Review: Neko Case, “Hell-On,” is Truly Unique Adventure to Be Experienced



Hell-On (ANTI-) marks the first solo project from musical shapeshifter Neko Case in five years, and the dazzling album is well worth the wait.  Case, never afraid to take risks, has produced a truly unique record unlike anything else I’ve ever heard. Sonically and lyrically, this album is an adventure you simply must experience.

Case has said, “I don’t know what genre this is.”  I don’t either. Case’s career has explored alternative rock, power pop with the New Pornographers, and country at the Grand Ole Opry.  None of these comes close to capturing what’s going on here, but don’t let that turn you off from Hell-On.  The sound of these musical fairy tales is, for lack of any better word to describe it, magical.  As producer (joined by Bjorn Yttling on a half-dozen tracks; he also played keyboards, bass, and guitar), Case achieved this sound with a phenomenal group of musicians to work on the album, including special guests[1], session musicians[2], and her band[3].  Despite Case’s protestations that “I don’t have a pretty voice”, the vocals, her own as well as the backups, those of the superb guests (Mark Lanegan, k.d. Lang, Simi Stone, Laura Veirs) and session vocalists[4] are positively haunting.

Case didn’t bind herself to conventional lyrical structures on Hell-On. Many of the songs are more like poems set to music.  Several lack a refrain, and even those with a refrain lack regular verse structure.  In the hands of a lesser, this would be a complete mess, but Case has the talent as a songwriter to make it work.

The closest comparison I can think of for this album is Neutral Milk Hotel’s In The Aeroplane Over The Sea.  Both are bold, audacious albums, major statements, filled with strange and unexpected imagery that can be difficult to understand.  They are they both very special visions, worth taking the time to listen to and contemplate. Both have big, rich sounds, that make listening to these albums a joyous experience.  Neko Case has produced a major piece of musical art, an album that is deeply personal and particular to her as an artist yet sweeping in scope and universal.

Get your copy here:

[1] Steve Berlin of Los Lobos, Joey Burns of Calexico, John Collins of the New Pornographers, Doug Gillard of Guided by Voices, Barbara Gruska of Belle Brigade, Peter Moren of Peter Bjorn and John, Simi Stone of Suffrajet

[2] Matt Chamberlain, Kyle Crane, Jeff Galegher, Thom Monahan, Paul Rigby, Chris Schultz, Sandy Schwoebel, Sebastian Steinberg, Tobias Tagesson

[3]Erich Bachmann, Dan Hunt, Jon Rauhouse, Tom V. Ray

[4] Kathryn Calder, Beth Ditto, Rachel Flotard, Robert Forster, Kelly Hogan, Carl Newman, Norah O’Connor, Joe Seiders

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