Star Eaters Delight
Omnichord prices are going through the roof these days. Time was you could find one of Suzuki’s faux-string-coursing electronic instruments on the cheap, whether online or at a particularly great yard sale. Earlier this year, though, when Blur’s Damon Albarn revealed in an interview that the earworm, two-note boom bap of his first Gorillaz smash, “Clint Eastwood,” was literally made using the Omnichord’s “Rock 1” pre-set beat, these things started jumping up to four-digit prices on Reverb.com. While gear-hounds are likely striving to hit those Gorillaz-sized heights, you’d hope at least a few were also inspired by the gorgeous, digital harp ballads of Lael Neale’s 2021 release, Acquainted with the Night. Two years on, the Virginia-based songsmith has pulled out her Omnichord for her equally affecting latest release, Star Eaters Delight.
While sharing some sonic aesthetics, Star Eaters Delight rings out somewhat more optimistically than its predecessor. Acquainted With the Night was fittingly nocturnal and inward, Neale often strumming the Omnichord’s harp-like Sonic String touch plate with a fluid, feels-based approach to tempo. That exists on here, too (“If I Had No Wings”), but Star Eaters Delight more often revels in the vibrant throb of drum machine beats. Opener “I Am the River” jolts the album into high gear, a motoric pulse underscoring a velvet throw of organ-esque melodies, staccato surf guitaring, and Neale’s celebratory lyrics (“Let us have music while we are moving,” she sings appropriately, ahead of a warming round of ba-ba-bas).
The last time Northern Transmissions caught up with Neale, she’d semi-recently moved back from California to her family farm in rural Virginia. While Acquainted with the Night attempted to blot out the noise of an L.A. cityscape, Neale inferred in a press release that Star Eaters Delight is more about “reaching back out to the world, wanting to feel connected, to wake up, to come together again.”
That togetherness, folk hymnal “If I Had No Wings” seems to argue, can be forged through song, Neale tunefully intimating how she’ll “sing my way back to you”. Later, the human voice is heralded as a soothing balm on the twitchy “Faster Than the Medicine” (“Only your breath can heal me,” Neal casts out in a verse). On album centerpiece “In Verona” — an almost eight-and-a-half-minute epic of delay-decayed piano and dub-like booms — she puts the call out to connect with others, despite our differences. “Cast no stone,” she muses melodically and mantra-like throughout the piece.
Along with producer Guy Blakeslee, Neale has crafted a deeper pool of sounds than the Omnichord-heavy Acquainted with the Night. Elsewhere, a three-guitar symphony scores the vintage, sock-hop ballad “No Holds Barred”; “Lead Me Blind” transforms parlor piano melodies into an amethyst-bright bit of soundscaping; the stunning “Return to Me Now” — though oddly sounding something like a fusion of 4 Non Blondes’ “What’s Up?” and the fuzz-forward licks of Os Mutantes’ “A Minha Menina” — thrives on tie-dyed mellotrons.
It’s perhaps this track that speaks the most to the differences between Neale’s two most recent albums. Acquainted With the Night’s “Blue Vein” mused on cold winds and frozen-over gardens; “Return to Me Now” centers on an idyllic image of someone making their way back to Neale “like a flower who loves the sun.” Her last album ended with far off thoughts of “Some Sunny Day.” Here, Neale’s basking in the warming glow.
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