While the old adage that ‘from great pain comes great art’ is a cheap reduction of the wonders of the human spirit, there is some validity to it. Way down from her perch atop a Mercury Cougar, wielding a sword, thrust metaphorically onward forever as a preeminent singer-songwriter threat to the boundaries of country on 2009’s Middle Cyclone, 43-year-old case got hit with the loss of both her parents and grandmother and fell into a deafening depression, in which she couldn’t even bring herself to “listen to music.”
But like the arch of her career, from New Pornographers side girl to indie-rock warrior cathartic poster woman, Case’s humor and lust for unconventional lyrics eventually rattled out a healing process that can just as easily be summed up into one declarative statement, before even diving past its title, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You. Wrought with her darkest characters yet, from savage mothers to self-deprecating demons, yet laced with some of her most beautiful overdubbed harmonies and noir, lush bends on country to date, births one of 2013’s most refreshing takes on seeing the grand light of the forest for the trees. So goes five of its most cathartic moments.
As despairing as it may be, Case beating herself up over best laid plans failing, ‘puking up sonnets’, chastising her brain for drugging her slowly, ‘revenging herself all over herself’, and of course the inevitably that, yes, night still will come, the soulish swagger of a chorus wrapped around the regret of not being able to hold a falling star at the right angle, even if you can’t own it, is a charming way of saying there’s hope yet, dear woeful set: [LISTEN]
A whirling soft-focus fingerpick rumination on broken promises and the love that fills the spaces of all the sad little pieces, “Calling Cards” is a prime example of just how conversational and simple she can be, reducing an old telephone anecdote to a ‘blah, blah, blah’ remembrance, while building towards a buzzing tender visceral experience of a finding calling cards from two decades ago, listener directly accessing their own wounds for examination: [LISTEN]
The Worse Things Get…‘s most harrowing moment is also its most achingly therapeutic, as Case pens an angelic, Elliott Smith-ian a cappella love letter to a pour child who had the misfortune of coming into this world under the care of a bitch savage mother who quizzically thinks that public damnation is an acceptable way to raise a human being, in which Case drops empathy hints that she endured similar treatment in her own youth. Welcome to the church of Neko: [LISTEN]
Channeling an aqua key effect to mirror the underwater sensation of the down-and-outs, this side two segue shuffle is kind of the climax of the record, case ominously waxing aloft strings an epilogue about wanting so badly not to be herself as she experiences an out of body experience in search for her mojo, wavering at the end, the soft, ramshackle psychedelic blues glow of its dark comedy of a purported location: [LISTEN]
So very earning its big sparkling brass section, “Ragtime” is like that applauding thank-you coral at the end of a play where all the characters and oddities come out en mass and get their choreographed jam on, in this case ‘ragtime’, as in the music, is revealed as the secret that brought dear Case back to life, without the use of a sword, declaring she’s found the “the white-crowned sounds of possible” without killing it with a smile too over the top, instead opting for a butterfly metaphor: [LISTEN]