by Joseph Purcell
Questions and doubts lead to defiance – Lael Neale’s second album weaves intimacy with dreamy, Omnichordal magic
‘Gather your words / gaze at the fields of snow / the garden has gone / the wind has blown cold.’
As the opening words of Lael Neale’s new record, Acquainted with Night, fall from the speakers, an ironic tranquillity descends. Although Blue Vein begins with a snapshot of wintery isolation, the image is an apt starting point – before the rural Virginia native guides us through a softly pitched landscape that spreads its wings into a message of freedom.
Like the opener, with each track that follows, there is the feeling that it is a direct dialogue. For No One For Now captures the fragile depth of Owen Ashworth’s Advance Base. It is beautifully heartfelt and its hymnal qualities somehow feel familiar. Third Floor Window searches for clarity – ‘why do we say words but never know the meaning, sadness another word for feeling too much?’ Her conversational approach again shows her doubting – ‘why does the sun fall softly on your photo, why do words fail?’ before ruefully closing, ‘I long for you’.
Every Star Shivers in the Dark is a real standout. Its title, a metaphor for the song itself, finds Neale at surrounded by ‘losers’ at Dodger’s Stadium, but there are dreams of a better life. There’s a positivity. The garden imagery returns, but this time it is one that is somewhere out in the future, but growing and ready to bloom.
On the hushed crescendos of Sliding Doors & Warm Summer Roses, the positivity continues. There is a delicate layering of hollow echoes and fragile shards of flute, as the arrangement swells momentarily; Neale’s hushed calls of ‘I’m never lonesome’ are a haunting display of independence.
Similar in its grainy aesthetic to Gia Margaret’s There’s Always Glimmer, the production crackles as if being played through an old wireless or gramophone – adding to the enchanting nature of these poetic, modern classics. Acquainted With Night feels like a more rounded statement than Lael Neale’s debut. It is bold in its simplicity. At the record’s epicentre, her voice constantly questions, and sees her grow defiant amid the doubts.
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