Lael Neale on “Acquainted With Night” | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Friday, April 19th, 2024  

Lael Neale on “Acquainted With Night”

Borrowed and Blue

Nov 08, 2021 Photography by Wendy Lynch Redfern Issue #68 - Japanese Breakfast and HAIM (The Protest Issue)
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It’s not every day that a musician’s choice of instrument forever changes their trajectory. And here we are speaking of things more granular than Dylan going electric. Ira Kaplan of Yo La Tengo borrowed a studio mate’s Ace-Tone organ for their Painful album and that kept them from ending up just another indie guitar band. Recent Sub Pop signee Lael Neale likewise borrowed a friend’s vintage Suzuki Omnichord and avoids the trap of becoming just another folk singer. Of course writing some killer songs doesn’t hurt either.

Neale released a fine debut back in 2015, but her new album, Acquainted With Night, is for all intents and purposes her entry to the main stage. She never gave up on music over that period, but the appropriate muse had not yet crossed her path. “I spent those five years just writing and meeting people,” Neale explains. “I recorded a ton, but shelved everything.”

Neale was raised in rural Virginia near Charlottesville, but moved to Los Angeles to pursue music. Recorded on a 4-track in her LA home (Neale has recently returned to Virginia due to the pandemic), the new album starts with a lo-fi hiss and gentle guitar strum. But when Neale opens her mouth to command “gather your words” on the opener, “Blue Vein,” it is clear that we are hearing the true Neale for the first time. “That song really does feel like a personal anthem. It’s kind of a declamation of, ‘This is who I am and what I am,’” Neale elaborates. And when the first Omnichord notes hit mid-song, well, forget about it. It is apparent a differently displayed talent has arrived.

Of the Omnichord, Neale shares that she heard the sound once on a recording she can’t now recall. “I went to one of my friends who has a wealth of knowledge. He says, ‘I think this is what you are looking for,’ and he shows me the Omnichord.” The instrument, Neale assures, is easy to learn and recreates sounds as rudimentary as the most basic of drum machine beats, glistening autoharp runs, and alternating organ notes with maximum sustain. Therefore she is able to compile a heady mix of Appalachian folk, early era electronica, and gospel spiritual, all filtered through the hiss of the first field recordings. To this she brings lyrics inspired by early American poets as well as her own more modern view. Of her sometimes archaic lyrics, Neale explains, “that comes from being interested in poetry and literature. The words are always the most important part to me.” The album’s first single, “Every Star Shivers in the Dark,” brings this to light with the Omnichord in full bloom as she recounts her foot travels through the LA landscape. The behind the glass interaction with an inmate in a prison tower particularly resonates, as Neale recounts waving to the man from the street below. “The centerpiece of this song is the isolation,” Neale explains. “And then our common humanity. I was happy to have this tiny little moment have its own moment.”

Acquainted With Night features light production and mixing by Guy Blakeslee of The Entrance Band, but primarily the album is a stark statement wholly of Neale’s making. The songs feel as if they were always within her and just needed something to coax them out. In this case an instrument from an earlier era that hearkens back to an even earlier one. With no plans to return the purloined Omnichord, just as Kaplan kept the Ace-Tone, a little help from friends never hurts. “I borrowed it, and I’ve never given it back,” she says.

[Note: This article originally appeared in Issue 68 of Under the Radar’s print magazine, which is out now. This is its debut online.]

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