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Coming a full five years after her last studio album, 2013’s The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, the brand new Hell-On is also inspired by awful events that happened in Neko Case‘s real life, in this case the burning down of her farmhouse in Vermont while she was away in Sweden making this record and dealing with stalkers before then. In spite of this, she was able to finish the album. Similar in feel to her previous record, there are also some important differences. This one was made with producer Bjorn Yttling (of Peter, Bjorn and John) and as such, Yttling givers Case and her band a bright sound that’s full and boisterous and seemingly made for the large theaters she fills regularly, yet somehow intimate. Yttling wisely places Case’s voice right up front, playing right to her strengths. The album’s first great stretch of songs starts with the 3rd track, the lilting ballad “Halls of Sarah,” ending with a vocal hook utilizing Case’s astonishing voice that is destined to get stuck in your head for days afterwards. After this, we have the album’s first single, “Bad Luck,” by far the most straightforward and easily digestible song on the record. While this song is great, things get even more interesting on the next track, the 7-minute epic “Curse of the I-5 Corridor,” as close as Case has gotten to ‘Decemberists‘-like folksy indie-prog.
Other songs that follow like “Oracle of the Maritimes” (co-written with Laura Veirs, who both alongside k.d. lang‘ made the case/lang/veirs record from 2016, proving that in addition to the last few New Pornographers‘ records that have come out since her last album, Case has been busy) also show off this slightly prog-ish influence first hinted at on 2009’s Middle Cyclone. Another standout track is the Eric Bachmann-penned “Sleep All Summer,” originally on Crooked Fingers‘ 2005 album Dignity and Shame. Bachmann guests and performs vocals on his song here. While overall, this is not one of Case’s finest albums (go straight to 2002’s Blacklisted if you’ve never heard one of her albums), it’s still a very strong work by one of the finest singer-songwriters of this century.
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