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Neko Case: Middle Cyclone (Album Review)

It’s hard to resist the obvious thing here — you know, with a title like that — and not speak in metaphors of inclement weather, just as it was tough to avoid summoning wildlife when discussing Case’s previous album, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. Animals and storms are, after all, Case motifs. And it’s even harder when the music itself — those brushed drums and plucked guitars ringing out with skedaddled tail-chasing resolve — fashions its own little twisters.

The atmosphere is less country noir than arpeggiated sunrise, as “This Tornado Loves You” and “People Got a Lotta Nerve” demonstrate with fog-lifting clarity. When Case sings “I’m a maneater” in the latter, she’s not talkin’ Hall & Oates jive — she’s a proxy for beastly things, a creature of counsel. Middle Cyclone is her most fearless and arresting record, ruthlessly composed and beautifully recorded (the army of pianos in the cover of Harry Nilsson’s “Don’t Forget Me,” tracked in a Vermont barn, radiates a warm-as-the-universe feeling).

Two of the best tracks, “I’m an Animal” and “Red Tide,” have their escalating refrains cut short. Darwinist pop, perhaps? “My courage is roaring like the sound of the sun,” Case sings, her voice calling out across the æther, anima tempestuosa.