Neko Case steps out, cutting the sky and singing the stars, spinning fury and mercy as she goes. She loves the world and wears her heart on her sleeve, but she might eat it before you get to thinking it belongs to you.
Wild Creatures pulls together some high points of feral joy from 21 years of solo work by Neko Case. The Virginian marked Neko's debut as a solo artist in 1997. She delved into darkness in 2000 with Furnace Room Lullaby, scrawled Blacklisted in 2004 and recorded The Tigers Have Spoken live the same year. In 2006, she dreamed Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, and in 2009 unleashed Middle Cyclone. She plumbed her own life in 2013 for The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You, and raised hell in 2018 with Hell-On. Now in her third decade of recording under her own name, she's just getting started.
Is there another songwriter so fearless and inventive? Bending decades of pop music into new shapes, she wields her voice like a kiss and her metaphors like a baseball bat. She has cast the fishing net of her career wide—from Seattle and Vancouver to Chicago and Stockholm, setting up her home base on a farm in New England.
Gathering power year after year, Neko sings with the fierce abandon of a newborn infant crying in a basket in the woods. Since escaping the labels of country and Americana, the gorgeous train-whistle vocals of her early career sit submerged in her later style, where their ghost can appear any minute. When her voice jumps an octave, it's almost visible, like sparks at night.
"I never knew where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do with my voice," she says, "but I just wanted to do it so bad."
You might try to come away from a Neko Case tune without a head full of images—but it's impossible. Still, her songs won't tell the whole story, rarely offering a panoramic view or a chronology. Instead, she offers up a series of snapshots, as if from a crime scene, and leaves the audience space to inhabit the closets and cathedrals she's built.
Neko seems to live to bend the shape of the melodies she writes. Listeners might feel the music going in unexpected directions, as she looks for the note that will negotiate a truce to fuse it to her lyrics. It's not that you can't find a verse-chorus-verse structure in a Neko song. But you're just as likely to find any chorus you hitch a ride with going off a cliff, or to hear a hook you think might be the chorus, only to watch it disappear.
Neko Case songs often exist with distinct sections that recall symphonies. Changing from ballads or waltz time to a rock beat and back, the elements sometimes seem wired together to make an improvised explosive device.
Neko insists on being larger than the narrow space that the world allocates to women. But don't tell her what kind of feminist she's supposed to be. There's a famous dementia test in which you look at the pictures of an elephant or a giraffe and name them. Neko Case is the opposite of that. What if, by letting everything out of these cages, by taking the labels off living things, we had to encounter the world as it really is? The wild things, the lost things, the things that scare you, and the things that you love—what if it turns out all that is really home? What if, by writing about that, you could reinvent the universe?
What if some wild creature drags you out to the woods, but the woods begin to become the whole world, and your earlier home, still visible in the distance, suddenly seems less interesting than where you are now? You might be in the middle of a Neko Case song.
Neko Case is the Meryl Streep of modern pop vocalists - her expressive range feels limitless, she makes her brilliance look easy, and the joy of her delight in her craft is there without calling attention to herself. Wild Creatures is a deeply satisfying sampling from her first 25 years, and it's hard not to believe (or hope) she has another 25 this good still in her.
- 180g Vinyl
- Double LP
- Black Vinyl
- Gatefold Jacket
- Printed Inner Sleeves
- I'm An Animal
- Lady Pilot
- Halls of Sarah
- Star Witness
- I Wish I Was the Moon
- The Next Time You Say "Forever"
- Hold On, Hold On
- Polar Nettles
- Wild Creatures
- Furnace Room Lullaby
- A Widow's Toast
- Deep Red Bells
- This Tornado Loves You
- Night Still Comes
- Maybe Sparrow
- Things That Scare Me
- The Tigers Have Spoken
- Set Out Running
- Oh, Shadowless