Midway into Neko Case’s new album, she sings a song presumably based on a memory of something she once heard between a mother and her child. It’s called “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu,” and she sings it a cappella.
I won’t ruin the surprise of what she overheard that night and then recites on the chorus — and we couldn’t print it, anyway, because of the coarse language — but suffice to say that it’s one of the most startling moments you’ll hear on a record this year.
The song, like the album itself, rattles your cage in ways that are unsettling but also poignant. “The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You” is a brave, visceral work from an artist already acclaimed for such qualities. The follow-up to 2009’s “Middle Cyclone,” it compels you to hear it over and over until all of its layers are revealed.
Even in her most inflamed state, when you can envision her sneer as she’s singing, Case always finds the beating heart at the core of a song. On “Man,” over the clang of electric guitar and pummeled drums, she boasts, “I’m a man/ That’s what you raised me to be.” Just when the brawniness reaches a boiling point, she declares, “A woman’s heart/ Is the watermark/ Of which I measure everything.”
This is the unusual album that’s beautiful and ugly, tender but tough, and that much more rewarding because of it. (Out Tuesday)
Neko Case performs at the Orpheum Theatre Nov. 1.