Throughout her career, Neko Case has mesmerized long-time fans with her incredible voice and creative storytelling. At times, she’s like a poet, and another moment she’s the greatest fable writer of the past 40 years, painting vivid stories that include sparrows, foxes, and almighty storms. But since Middle Cyclone, Case started to look a lot more introspective and her songs took on more of a social and political tone, albeit with her trademark dry wit and wide-eyed color. For Hell-On, she gets much more personal. The record is Case’s personal statement about who she is and where she’s headed after nearly 25 years in the business.

Musically, Case isn’t forging new ground. She keeps things mellow and subdued, allowing her songwriting, her voice and those of her many collaborators to shine. That said, Hell-On is a grand achievement. At the forefront are the sneakily creepy title track; the exhilarating finale, “Pitch Or Honey”, which is a song to Case’s youth; and the shimmering “Bad Luck”. “Trying to pass riddles as poetry”, she says on the latter to not just wannabe poets but also to her younger self. The stunning ballad, “Curse of the I-5 Corridor”, is a surprising trip down memory lane, including the darker corners of her life. It’s a side of Case that she often hides behind the riddles she wrote in the past.

When Case gets political, the pen gets a little sharper and her aim is true. On “Hall of Sarah”, she describes America as a “childless widow” being surrounded by violence and those who wish to steal her limited possessions. The clever “Gumball Blue” reflects the consumerism that engulfs the world, where we are witnesses to “damp bodies crammed in Times Square”. While many choose to be limited to a single device, Case has proven once again she will not succumb to being pigeonholed or restricted. Instead, she continues to reinvent herself without sacrificing her always intelligent and witty lyricism and a voice for the ages. And with Hell-On, Case once again proves she’s is a reliably consistent artist whose music never strays far from the bullseye.

Hell-On is out via Anti- Records and also available on Bandcamp.

To review the first 25 of our Favorite Albums of 2018, click here. The final 25 of our Favorite Albums, meanwhile, is available here.

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