8. Neko Case – Hell-On
Indie rock hero Neko Case is one of our most fearless songwriters. She seemingly has no qualms about laying bare her soul on each album she puts out, and her no-bullshit vocals drive the emotional honesty home. She’s also rather prolific, having released six previous solo efforts as well as collaborations with the Canadian bands New Pornographers and the Sadies. (My favourite project in her extensive discography remains 2016’s case/lang/veirs, a gorgeous and strikingly simpatico pas de trois with k.d. lang and Laura Veirs, both of whom contribute backing vocals here.) The sheer volume of her repertoire combined with her artistic daredevilry has resulted in a laudable but inconsistent body of work – as much as I’ve liked some of her albums, I can’t name one that I would call brilliant from first cut to last. Her latest is no exception, but it’s quite worthwhile nonetheless. Produced by Björn Yttling of the Swedish pop-rock trio Peter Bjorn and Jon, Hell-On may be Case’s most musically ambitious effort yet. At times, complex song structures and densely packed lyrical passages take precedence over hummable melodies. And the barrage of verbiage contains a few dodgy metaphors – “God is a lusty tire fire,” “[I’m] the undiscovered continent for you to undress.” The good news is there are still plenty of top-notch tunes to sample, and at least two are among the finest Case has ever written. The irresistible “Bad Luck,” with its litany of ill omens that manages to be at once whimsical and sinister – “Chipped a tooth on an engagement ring and that’s bad luck” – is at this moment my pick for the best track of 2018. And “Halls of Sarah” is a tremendously moving tribute to the enduring female spirit that echoes and nearly equals Stevie Nicks’ iconic work with Fleetwood Mac.
[Blogger’s note: *Amid alarming reports on the demise of the album, I humbly submit my picks for the best full-length releases of 2018. I’ll post them one at a time over the next few weeks, hopefully getting to #1 before Valentine’s Day! Want to save the album as an art form? Then go out and purchase a vinyl LP – or a CD, if you must – from a real bricks-and-mortar shop. Don’t just stream random tracks to your phone! Read my extended rant on the subject here.]
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