surprising to hear her only draw from that genre’s well only half the time. The remainder is a wildly diverse affair, incorporating power pop, a cappella, and at times something close to musique concrète. Luckily, no matter what style of music Case attempts, the results are stunning.

That goes for her lyrics as well. It’s a dark album, but a sharp wit underscores everything. So when you hear the nonchalant delivery of lines such as, “He died because I murdered him,” you don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Depending on your fondness for the country genre, the experiments will either be the clear highlights or the ones that need more time. ‘Man’, for instance, is a rave-up – complete with duelling guitar and piano solos! – closer to her work in The New Pornographers than her normal mode. But even The New Pornos never got quite as noisy or fast as this. Maybe the aggressive choice was made to help sell the idea that she is indeed a man (another example of her brilliantly skewed lyrics, changing from “I’m a man” to “I’m a man’s man” as the track progresses). But even the country songs have odd flourishes, like the snare rolls in the opener ‘Wild Creatures’ and the horn lines on ‘Bracing For Sunday’.

Country purists should just relax and embrace the album and its diversity, because they’ll be missing out otherwise.

4.5/5 stars


The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love Youis out now through Anti- Records.

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