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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand with some new music from indie rocker Neko Case. Music critic Sarah Bardeen says that on her new CD, Neko Case is remaking the rules of songwriting.

SARAH BARDEEN reporting:

The title of Neko Case's latest album, in a way, says it all: Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. We don't get it, and on some level, we're not supposed to. For several albums now, Case had been quietly rewriting the rules of American songs. She's been heading into oblique territory, just as the rest of American pop music endeavors to leave distressingly little to the imagination. The thing is, what Case denies us in detail, she makes up for in mood.

Take for example, the song Star Witness.

(Soundbite of song, "Star Witness" by Neko Case)

Ms. NEKO CASE (Singer): (Singing) (unintelligible)

BARDEEN: With just a few strokes of her pen, she can evoke a place, a feeling, even a moment that passes faster than a cloud across the sun's face. In doing so, she leaves our imagination so much space that we almost fall into the songs, eager to fill in the blanks, and suddenly, unexpectedly implicated in these strange universes she creates.

(Soundbite of song, "Star Witness" by Neko Case)

BARDEEN: But Case isn't just undoing the storytelling tradition. She has begun to increasingly step outside the traditional verse, chorus, verse structure as well. Witness the fragment, A Widow's Toast.

(Soundbite of song, "A Widow's Toast" by Neko Case)

Ms. CASE: (Singing) Specters move like pilot flames. The widow's toast, it's santangel.

BARDEEN: It's just an idea, almost and oral sketch, really, but Case's heartfelt delivery lands it. And it's one of my favorite moments on the album.

(Soundbite of song, "A Widow's Toast" by Neko Case)

Ms. CASE: (Singing) Better times collide with now, and betters times. And better times are coming still.

BARDEEN: Then there's the two-and-a-half minute gem, That Teenage Feeling, which references '50s pop, and then, amazingly, Philip Glass's Koyaanisqatsi near the end. All the while, Case sings like a fading diva in the backroom of a stinking bar, one who sings her heart out, night after night, even if there's almost no one in the room.

(Soundbite of song, "That Teenage Feeling" by Neko Case)

Ms. CASE: (Singing) Now that we've met...

BARDEEN: The best thing about this album is that Case never loses the spark that makes her work so interesting. If anything, it's heightened by her experiments. We get her torch and twang voice, but was also get a glimpse into what music critic Grail Marcus famously called the old, weird America. Case isn't old, but her songwriting taps into the weirdness that lives under this country's shiny exterior, and she makes it a pretty intriguing place to visit.

(Soundbite of song, "That Teenage Feeling" by Neko Case)

Ms. CASE: (Singing) And nothing comes between us babe, it's my brave friend who says, I don't care. If forever never comes...

BRAND: Sarah Bardeen is a music critic living in San Francisco. The song Hold On, Hold On from Neko Case's latest CD is the song of the day at our website. Go to npr.org to hear the track, and hear past songs featured on the site.

(Soundbite of song, "That Teenage Feeling" by Neko Case)

Ms. CASE: (Singing) All the love you have...

BRAND: NPR's DAY TO DAY returns in a moment.

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