Middle Cyclone is Neko Case perfecting her individual art: a country-music subgenre as mournfully heartbroken as its high-and-lonesome precursors without reverting to the cliché honky-tonk infidelities and working-class posturing that infects so much roots music (see “Cardinal knowledge,” for examples). Over 14 tracks (not counting the half-hour field recording of cricket chirps closing the album), most less than three minutes long, Case conceals soul-sick introspection in glorious multi-tracked harmonies. Case promises to destroy as many trailer parks as it takes to prove her intentions on “This Tornado Loves You,” complains that she “can’t scrape together quite enough to ride the bus to the outskirts of the fact that I need love,” and is comforted only by the tired plinks of a wind-up music box on the title track. The plea for a return to physical reality in Sparks cover “Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth” has a subtle sadness only explained a few songs later when, “I’m an Animal” transforms the gist of the Bloodhound Gang’s “nothing but mammals” pick-up line into a nihilist battle cry.
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