Neko Case
Hell-On


4.5
superb

Review

by jeremologyy USER (41 Reviews)
June 10th, 2018 | 18 replies


Release Date: 2018 | Tracklist

Review Summary: be careful of the natural world

When Neko Case – singer, songwriter, producer, elemental commander – tells us her voice isn’t “liquid waves,” and is instead “garroting wire” on the eponymous first song of her new solo album, Hell-On, your first instinct is simply to not believe her. But then you remember that “perfect” or pretty is not quite the same as, say, slicing through the wilderness like a bell, conjuring the spirits, and blazing like an assured Mother Nature conduit. Because for all the imperfections of Case’s voice or sound, she has carved out a very impressive niche for herself by now. What started out as a country-type thing has become a what-the-hell-is-this-type-thing, which is never truer than on this 7th album album (or eighth if you count her live album The Tigers Have Spoken). And whatever it is, it is gorgeous, titanic, and moving in its own very Neko Case way.

Hell-On has been widely touted as her most dense and diverse album, and that is not a farfetched idea. When you think of albums like Fox Confessor Brings the Flood or Middle Cyclone, there’s a general sonic and stylistic consistency across their runtimes. Even her wonderful collaborative album with kd lang and Laura Veirs, case/lang/veirs, had a tone and mood that was more or less carried through; a palette that remained within its own zone. Hell-On, while nowhere near the all-over-the-place smorgasbord some might be claiming it is, is denser, more expansive, varied, and even less predictable than her past albums tended to be.

The title track is lilting, eerie, wordy without feeling labored, and exists in at least three very different phases. The second track, "Last Lion of Albion", is a peppy, incredibly catchy pop rock track, which sounds like one of the best songs The New Pornographers never made. The just-off-kilter drum beat and the soaring chorus are sticky and bright. “Halls of Sarah” is a melancholy, starlit ballad, gorgeous in its plaintive acoustic first half and towering in its surprising second half. “Bad Luck” almost has a girl group style to it, with a sort of blackly comedic vibe despite its dark lyrics. And “Curse of the I-5 Corridor” is a 7-minute epic; a road of memories shot through a hazy dream, accompanied by Mark Lanegan’s gravel-borne voice. And that’s just the first five songs.

Despite all this unpredictable stylistic shifting (sometimes midsong), Hell-On does feel of a piece with itself. But even beside all that, it is just so well-written and performed that it easily slots itself into position as one of Case’s best albums. It also features some of her sharpest, darkest lyrics. “Oracle of the Maritimes” includes a verse so good I had to replay it twice on first listen: “Sometimes I feel so ugly / I'm afraid / Worry nesting in my hair / Shedding like a christmas tree / Surely there's a real woman / Coming to erase me.” It doesn't hurt that her voice on that last line bellows and belts with a destructive force. It’s somehow otherworldly, frightening, and moving all at once.

“My Uncle’s Navy” is perhaps the most upsetting of them all; a thrilling rumination on the kind of memories that “wear long coats” and “weigh you down… choke you out.” Those memories revolve around a nightmarish account of her uncle (who she quickly assures us was “not by blood”), who ripped heads of snakes to scare little kids, and probably a slew of other unspeakable things. Toward the end, Case – a lyricist known for being profoundly poetic, often even quite oblique – tosses us a clearcut bone: “And I hated those who gave him access / To our days / The ones who did nothin' / I still can't love them.” It’s chilling, and even more so considering how catchy the track is.

Case has never been one to shy away from dark or slightly uncommon song topics. “Halls of Sarah,” one of the most beautiful songs she’s ever composed, ponders on all the women who have been sung about through music history, usually without their consent. "Dirty Diamond" almost sounds like it's taking us back to prehistoric times. “Winnie” seems to follow a dream or a fictional story (she tells us as much in the unreliable-narrator opening line: “I’m here to tell you a story / I’m here to tell you a lie”) about a female sea captain who catches her narrator’s eye and heart. The final lines where she is “Slowly blurring into” Winnie is one of the album’s simplest, loveliest moments.

The album isn’t without its issues, though they do feel like minor gripes. “Curse of the I-5 Corridor” is a bit overlong, with its run-on lyrical lines growing a little stale, even when its instrumental is engaging and dramatic. And “Sleep All Summer,” a duet with Eric Bachmann (and actually a cover of his own song), feels slightly too tilted in his direction. His voice is thick and humid and, sort of like Case’s, imperfectly beautiful, but it actually almost sounds like his is mixed higher, or louder. That being said, it’s a damned gorgeous duet, washing over us; a bit of a cleanser before the final two tracks. Aside from that though, Hell-On is pretty spotless. It takes a bit longer than some of her others to reveal its secrets, but getting lost in its hall of mirrors is a wild ride. It’s an intriguing, sharp, deeply moving record, and once it ingrains itself into your head, it’s hard to get it out – and you don’t really want it to leave, either.

RatingL 4.6/5
Key Tracks: Halls of Sarah, Oracles of the Maritimes, Winnie, My Uncle's Navy



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user ratings (51)
Chart.
3.6
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other reviews of this album
vmcoia91 (4.5)
Neko Case's latest offering is another superb album that boasts her musical abilities and consistenc...



Comments:Add a Comment 
theBoneyKing
June 10th 2018


15305 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Well I guess I don’t have to review this now!

Extremely lovely album, a major grower too. I agree with nearly everything you say. I’m still absorbing this, unveiling all the layers but with each listen I become more convinced it’s some of her best work. My only problem is that it doesn’t quite hold together as a whole in the same way Blacklisted and Fox Confessor do, but individually each song is a treasure.

Digging: Advance Base - Animal Companionship

klap
Staff Reviewer
June 10th 2018


11977 Comments

Album Rating: 3.9

great review, was on vacation otherwise would have gotten around to this. i'll ask for a feature

Digging: Vansire - Angel Youth

jeremologyy
June 10th 2018


293 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Thanks. I loved this album enough to come out of my intermittent hibernation.

Atari
Staff Reviewer
June 10th 2018


23788 Comments

Album Rating: 3.2

I’ll give this another go!

Digging: Outer Heaven - Realms Of Eternal Decay

klap
Staff Reviewer
June 10th 2018


11977 Comments

Album Rating: 3.9

wow, didn't realize you hadn't reviewed in so long lol. come backkkk

theBoneyKing
June 10th 2018


15305 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Definitely do Atari, that 3.2 hurts my eyes. Jk though, idk how much time you spent wth this but it took a good few close listens to really sink in for me. The lyrics are very dense.

theacademy
Staff Reviewer
June 10th 2018


31348 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

3.2 what the fuck are you thinking lmao

theacademy
Staff Reviewer
June 10th 2018


31348 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

halls of sara is brilliant

Atari
Staff Reviewer
June 10th 2018


23788 Comments

Album Rating: 3.2

I’ve only heard this and Furnace Room Lullaby by her. Nothing wrong with a 3.2! I didn’t dislike it, just didn’t do that much for me.



I’m more generous than most with my ratings, why am I suddenly getting shit for not giving everything above a 3.5 lol

klap
Staff Reviewer
June 10th 2018


11977 Comments

Album Rating: 3.9

atari what r u doing listen to her other records

theBoneyKing
June 10th 2018


15305 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Yeah acad that’s one of her best songs ever, def my fave here.

I swear everything this woman touches is gold.

Atari
Staff Reviewer
June 10th 2018


23788 Comments

Album Rating: 3.2

I’ll do a Neko Case discog run this week and maybe this will click with me once I’m more familiar with her other stuff ;)



“Bad Luck” is one of my favorites honestly. It’s quirky and catchy af

nolerthebowler
June 11th 2018


2489 Comments


What’s going on on the album cover

jeremologyy
June 11th 2018


293 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Thank you all. I don't review enough on here because I rarely feel like I have the time. But I really like it here; I'll try to do it more. ^^

nolerthebowler
June 11th 2018


2489 Comments


anyone know the case/lang/viers song Delirium? that song is really fucking good

DoofusWainwright
June 15th 2018


20003 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Neko sure specialises in ugly album artwork, don’t like a single one of them

DoofusWainwright
June 15th 2018


20003 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Still finding this a little plain - ok songs sung by a pretty voice, entry 1225235635 in popular music

luci
June 17th 2018


10045 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

most common rating is 3. nice



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