Album Reviews

Lael Neale – Star Eater’s Delight

(Sub Pop) UK release date: 21 April 2023

There’s more than a hint of Patti Smith in her intense delivery on a third album that brings atmosphere, drama and languid surf guitar

Lael Neale - Star Eater's Delight Lael Neale‘s previous album Acquainted With Night was a textbook study in using lo-fi recording techniques. Everything was stripped back, recorded on the first take and using the Omnichord, a type of synth instrument, to record directly onto four-track, with the hiss of the tape a constant feature of the album.

It may not have been polished, but it allowed Neale’s songs to breathe and take shape in a way that they didn’t on her debut record I’ll Be Your Man. For her third album, she’s opted for a more expansive soundscape, but it’s one that gives her songs a hypnotic focus. It may last just over half an hour, but Star Eater’s Delight is a record that stays with you long after the final track.

Opening track I Am The River may be her best song to date, a punchy, garage rock anthem complete with fuzzy guitar and drum machines. It’s propulsive in the way it constantly moves forward, almost celebratory in the way it “pledges allegiance to tree and meadow”. The drone of the Omnichord is ever-present, but it’s married to a sense of joy that becomes quite infectious.

I Am The River is probably the most upbeat moment of the album, though. If I Had No Wings, which follows, is more contemplative, beginning like a off-cut from Spiritualized‘s Ladies & Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space, while the album’s centrepiece, the eight-minute In Verona, is even more deliberate. It’s a re-framing of Romeo & Juliet and there’s more than a hint of Patti Smith in Neale’s intense delivery – you almost expect her to start exclaiming “horses, horses!” halfway through. It takes its sweet time to unfurl, but you’d do well to hear a more dramatic, atmospheric song all year.

Elsewhere, there are nods back to Acquainted With Night on Must Be Tears, a frail, sparse ballad where the hiss of the tape can be heard bubbling underneath the song’s mournful string section, while No Holds Barred seems to start with a nod to Proud Mary before unfolding into a languid surf guitar rocker. The mixture of lo-fi with more layered instrumentation pays dividends too – the little guitar riffs that spring up on Return To Me Now adding a kind of beatific atmosphere that the drone of Neale’s previous work may have lacked.

Sometimes sounding like a lost David Lynch soundtrack, and sometimes sounding like a beautiful love song piped directly from outer space, Lael Neale’s album never outstays its welcome – in fact, it’s likely that, as soon as the click of the cassette recorder switching off ends the closing track Leads Me Blind, you’ll want to go right back to the start again. Star Eater’s Delight is Neale’s best, and most accessible, work to date.

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