While there's plenty to talk about, the album that I want to tell you about is the one that I initially didn't enjoy as much as I hoped: Hell-On by Neko Case.
I don't know about you, but when I love a particular artist I feel more emotionally invested in their work. And you would be hard-pressed to find an artist who has mattered more to me over the past eighteen years than Neko Case. I was first introduced to her powerful voice as a member of the New Pornographers, the Canadian Power Pop super group that also includes A.C. Newman and Dan Bejar, (and if you're saying to yourself, how do those three people make a super group, you've got some homework ahead of you on Spotify).
I quickly became a fan of Neko Case's solo work as well, which is a sharp departure from her work with the New Pornographers, delving into the alt-country landscape that has fueled the obvious comparisons between her and such legends as Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline. Her album Fox Confessor Brings the Flood is a gorgeous piece of work, outdone only by it's follow-up, Middle Cyclone. Her work on those two albums alone has cemented her voice as the best vocalist of my generation.
So when I heard that she had a new album coming out, I had a lot of expectations. When the title track for Hell-On was first released on Spotify, I couldn't wait to hear it.
My reaction? "Eh."
The song felt like a part of a bigger piece and I found myself even more anxious for the new album, imagining it to be more sprawling and conceptual. So I reserved judgement until I could hear the whole album.
When I could finally listen to the full album it did feel like a more curated collection of songs than any of her previous albums. Yet, after my first listen my reaction was still a heavy, "Eh."
To be fair, there was no way that Hell-On could have held the weight of those expectations. The expectations were the problem.
This has happened to me before, this allergic reaction to new work that challenges me in ways I wasn't expecting. I still remember going to Main Street Music in Manayunk the day that Kid A by Radiohead came out, going home and feeling severely disappointed at the first listen because it wasn't easily accessible. Because I was expecting — no, wanting it — to be OK Computer Part Two. That album was the soundtrack to my senior year in college and was wrapped up with everything I was experiencing at the time.
I quickly turned a corner on Kid A and now it holds all the same import that OK Computer held as well. Because I gave it another chance.
Admittedly, there was probably an economic reason as well; I was a junior designer and the cost of a CD was probably a little more precious to me at the time. So I was invested in my purchase and forced myself to give it another try. Regardless of your opinion on Radiohead, it seems ludicrous now to think of anyone needing to be convinced that Kid A was a seminal album worthy of a second listen.
But I was 22 and an idiot. I didn't know what I wanted. What I needed.
One of the more insidious traps of our digital age is how quick we are to move on from things that challenge us creatively. Our time is so precious that we're not willing to waste time on the things that don't speak to us immediately. We're easy to dismiss things as "not for me," and there's so much that we could be missing from that "second look."
We should seek the experiences that go against the grain, that challenge us to change our perspectives.
With that in mind, I've had Hell-On in constant rotation lately. And today, while riding the Market-Frankford line into work, I finally got it. Hell-On finally struck me the way I wanted it to upon that initially listening. It's a textured album brimming with gothic menace and evocative turns of phrase that have become her signature. It's by no means a perfect album; a duet she sings with Eric Bachmann of Crooked Fingers in the latter half of the album is possibly my least favorite song in all of her discography. This track aside, the album is a brooding and gorgeous masterpiece. It feels like a culmination of the themes, both musically and lyrically, that she's been playing with for years, and is already in contention for my favorite album of the year.
I'm 40 and still an idiot. I didn't know what I wanted. But now I do. I wanted this album all along. I needed it. In retrospect, it seems ridiculous that I would have thought otherwise.
I put a track from Neko Case's new album on this month's playlist. Check it out along with some of the other songs we've been digging this month: https://open.spotify.com/user/1257928609/playlist/3qrzLk3iqzsGH1hJ07izHV?si=v0ZQdQa8TCGwsM0Mb1TwZw
In other Hi-Res news, we've got a great month of episodes coming up for you. This coming Tuesday we're talking with Christine Sheller. She is the Vice President of Design at FS Investments, where she oversees execution of all creative output including brand identity, design, video, photography, digital, print and related platforms. She’s also the president of AIGA Philadelphia, where she’s been a member since 1998 and has previously served in membership and In-house director roles. Christine has over 20 years of experience managing in-house brands. While I was excited to talk with Christine, I had a put in a long day before our talk that evening and was feeling less than enthusiastic, but her energy is so infectious that I was quickly engaged in our chat and I'm sure you'll love it as well as her.
Also in July we'll be talking with André Davis. André became a published poet at the age of 12, discovering his knack for translating passion and emotion through articulation of emotion. After pursuing a career in social services and business development, he changed the course of his career to explore art and media. Fueled by curiosity and self-awareness, André's conversation with me is perhaps the most candid that I've ever had on the show, and I can't wait to share it with you.
Finally, for Patreon subscribers, I sit down with a good friend of mine, Dave Sloboda. Dave is the first production artist to come into the studio and talk about his experiences in the field. Plus, Dave and I have a storied history together in design and pop culture appreciation, so there was a multitude of things to discuss, so much so that don't be surprised if we get Dave back for a future episode. Look for that episode to post very soon.
If you're already a subscriber, thank you so much for your help and support. If you're not yet a subscriber, now's the perfect time to jump in. You'll get access not only to this month's bonus episode but all previous bonus episodes. We're quickly sneaking up on a year of doing this and I can't believe it's been that long. Plus, we're working on even more incentives to become a supporter, so stay tuned!
That's all for now. Until next time...