Neko Case has always been brave, but with her latest album she proves herself fearless. With her forthcoming Anti- release, The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You, the singer known as much for her restless musical curiosity as her clarion voice charts a powerfully personal course across the rocky landscape of childhood, love, and loss.
Case's 2009 album, "Middle Cyclone," was her most ambitious to date, vaulting her to new heights of critical and commercial success and netting two Grammy nominations. But if "Middle Cyclone"–laced with frogs, tornados, and killer whales–was Case's exploration of the potency of the natural world, the new album sees Case turning inward. The Worse Things Get... plunges into the wilderness of human experience, revealing Case at her most emotionally raw and yet, paradoxically, in steely control.
Executive produced by Case, The Worse Things Get... was recorded by Tucker Martine in Portland, Oregon, as well as with Chris Schultz and Craig Schumacher in Tucson and with Phil Palazzolo in Brooklyn.
Martine, Case, and Darryl Neudorf mixed the album, on which Case is supported by a battalion of musicians including guitarist Paul Rigby, bassist Tom V. Ray, longtime backing vocalist Kelly Hogan, multi-instrumentalist Jon Rauhouse, Kurt Dahle, and John Convertino. Other guests include M. Ward, Carl Newman, Steve Turner, Howe Gelb, and members of My Morning Jacket, Los Lobos, and Visqueen.
This far-flung set of collaborators mirrors Case's own peripatetic path to creative maturity. Born in Virginia in 1970 and raised, for the most part, in working-class Tacoma, Washington, she's lived and worked in Seattle, Vancouver BC, Chicago, and Tucson, before moving five years ago to a 100-acre farm in rural Vermont.
Now 42, Case is reluctant to talk about her family. "I am related to some stellar, beloved people," she says, "but very few." What she will say is that her parents were young and unprepared and divorced when she was five years old. She bounced around between mother and father until she left home for good at age 15. Marked by alcoholism, drug addiction, and neglect, her childhood was traumatic. "I should have been an abortion," she said once, her characteristic bravado masking a harder truth.