Any discussion of Neko Case usually revolves around the voice — and a remarkable instrument it is: smoky, agile, delicate, strong, rich, expressive. Hers is a real sound that puts the fakers to shame.
But Case’s latest release, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, is also about stories: gritty, strange and imbued with magic, realism and magical realism all at once. What made Case so great in the past — melancholy indie country and postmodern folk accentuated with bright flashes of straight-ahead rock ‘n’ roll — is still present. And as always, the mysterious shimmer in the cool, swift river is those lovely, haunting pipes of hers.
With The Worse Things Get, Case sharply focuses her eye for the surreal and the real, having come out of a prolonged bout of depression following the death of her grandmother and estranged parents. Shooting stars, kings and arboreal feasts fold into “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu,” a chilling a cappella track that tells a harrowing tale of witnessing a mother verbally abusing her child.
The record is also filled with sharp commentary on gender roles. Most notably on the rocker “Man” (featuring lead guitar from M. Ward) as she sings, “I’m a man. That’s what you raised me to be / I’m not an identity crisis.” In “Night Still Comes,” Case wails, “Did they poison my food? Is it cause I’m a girl? If I puked up some sonnets, would you call me a miracle?”
It seems the worse things get, the wiser Case becomes.
Neko Case plays with The Head and The Heart 7 pm Thursday, Sept. 19, at Cuthbert Amphitheater; $35 adv., $40 door.