nekocase_cycloneIt seems amazing that Neko Case has been releasing records since 1997, and yet has only 3 official solo albums to her name. And yet her work with 'Her Boyfriends' and of course The New Pornographers there is a real horizontal density to her output, a thick wedge of material throughout which she has honed her craft to the point at which we find her on Middle Cyclone. And how she has honed it.There is a real feel of creative ease on Middle Cyclone, a sense of calm self-belief - the breadth of imagery and all her narrative poise wonderfully blended with the individual style of her songwriting. Writing reviews like this, you often find yourself flailing around for comparisons, but that luxury fades away with Case - aside from the obvious country signposts and the odd associations with Patsy Cline, thanks to the cavernous reverb driven power of her voice, Neko's out there on her own. And as such, Middle Cyclone feels like some kind of career peak.A couple of things to get out of the way: firstly, that cover - you want iconic, you got it; Case, brandishing a spear, riding her Mercury Cougar like some backwoods Boudicca. Secondly, that final track 'Marais Le Nit' or 'The Night Marsh' (30 minutes or so of a muted chorus of frog calls and thrumming crickets) which seems to have caused to much consternation across the web - to me it acts as a kind of caul that hangs lightly across the rest of the album, an index of the elemental nature of the themes contained within it.Make no mistake, this is her most "nature" influenced album - that amphibian buzz is entrenched in the very grooves of the record. So if Blacklisted was all dustbowls and hanging moons, and Fox Confessor her teasing out of the mythic backwaters of America then this is her engaging with the soil, summoning primitive forces from the world around her. For the recording of Middle Cyclone the band (consisting of the now familiar line up of guitarist Paul Rigby, bass player Tom V. Ray and multi-instrumentalist Jon Rauhouse - plus a stellar ark of guests sch as M. Ward and of course Joey Burns and John Convertino) relocated from Arizona to Case's newly bought farm in rural Vermont. All the rehearsals and recording were done in a decrepit barn on the property with the elements adding to the thickness of the sound. Case talks about nearly completing a take and a huge gust of wind tearing through the fabric of the barn and how it made her hair stand on end. The take stood.Animals take centre stage in most of the album's lyrical imagery too - the roll call is impressive: elephants, starlings, spiders, molluscs, sharks, whippoorwills... Those song title's too: 'I'm An Animal' 'Magpie to the Morning'. Â Case has always been fascinated by the unconscious and the ways in which odd elements of fragmented daydreams and nightmares are signifiers for far denser layers of meaning - here though you wonder if these aren't Case's way of playing it straighter for once, Middle Cyclone is, as she has stated, her love record after all. A record where she finally admits to herself after years of refusing to write a single love song that of course, all her songs were love songs...So here are we then 12 years in and Middle Cyclone finds Neko Case at the top of her game. There is the perfect blend of that odd narrative style she perfected on Fox Confessor, where, like in the bleak gothic vignette 'Polar Nettles' she lets the shape of the story dictate the length and scope of the song. Not forgetting the rolling bluegrass inflected gallop of 'This Tornado Loves You' and 'People Got A Lotta Nerve' where she's riding that Cougar taking on the world. She's coming for you and she's sounding more complete than ever.80%Neko Case on MySpace