Neko Case’s “The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Try, The Harder I Try, The More I Love You” brings to mind Fiona Apple’s latest winding title – often curtailed to “The Idler Wheel” – not just in name, but in spirit. Both albums tread between different styles, layering complex instrumentation dashed through with moments of grit, brazen vulnerability, and stare-you-square-in-the-eyes lyrics.
In “Man,” a steady jolt of electric guitar zaps through the driving melody while Case’s bold lyrics play with gender roles: “And if I’m dipshit drunk on the pink perfume / I am the man in the f—king moon / ‘Cause you didn’t know what a man was / Until I showed you.” “Calling Cards,” a love song with on-the-road realism, whispers of an earlier Case ballad, “Knock Loud,” off 2001’s “Canadian Amp.” Spurts of baritone sax and flute mix with the whining of pedal steel in “Bracing for Sunday.”
“Where Did I Leave That Fire” dips into the ephemeral with a minute of tone-setting sonar samples before exploring the vast within the mundane through Case’s dynamic vocals and a tempest of instrumentation, including vibes, thundering drums, banjo, and electric guitar that winds like an eel pulsing a trail of feedback. She also collaborated with some of her fellow New Pornographers, along with M. Ward and several members of My Morning Jacket.
“The Worse Things Get…” isn’t Case’s mainstream breakout album. She’s been releasing solo albums for over a decade, mostly through her latest LP’s label ANTI-Records. “The Worse Things Get…” wows like a rough-cut gem mined by a pro and pried from the matrix of a four-year hiatus after her Grammy-nominated “Middle Cyclone.” Don’t be surprised if this album gets a few Grammy nods, too.
Neko Case ‘The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Try, The Harder I Try, The More I Love You’ Rating: W W W W
-Kait Burrier, Weekender Correspondent