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Dissected: Neko Case’s Albums from Worst to Best

on November 12, 2015, 2:00pm

08. Canadian Amp EP (2001)


“South Tacoma Way” (locations mentioned): True to its name, Canadian Amp is an EP centered entirely around place. Granted, Case isn’t technically a native of the Great White North, but it’s where her career started in proper, and she pays tribute to her musical heritage here by covering four musicians from above the US border. The States themselves get name-dropped in “In California”, and Hank Williams’ “Alone and Forsaken” pops up to show Arkansas (and the American South in general) some love.

“Margaret Vs. Pauline” (characters)Though most of the songs aren’t hers, it’s telling that Case gravitated towards tracks rooted in intensely drawn characters, from the fleeing lover in Mike O’Neill’s “Andy” to the doomed fling in “Poor Ellen Smith”. But the most vivid sketch comes from Neil Young, whose “Dreaming Man”‘s spurned, possibly violent lover (he carries a loaded gun in his Aerostar) undercuts the sweetness of the music.

“I’m a Man” (subversion of gender norms and stereotypes)Lots of gender flipping here, especially in the covers of Williams and Young. Case, badass that she is, never switches the pronouns either. This isn’t to specifically place the song from a woman’s perspective, but to show that perspective doesn’t matter. The songs could be a woman singing from a man’s point of view, a woman who’s in love with a woman, or the viewpoint from another character altogether.

“Deep Red Bells” (violence and murder ballads)There’s a threat of violence in “Dreaming Man” that may not come to fruition, and the two Case originals run thick with a redness that may be real or imagined. Closer “Favorite” finds her dreaming about a dead deer spilling blood onto her dress, and the creepier “Make Your Bed” is told by a drifter who promises to “tuck in” a young girl by throwing her in the river and letting the catfish feast on her skin. Canadian Amp’s centerpiece of death, however, comes in Case’s rendition of the traditional murder ballad “Poor Ellen Smith”, which tells the story of a man who kills his mentally challenged lover (one-night stand, really) after she won’t stop following him around.

“Whip the Blankets” (cover songs)Haven’t you been reading? This whole EP (almost) is made up of covers!

Her Boyfriends (personnel)The Sadies once again guest-star on “Make Your Bed”, and elsewhere, we get more brassy harmonies from Kelly Hogan, Brett Sparks of The Handsome Family, Chris Von Sneidern, and even some mournful violin by future chamber-pop wunderkind Andrew Bird.

—Dan Caffrey