A solo artist since the 90s and a core member of the Canadian supergroup The New Pornographers, Neko Case has worn many hats throughout her career. But while her output has always been strong, her last release—2009’s “Middle Cyclone”—didn’t do much to push the envelope of Case’s sound, and it seemed as though we might’ve seen all she had to offer. Fortunately, 20 years into her career, Case has crafted her most innovative and engaging album yet.
Behind the Fiona Apple-esque title (“The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight. The Harder I Fight, the More I Love You”) lies an album that remains true to Case’s signature alt-country style while throwing in several genuine surprises. The most striking of these is the sparse “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu.” Featuring only Case’s voice and a slight bit of reverb, it suddenly explodes with the line “Get the f*ck away from me! Why don’t you ever shut up?” as Case retells the story of a mother chastising her child. What follows is a meditation on unloving families and the importance of making one’s voice heard, and it’s one of the most extraordinary, beautiful pieces Case has ever recorded.
In addition to Case’s sharp songwriting, her knack for melody and unique voice make this a truly excellent record. Although her voice is just about as powerful as Florence Welch’s, she wisely chooses to vary the occasions on which she hits a full belt, showcasing both her power and tenderness. Songs like “Night Still Comes” and “Ragtime” pepper the album with upbeat, catchy hooks, but it’s the quieter tracks like “Where Did I leave that Fire?” that leave the strongest impression.
Both accessible and refreshingly challenging, “The Worse Things Get…” is evidence that Neko Case’s creative engine is still in full gear.