Neko Case has always been brave, but with her latest album she proves herself fearless. With her forthcoming Anti- release, The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You, the singer known as much for her restless musical curiosity as her clarion voice charts a powerfully personal course across the rocky landscape of childhood, love, and loss. The Worse Things Get... traces an emotional arc that reveals Case in all her thorny contradictions, each track in the 40-minute song cycle its own short story. "I like to have a linear flow," she says of the album's structure. "I wanted to have faith in the songs as a group rather than stacking the deck with all the upbeat songs at the top." But for all the pain and confusion that winds through the album, The Worse Things Get... ends on an unequivocal note of hope and power. At her darkest moments over the last few years, Case says, "I was uneasy and distractible. I couldn't listen to music except ragtime. It was so hopeful and busy, like something working like a little factory to fix me." Thus, "Ragtime," the album's final song. "I'll reveal myself when I'm ready. I'll reveal myself invincible soon," sings Case, as she builds to its ecstatic conclusion, the richly layered chorus of vocals and horns climbing and climbing into one glorious shout from the mountaintop. "I am one and the same, I am useful and strange," she soars, before closing with a line cribbed from Moby Dick, which she read for the first time while working on the album, and which proved a valuable yardstick: "There's a wisdom that's woe, and a woe that is madness." It's Neko Case in a nut — and could well give listeners goosebumps.