Lael Neale still has a flip phone and there were no screens involved in the creation of her new record Star Eaters Delight.
The album is her second for Sub Pop and reveals an expansion of her sonic collaboration with producer and accompanist Guy Blakeslee.
In April of 2020, in the wake of transformations both personal and global, Lael moved from Los Angeles back to her family’s farm in rural Virginia. Looking at the world from a distance and getting in tune with her own rhythms, she wrote and recorded steadily for two dreamlike years, driven by a need to make order out of chaos. Forged in isolation, Star Eaters Delight is a vehicle for returning, not just to civilization, but to celebration.
She says, “Acquainted with Night (recorded in 2019, and released in 2021), was a focusing inward amidst the loud and bright Los Angeles surrounding me. It was an attempt to create spaciousness and quiet reverie within. When I moved back to the farm, I found that the unbroken silences compelled me to break them with sound. This album is more external. It is a reaching back out to the world, wanting to feel connected, to wake up, to come together again.”
Album opener and lead single “I Am The River” melts the ice with a dynamic explosion of minimalist transcendental pop clearly descended from the Velvets branch of modern music’s family tree.
“Lael is always telling me to play fewer notes,” says Blakeslee, whose spare yet cinematic arrangements create an ambient space in which Neale’s clear and unaffected voice can explore familiar themes in an unexpected way. Subtle but potent references to Shakespeare, Emerson and the Bible (which she hasn’t read) swirl together with deeply personal musings and touches of wry humor, always more optimistic than cynical.
"I like to use archetypal language because I want to get a rise out of people. I want to trigger a response. A single archetypal word carries more weight and punch than an ordinary word. Jesus means more to us than Joe,” she notes.
Album centerpiece “In Verona” is a sprawling gospel dirge in which the narrator-as-newscaster chants hypnotic incantations to lament a society plagued by divisions and hypocrisies, reimagining the Montagues and Capulets without mentioning them by name and cautioning the listener to “cast no stone.”
Lael continues, “The past few years have seen more mud slinging & finger pointing than I’ve witnessed in my life. When I found myself getting drawn into the fray, this phrase became a mantra helping me seek higher ground and a broader perspective.”
“Faster Than The Medicine” gallops across a misty imagined English countryside, frenetically propelled by the drum machine built into Neale’s signature Omnichord, while the bittersweet “Must Be Tears” invokes Nico with its pulsing Mellotron strings.
While this is a record about polarities- country vs. city, humanity vs. technology, solitude vs. relationship - the deeper intention is to heal; to come to terms with our differences and put the broken pieces back together again. Lael’s affinity with the Transcendentalists has to do with her quest to hold onto sovereignty over her own mind. In a time when our devices are constantly flooding us with information, opinions and propaganda, Lael is intentional about what she takes in - hence the flip phone and the cassette recorder.
She claims to be a minimalist “not because I don’t like things, but because I value freedom more.”