Hell-On by Neko Case 🔥 Album Review

Written by Thelonia

Neko Case's new album makes me want to quit my job, move away from the city, find a nice lush Northeastern forest, sit on a rock, look at a mountain, and die. In that order. Hell-On, which builds on Case's previous albums' sound, she leans into her more mournful side, even with the livelier of songs being about destruction of self, reflections on the past, and celebration of creation & womanhood. In other words, get your annotation pens & highlighters out, we're going on a journey.

Case's Vermont house burned down when she was recording this album in Sweden, something which makes the album's multiple references to Nature, creation, and corruption even more poignant. Along with the explorations of women, both in terms of their experiences in the artistic world ("Halls of Sarah") and as individuals to be revered ("Winnie"), the album has strong themes that are all tied together with the references to Nature and Wilderness.

Produced with Björn Yttling (of Peter Bjorn And John, whom I haven't thought of since Middle School), this album leans a bit more to the pop side than some of her other albums, but still has a grand, quiet sound that make up Case's trademark style (which could arguably be termed "Goth Country," a very specific sub-genre that artists like Nick Cave have flirted with). Both highlight Case's powerful vocals and witty and poetic writing style as she reflects on her life in songs like "Curse of the I-5 Corridor," a seven minute long piece that reflects on Case's youth in the Northeast that is sung almost a cappella with her long time friend Mark Lanegan. Other highlights include "Bad Luck," which has some of the most sardonic lyrics on the album but the happiest beat, and "Sleep All Summer," a cover of Eric Bachmann's song which turns it into a duet between Case and Bachmann.

The problem with talking about Case's art is that it's something that you kind of need to engage with to appreciate, so in no particular order, here are some lyrics that absolutely wreck me from this album:

  • My voice is not the liquid waves,
    The perfect rings round the heron's legs.
    My voice is straight garroting wire.
                                          - "Hell-On" 

  • I left home and faked my ID.
    I fucked every man that I wanted to be.
                                          - "Curse of the I-5 Corridor"

  • In the tarpit sea,
    Memories wear thick coats,
    The kind that pull you down.
    But in refusing to drown,
    You're choked into the shape of a sailor.
    A sailor.
                                          - "My Uncle's Navy"

  • My heart could break for a one-legged seagull
    And still afford nothing to you,
    And that's bad luck.
                                          - "Bad Luck"

This woman is an artistic treasure.

Neko Case is a tour de force whose songs sound like a mournful wail turned dance party (even if it's a slow dance). Definitely check out this album, and if you want more, check out her previous 6 solo albums as well as her many (many) collaborations and group projects.

Hell-On is currently available everywhere music is sold.

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