This has been a weird week for music, and it is all thanks to MTV, which used to stand for Music Television but has stood for MTV since 2010 and has focused on delivering programming that panders to the lowest common denominator—a long-held complaint against MTV, sure, but there was a time when they pretended to be about something more. The channel hosted its annual music awards show that no one likes last Sunday, and out of it came two major talking points: Miley Cyrus’s controversial performance (which I won’t comment on besides bringing up how I can’t think of anyone who can say that they actually enjoyed it with a straight face) and the news of Eminem’s latest album, The Marshall Mathers LP 2. I am Earbuddy’s resident hip-hop head, and as Eminem is one of the most popular rappers of our time and his latest album puts a spotlight on his most acclaimed album, I decided to spend this week talking about alt-country singer-songwriter Neko Case’s best album instead. Oh, I’ll cover Mathers at some point, but I’ve been spending a lot of time subjecting myself to bad music in service of this column for a while and I figured that I could cover something that I really enjoy. Also, I have complicated reasons for not holding Mathers in as high esteem as most folk do, but it really isn’t difficult to explain the appeal of 2006’s Fox Confessor Brings the Flood.
Neko Case represents everything that is right and should be celebrated in indie rock. On top of her work with the New Pornographers, she has put out several great indie-rock/folk/country albums under her own name on the strength of her voice and writing, and while I hold Blacklisted and Furnace Room Lullaby in high regard, Fox Confessor is easily her best album. Like I said before, explaining the appeal is easy: Case is a quirky musician who belts out indie-rock songs with folk and pop tendencies that focus on love and loss and focused anxiety. This might conjure comparisons to Regina Spektor, but in much the same way that The Wire will ruin crime dramas and procedurals for those who watch it and Spec Ops: The Line will ruin military-focused shooters for those who play it, Neko Case will ruin how you listen to quirky indie-pop because of how awesome her product is.
On the surface, there might be little to distinguish Case from most indie singer-songwriters—the music is spare but effective, her voice has its distinctive and recognizable quirks, and the writing borrows from folk tales. The major difference is that, for lack of a better phrase, Case is fucking metal as shit. The opening song, “Margaret vs. Pauline”, is a narrative of a sister who is always outshone by her sibling and remains envious of her beauty despite Pauline being, well, dead. “Star Witness” is all about a woman who practically lives inside a moment of violence that she allows to define her life. A version of “John Saw That Number” is sandwiched between the title track, in which Neko Case ponders the existence of a higher power, and “Dirty Knife”, a stark look into the mind of someone who is losing theirs. The propensity for casual violence should clash harshly with the light-hearted music, but instead, the contrast liberates Case so that she is free to examine bigger themes (most notably our want for there to be a God) without drowning the listener in misery. This is as bloody as a Mountain Goats album but easier to listen to than at least half of them.
There are headier things going on in Fox Confessor, but these are the concepts that I can get into without consulting experts in European folklore. This album is barely over half an hour long, but it feels like it occupies a much bigger space, a notion that is certainly helped by Case’s clear, distinct, and impressive vocal performance throughout. If there is one thing I could hold against the album, it is that the timing of certain aspects of the compositions becomes predictable—you can practically set a watch to the bridges, for instance. That is a relatively small flaw, though, when compared to everything else Fox Confessor does right. This album is so good that I briefly considered changing the name of this column to “Fucking Buy This Album, Asshole” to do it justice.
By the way, Neko Case has a new album coming out next week. The review will be up in a few days, but without spoiling it, I’ll just say that I don’t hate it.
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