With the New Pornographers, Case shoots cries of passion and glee into the air until she towers over the band like a waterspout. On her own albums, pitched toward country, she has always sung too carefully—except on the EP Canadian Amp, released as an Internet-only item in 2001 and now available in stores. There, she took Neil Young’s “Dreaming Man” so soulfully Young evaporated from the music; with Hank Williams’s “Alone and Forsaken,” Case herself almost disappeared into the song, which is as far as anyone should go into that most blasted of American suicide notes. But with Case now in her mid-thirties, something like aging is taking place. On Fox Confessor she sings as if she knows more—or doubts more. There’s a warmth here, as if drawn from a deep well, that she didn’t have to give before. Song by song, stories swirl. With “Hold On, Hold On,” Case leaves a party at 3 A.M. (“Alone, thank God”); she turns her car west, with Duane Eddy as a guide, ghost riders in her sky.
3. Stephen Colbert, The Colbert Report (Comedy Central, Dec. 1)
He interrupted himself to muse over Rick Springfield’s great 1981 hit “Jessie’s Girl.” “I have not been able to get the song out of my head,” he said. “I wish that I had Jessie’s girl. I wish that I had—what’s that next line?” he asks the stage manager, who probably wasn’t born when the song topped the charts. Colbert swivels his head. “Rick, what’s the next line?” And then Springfield, holding a guitar, happily responds. “Where can I find a woman like that,” he bangs out and immediately stops. “That’s it. Thanks, babe,” Colbert says, moving right along, as if Springfield were a prop man.
4. Cat Power, The Greatest (Matador)
For a decade, Chan Marshall has dedicated herself to tempos that stop and a voice that courts silence. Here, playing with Memphis soul musicians, she fools with strange new tools: coming down hard on a word, a rumble on guitar, hints of melodrama. But what’s at stake is the search for a darker hollowness, a more complete nowhere; with “Hate” she meets Neko Case somewhere in Arizona and in a battle of the bands, sucks her up like dust.
5. Rubettes, “Sugar Baby Love,” from Breakfast on Pluto: Music from the Motion Picture (Milan)
From 1974, and the most deliriously happy sound imaginable. No wonder Cillian Murphy’s character Kitten can smile in the face of horror; this never goes off the charts in her head.
6. Ameriquest Commercial (Aug. 21)
Weirder by far than the Rolling Stones’ performance at the Super Bowl was this spot, where, as an unbelievably desiccated and self-parodying (until the Super Bowl) Mick Jagger prances onstage, a young, properly dressed Ann Coulter look-alike emerges from the crowd to explain that Ameriquest is underwriting the band’s 2005 tour because they want to help you with your mortgage. “Mick! I love you!” she screams as the crowd lifts her into the air. Back on her feet, disheveled, replacing her glasses, she nevertheless has the self-control to explain that Ameriquest is not only sponsoring the tour but is the registered owner of the slogan “Proud Sponsor of the American Dream.” Or, as the Firesign Theatre once put it, speaking of a company they named U.S. Plus: “We own the idea of the idea of America.”
7. Black Angels, Passover (Light in the Attic)
A drone band looking for the sound of paranoia and dread: The vortex comes in the slow, rotting noise of “The First Vietnamese War.” And the second? And the third?
8. Dion, Bronx in Blue (Dimensional Music Recordings)
He sings Robert Johnson songs in his own voice, but he plays guitar as if he’s making the songs up on the spot.
9. Ken Tucker, Fresh Air (WHYY/NPR, Dec. 20)
On Bob Dylan at the Beacon Theater in New York: “He sang ‘I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,’ and he just bit off the words—‘Shut the light/Shut the shade.’ It was as though he was about to direct a porn film, the way he said those words.”
10. Cat Power, “Paths of Victory,” from North Country: Music from the Motion Picture (Columbia)
Taken from her 2000 The Covers Record—and somehow the throaty intonations, the deliberate pacing, are a perfect match for Charlize Theron’s performance. Even though I knew the recording, when it played behind the credits I thought it was Theron singing.
Interview, April 2006