“contemporary music that incorporates elements of various American roots music styles, including country, roots-rock, folk, bluegrass, R&B and blues, resulting in a distinctive roots-oriented sound that lives in a world apart from the pure forms of the genres upon which it may draw. While acoustic instruments are often present and vital, Americana also often uses a full electric band.”
I remember when I first heard Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. I think the word stunned just about covers it. I was heavy into her two previous albums and this wasn’t what I expected. It’s a dark, mysterious, emotional and captivating album filled to the brim with Ukranian folk mythology. Not to mention the Lynchian imagery. And it’s over in just over 30 minutes. Talk about intense. Did I mention that it’s dark? Well, it is. It’s also tender and beautiful. That big voice that belted out the bruised ‘country sounding alt. country’ on Furnace Room Lullaby and Blacklisted is restrained and, dare I say it, a tad vulnerable.
The country noir of Neko Case’s early albums is now furnished with intricate new sounds, textures, and open space. It’s still unmistakably Neko, right enough… Neko and the sound of another of my favourite bands (and Case conspirators) The Sadies – Travis and Dallas Good’s guitar twang and sound looming large on a number of tracks. Anyhoo, despite it all, Neko’s voice … that voice… just cuts through everything. This, ladies and gentlemen, if I may be so bold, is Case’s finest work.
Margaret vs. Pauline is a haunting opener and I’m still trying to decide whether one of them is dead (I think they might be), Star Witness is jaunty and there’s a music box kinda quality going on there and Case’s delivery is wonderful. Anyhoo, each of the six tracks on the first side are great, but my favourite here is The Sadies co-write Hold On, Hold On. It’s a pretty remarkable tune with a nifty guitar hook and a line that smacks you in the gut. That line being “the most tender place in my heart is for strangers”. It’s awfy cynical, but also hopeful. I dare say we often have more faith in people we haven’t met, cause ultimately they haven’t let us down. Yet.
The second side has the pretty exceptional three track run of Dirty Knife, Lion’s Jaws and Maybe Sparrow. Picking a favourite from that bunch would be difficult. Yikes! Did I mention that Garth Hudson appears on the album? He’s all over it. Piano here and organ there… always lovely and subtle. The playing on Maybe Sparrow is particularly special, I reckon. Dirty Knife has some of my favourite Neko lyrics. “So suddenly the madness came with its whiskered, wolven, ether pangs” she sings and it’s all swirling and dizzying – madness indeed. “… Cats are wild… you can’t even touch the tip of their tails” … the cello as Case sings “the blood runs crazy with giant strides”… and then her etheral falsetto! Lordy! I also love the closing refrain in Lion’s Jaws (“momentum for the sake of momentum”).
It’s easy to say it’s all very David Lynch. What with the animals and surreal mystery and suchlike. Neko’s voice is as expressive as it is powerful. It’s sad and heavy, but it’s also beautiful and warm. Anyhoo, what’s it all about? Well, it’s all interpretations of the Fox Confessor mythology. Sure there’s some other stuff in there (personal stuff and what have you), but the true beauty of this one is what it says to the listener and how it resonates with them.
I mean, folks love to talk about music, books, poetry and movies (including me) but we don’t need to connect the dots and fill in the blanks. That would undo the mystery of this one.
… and the title? Well, that’s a really pretty wonderful slice of mythology that fits all this pretty well. The relationships that animals have within the songs and that opening line of Hold On, Hold On and the message of the title track (“It’s not for you to know but for you to weep and wonder when the death of your civilization precedes you”). Essentially, the person you put your faith in will wreck you. Like the frog and scorpion tale, but not just death, but complete annihilation of your confidence and soul.
So aye, there ya go. Giant strides indeed. In every sense this is Americana. A rich and strange brew. As a myth-interpreter and myth-maker. Fuck, I’m delighted this is in the collection. You can tell that, right? Right?
This copy is the 2015 Record Store Day release, which came with a smashin’ RSD slipmat. Thanks to Aaron over at KMA for finding a copy for me.