Middle Cyclone

Band: Neko Case
Album: Middle Cyclone
Best song: “People Got a Lotta Nerve” is the first single and is pretty great. “I’m an Animal” is the best song on the album.
Worst song: The Harry Nilsson cover “Don’t Forget Me” isn’t great.

The hardest thing about depression is that it is just that: a dip, a valley. In a lot of cases, that thing is something that you really can’t traverse.

It’s oppressive, the powerlessness. The little knowledge I have about biology and the brain is such that depressives — for what it’s worth, I’ve never been diagnosed to be bipolar, or even depressed enough to warrant medication, as I’ve rejected such drugs when offered in the past — and their sense of powerlessness is a biological phenomenom. It’s a chemical thing and one that gets imprinted on the brain.

And the fucked up thing with the brain is that we can change its biological function not just through things like drugs, but also through, you know. Our brains. Our habits. The things we do. Thoughts. Brain functions.

The grand example is exercise. The overwhelming scholarly work suggests that exercise can be very effective in helping depression. Just about every study done has shown that exercise helps one’s mindset. Sleep helps. Eating well. That sort of thing.

I know it can’t just be me, but whenever I get into a certain — bad, mostly — routine, it just keeps building on itself. And that makes it tremendously difficult to break.

I haven’t slept consistently well in years.

The main reason for this is the (platonic) love of my life, my bulldog. He’s very needy and wakes me up several times each night. I wear earplugs and I put on music to try and do various other things to try and get some sleep. This is not effective, as I find myself waking up to a whining/crying, 55-lb. monster with the most beautiful ugly face anyone has ever seen.

It’s easy to forget how much a good night’s sleep affects you when you never sleep well. I had two good-excellent nights of sleep over the weekend and coming back to crappy sleeping is like night and day. And drugged sleep isn’t always a huge help; I took sleeping pills (over the counter ones, but sleeping pills nonetheless) last night and woke up this morning in a malaise I can’t seem to shake. It’s affecting the entire of my being today, and that feeling has been part of things for a while.

And maybe it’s my own issue, but one of the grand conundrums about feeling crappy is the lack of a correct response, other than to listen. On the whole, whatever thing is getting me depressed is minimal (well, save for one thing) compared to almost everyone else’s problems.

I’m in a money hole because of my own fiscal irresponsibility, but also because I’m about to finish my Master’s. Big whoop, you have tons of friends in law school and their debt is several times as big as yours. Plus, they’re actually smart with their money. I don’t sleep. Big whoop, your mother’s an actual insomniac and has more serious heart problems, to boot. My car is fucked up and I don’t have time to fix it. No one is forcing you to have a car, bucko. You live less than a mile away from a Metro station. You can walk. I’m gaining weight. Who is forcing you not to exercise? No one but you, pal.

Certainly, no one really gives me those speeches. People are generally sympathetic, offering well-wishes, sympathy or empathy (“here’s a story about how I once felt like that,” “I’m really sorry” or “Good luck feeling better.”). And that’s not what I want. I don’t know if I want the “fuck you and your non-problems” speech, but I know the sympathy doesn’t help. Nothing really does, I guess.

And that’s the disconnect. I don’t deserve sympathy because the problems I have are all self-generated. People shouldn’t feel sorry for me because I don’t have discipline. At the risk of sounding like a stereotype, I’m weak. I need to be better.

But it gets back to my original point. I feel the way I do and I can’t really get out of it. I didn’t want tog et out of bed this morning. I didn’t want to do anything. I knew I needed to exercise. I knew I needed to make my lunch. I knew I needed to do some cleaning of my apartment, which still looks like it was firebombed by dirty clothes and papers.

I did none of these things. This is the nature of being down.

I’m being melodramatic for no worthwhile reason. I feel like crap because I’ve made mistakes and the effect of those mistakes is reminding me of those mistakes. For this piece, I wanted to get a short (Short? Ha!) description of how I was feeling in order to apologize for the crappiness and late timing of this piece. In short, I’d meant to write this last week, before I went to see Case live. Or the week before. But, every time I opened up my computer to write it, I just couldn’t do it.

I bought Neko Case’s latest album on the day it came out for my girlfriend’s birthday and she loved the album. I didn’t hear until I bought it for myself some two weeks later (well, my girlfriend played me bits and pieces at various times). It’s understandable, as Case is a gifted songwriter who has worked with some wonderful people in her career. her work with the New Pornographers is among the band’s best.

(and here’s where I get a little sexist, making good on the promise that any reader will have absolutely no sympathy for me) Case is a certain type of indie rock persona, the “hot chick with a kickass voice.” I’d suggest she’s like Feist or Joanna Newsom in that case, but I find neither of those two artists to be particularly attractive. Case isn’t homely like Feist is, but she’s certainly not a model. Then again, I’ve had a huge thing for Elizabeth Elmore for as long as I can remember. So, what do I know?

Outside of that, I’ve never been the world’s biggest fan of Ms. Case, as her music deals mostly in a genre (country, or, more specifically, alt-country) I don’t really appreciate as much as I probably should. The title track, a wonderful mid-tempo confessional, is a grand example of this. It’s a gorgeous song, with a full Case vocal, but it ultimately falls too far afield into folk country for me to truly appreciate it.

That’s not to say that I don’t love the album. I do. It’s a marvelous work, both confessional and declaratory (see the album cover). Case’s strong presence is announced in every song, with a mid-rhythm stumble in “Fever” to the chant of “I’m a man, man, man, man, maneater” in “People Got a Lotta Nerve” to her blast that she’s an animal on “I’m an Animal.”

The story of the album’s recording is available via our good friend Wikipedia, so I won’t recount it here (check it out, though, as it involved some interesting bits about pianos and Craiglist). Nevertheless, Case remains a wildly interesting figure, a talented songwriter and a fine singer. Middle Cyclone is her best album yet and in the running for best album of 2009.

For shits and giggles, here’s the e-press kit for the album:

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  • By Happy Songs for Happy People | Albums That I Own on August 22, 2010 at 1:01 pm

    […] As with most people, I’m a pretty different person in real life v. online. Here, that’s probably easy to see. The variance in post styles is pretty stark, as my Jens Lekman piece is pretty different, style-wise, from a recent post on a Cursive record, which is different from this or this. […]

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  • About Me

    I'm Ross Jordan Gianfortune. I am not a writer, but I sometimes write here about music and my life. I live in Washington, DC.

    I used to review each of Rolling Stone Magazine's top 500 albums of all time. Now I'm writing about albums I own.

    My work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Gazette, The Atlantic, Sno-Cone and a bunch of defunct zines.

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