On Hell-On the feminist voice of Neko Case shines through loud and clear | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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On Hell-On the feminist voice of Neko Case shines through loud and clear


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Neko Case has rarely voiced her ideas directly in gorgeously, meticulously plotted music, preferring allusion, metaphor, and the pure sound of language, but there’s no missing a sense of mission and drive on her new album Hell-On (Anti). The travails Case endured during the production of the album have been widely reported; her Vermont home burned down while she was in Sweden recording with Björn Yttling of Peter Bjorn & John, and she dealt with both a fanatic stalker and a prying reporter. Much of the music was written before these trials, and as always her fighting feminist spirit bursts through most of the songs. The title track opens the album with a Zen-like expression of the ultimate helplessness of mankind, as she asserts, “God is not a contract / Or a guy / God is an unspecified tide.” From there she moves on to subjects where she’s intent on demanding agency; “My Uncle’s Navy” is a portrait and rejection of a bullying, abusive man (not an actual blood relative), and “Last Lion of Albion” takes on colonialism through a feminist lens. Case was laying down the vocals to “Bad Luck” in the immediate aftermath of the house fire; her voice registers a mixture of resignation and vulnerability as she catalogs a streak of bad luck before insisting, “My heart could break for a one-legged seagull.” “Winnie,” about a titular character who’s a badass worthy of Case’s admiration, functions as a love letter to women in general: “I wanted to be her sailor’s tattoo,” she sings. The record was made with a large cast of collaborators, and among them the vocalists make the greatest impact: Kelly Hogan, Nora O’Connor, Laura Veirs, Beth Ditto, and K.D. Lang, and others provide harmony singing, and Case duets with Mark Lanegan and Eric Bachman. The elegant melodies don’t cleave to any particular style as they float over lush, soaring pop-rock arrangements with the slightest hint of the singer’s twangy roots.   v

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