|Add Date:||2018-07-27|| ||Pull Date:||2018-09-28|| |
|Week Ending:||12 Aug||5 Aug||29 Jul|
Neko Case is one of the most adventurous and consistently brilliant female songwriters—nay, songwriters, period—working today, and it’s possible that Hell-On is her weirdest album yet. The more pop sensibilities of Middle Cyclone and The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight... have been jettisoned almost entirely; Hell-On’s songs are a bit less accessible in that they sound darker and folkier, and the lyrics are more impressionistic. As always, Case is a hell of a singer—easily one of the best in contemporary music—and storyteller, and that makes Hell-On a worthy addition to her discography.|
FCCs: 5, 9, 11
Favorites: 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10
1) “Hell-On” (4:10)* – A track so strange I can’t really peg it as any one genre. There are muted guitars (acoustic and electric), foreboding strings, a quiet drum, and not much else other than Neko’s vocals. (I can imagine her singing it onstage, as if it’s a theater tune.)
2) “Last Lion of Albion” (3:38)* – Lush production of drums and acoustic guitars. Sounds almost like a folk tune with some other sonic bric-a-brac, like pianos and electric burbling.
3) “Halls of Sarah” (3:51)* – A sad, impressionistic country lament. Builds on its foundation of acoustic guitar, adding in pianos, multitracked vocals, and a saxophone. Tempo picks up and instrumental gets a little fuller in the last minute and change.
4) “Bad Luck” (3:55)* – Uptempo track that’s less, for want of a better word, weird than its predecessors. Basic instrumentation—percussion and guitar—that dutifully stay out of the way of Case’s vocals.
5) “Curse of the I-5 Corridor” (7:02) – FCC “f***.” Mark Lanegan provides backing vocals on this track, a long and touching ballad. Case spins a story here about two lovers on an almost mythic scale, but the story isn’t compelling enough to justify the length of the track, which never really seems to take off.
6) “Gumball Blue” (4:15)* – If the electronic elements on this track make you think of the New Pornographers, you’re onto something—A.C. Newman, that band’s songwriter, co-wrote this track. As such, it feels kind of like a New Pornographers track, albeit slowed down and unplugged. Strange sonic effects at the halfway point.
7) “Dirty Diamond” (3:40) – Slow and kind of lurking track. Listening to it, it doesn’t really do anything for me—it’s not much more than drums, muted guitar, and Case’s vocals.
8) “Oracle of the Maritimes” (4:25)* – The music is pretty dynamic, almost like a ship on a storm. The piano, guitar and drums are used beautifully, as are the strings when they come in later in the song. Here’s an example of where Case’s mythmaking pays off.
9) “Winnie” (3:50) – FCC “f***.” A stately, reserved waltz—at least, until the last minute and change, when it becomes a much livelier affair out of nowhere. The first part is kind of inert, and the second part is so unexpected that it kind of throws me off.
10) “Sleep All Summer” (5:03)* – A lovely duet with Eric Bachmann (also known as Crooked Fingers), who wrote and recorded the song. It’s pretty much just them, a piano, and drums, but it’s very affecting.
11) “My Uncle’s Navy” (4:13) – FCC “p***.” (That might not actually be an FCC violation, but just so you know.) Scarcely a minute into the song, Case sings “if you’re tenderhearted you should stop the tape.” Case sings about a man she knew growing up who abused animals. Instruments include tumbling drums, swells of synthesizer, and squalls of guitar, but they’re all relatively well-tempered.
12) “Pitch or Honey” (4:28) – Brooding, even sinister-sounding piano, with strange clicking percussion in the background—at least, for the first half. Then the song transforms into a much more upbeat, twangy country tune. (The transition isn’t as jarring as “Winnie.”)