Aside from her beautiful voice, one of Neko Case’s strengths is her ability to suck people into stories that lack the common romantic thread of pop music. Middle Cyclone is littered with songs warning of nature fighting back; with tornadoes ripping through trailer parks (“This Tornado Loves You”), a cover of pop chameleon Sparks’ “Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth” and “Red Tide,” which is a bit inscrutable but appears to be about molluscs wreaking a horrible revenge on humanity. This album is heavy on social commentary and light on pop tropes (with the exception of a beautiful cover of Harry Nilsson’s “Don’t Forget Me”).
Case draws on a lot of different musicians to get some well-crafted country-tinged pop music, and is joined by friends such as Sarah Harmer, the New Pornographers, M. Ward and the Sadies to name a few, but you’d hardly notice. For all the talent these people bring to the album, they’re just big names filling the role of session musicians. The sound of the album is warm and polished with lots of acoustic sounds, and the music is crafted to show off Case’s talents, not those of her friends. To finish the album, Case decided to extend the natural theme by ending with half an hour of sounds from a marsh at night called “Marais La Nuit.” It’s a fitting choice, but if you’re not planning on falling to sleep to this album you’ll probably just want to skip it.