Neko Case – Hell-On

Five years on since her last solo project, Neko Case returns with her latest studio album, Hell-On, a 12-track record which burns with the same lyrical fire from which the album gets its namesake. Being written following Neko’s house burning down in the early hours of a morning in Stockholm, Hell-On captures a passionate and beautifully intricate sound which shouldn’t be overlooked.

Kicking the listen off is the record’s title track ‘Hell-On’ which makes for a solid reintroduction to Neko’s sound. A soft instrumental feel allows for Neko’s dreamy vocals to litter the track with some intense lyricism and narrative before shifting into a fully fledged piece of colourful melody and sound. The level of intricate yet relatable lyricism is certainly Neko’s forte and allows her to accurately paint the images that she creates, placing you in the middle of the scene.

From here, the album’s themes shift in ambiguous tones from track to track. Numbers such as ‘Halls Of Sarah’ deliver a far more serene tone which captures a great piece of poetry and combines it with the smooth feel of a brass section. Meanwhile, ‘Gumball Blue’ demonstrates a far more solidly-driven track which delivers bouncy riffs and a diverse melody which feels incredibly summery.

Likewise, the level of collaborative accompaniment throughout this album truly keeps it feeling diverse throughout, all of the featuring artists leave their own signature impressions on the record. Whether it be Eric Bachmann’s powerful tones on ‘Sleep All Summer’, or the incredible synchronisation on the true anthem of ‘Last Lion Of Albion’, with fellow vocalist k.d Lang.

For myself ‘Curse Of The I-5 Corridor’ leaves the longest lasting impression of this record’s output: the track feels like it is consistently delving to explore something new. Seven minute tracks are always hit and miss, but this feels like seven minutes of mystery, intrigue and delight. The track’s shift into far darker undertones from the intense lyricism is distressing but the smooth accompaniment from Mark’s soft voice really makes each lyric hit home. Likewise, as the track continues to build into its final form, the full explosion of colourful and kaleidoscopic sound becomes so engaging that the result is incredibly encapsulating, I only wish that there were more examples of work like this!

If there were any defining fault to this record, there are times where it feels as though we’re not being given everything that Neko could potentially offer. It’s as though we’re being teased with promises of powerhouse vocal strength yet they are shied away from at the last moment. Neko more than has the passion and talent to reach such heights, so it feels a shame to be restricting herself somewhat.

Overall, Neko Case has delivered an incredibly solid next chapter into her discography. Whilst not overly revolutionary, her work is clean, crisp and shares unencumbered levels of personality, charism and character which few other artists can achieve so easily. For anyone looking to either tear their emotions apart or on the hunt for an album to cosy up to on a rainy day, Hell-On will be the release for you.

Ben Walker