"Reveal myself when I'm ready / I'll reveal myself invincible soon," Neko Case sings in "Ragtime," the mid-tempo ballad which closes her new record, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You. But she's hardly concealed her identity or evaded examination in the album's first 11 songs: This is arguably the most unguarded and revealing of Case's six records.
A brilliantly funny and outspoken character, Case has spent the past few years peeling the varnish off her persona. Now based on a 100-acre farm in Vermont, she tweets often about music, pet ownership, self-repair, politics, and the pursuit of love in tiny missives that can be candid, strange, profane, melancholy, hilarious, or some combination thereof.
Case's gift for disarming commentary carries over to the quotable, thoughtful, frequently lovely songs on The Worse Things Get: She can be bracingly acerbic (as in the aggressive power-pop gender-bender "Man"), boldly inspiring ("Ragtime" again: "I am one and the same / I am useful and strange"), or achingly tender (as in her Nico cover "Afraid," with its gasp-inducing delivery of the words, "You are beautiful and you are alone") while conveying equal, virtually boundless charisma.
Recorded with an assortment of her favorite collaborators — including producer Tucker Martine, longtime backup singer Kelly Hogan, M. Ward, her New Pornographers colleague A.C. Newman, Visqueen's Rachel Flotard, and many more — The Worse Things Get (out Sept. 3) tucks thrills into its margins and doles them out in time-release doses. As her subtle touches suddenly cohere and register as surprises six or eight listens later (wait, are those submarine noises?), it's clear that Case remains essentially peerless: No one sounds like her, so every little revelation feels altogether new.