The snow is piling up past my downstairs neighbor’s window, and I can only imagine the darkness they have to face now. I imagine Lael Neale’s Acquainted with Night playing through their apartment as they watch the snow turn into mountains before them. The second song on the album, “Every Star Shivers in the Dark,” ends with an instrumental exit that feels like the snow slowly building itself into this great, powerful mountain beneath me, unaware of the dark days it may drag along with its white blankets.
The album, like snow, has a lightness to it. There are only two elements: her voice and the Omnichord. Neale said, “Every time I reached the end of recording, I felt the songs had been stripped of their vitality in the process of layering drums, bass, guitar, violin, and organ over them. They felt weighed down.”
Then the Omnichord came into her life in 2019, and she began to create songs with the intention to capture them as they came, not just by creating the beginning of a song’s long journey through production and editing. Neale only had the Omnichord for a span of three months when the songs were written for this album, and she said of it, “In a liminal space between ending and beginning, I started recording these songs.”
The title of the album is perhaps a nod to Robert Frost’s poem “Acquainted with the Night,” which ends, “Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right / I have been one acquainted with the night.” Neale revealed that she wrote all of the songs during the dark hours and thus became acquainted with them. Frost, like Neale, seems to live in a liminal space, between the right and wrong time, between the country and the city. Both Frost and Neale nod to isolation, which feels more and more relatable each day we live in this pandemic.
“For No One For Now” jumps into your ears and almost seems like a pop song in comparison to the sad songs that came before. This was the first song Neale recorded on the Omnichord, and you can feel that beginning when compared to the other tracks. This track, unlike the others, does not reach that lightness quite like the others do. However, the song still feels like a ghost in a long whispering dress is telling you its secrets in little poems. You chase it around but can never quite catch it. Neale sings to the ghost, “Toast in the kitchen, for no one for now / For no one for now / Somehow it feels / As though you’re real.”
Neale loses the excess sounds again in the next song, “Sliding Doors & Warm Summer Roses,” which sounds like a slow tickling of chords, but her voice is the main course of the song. She repeats the mantra “I’m never lonesome” until her voice tackles itself over and over again, turning itself into a choir. As the Omnichord reveals whispering whistle sounds and an organ sound, Neale takes us to her church.
The final song, “Some Sunny Day,” leaves us with a glimpse of hope. The song’s instrumentation moves the listener forward — it feels like a drive-off song for the post-breakup ride home or a move to somewhere far away. The end of the song morphs itself by echoing the final chords of the song into distortion, then finally bringing back one more chord. She brings us to the liminal space of ending and beginning, the time neither wrong nor right.
If you enjoy Phoebe Bridgers, Jessica Pratt, Mazzy Star or any of the other sad, wonderful women in music, this album will fit in your collection. But it’s even more intimate, like you are sitting on the floor of Lael Neale’s bedroom with her, her Omnichord and the omnipresence of the album.
Daily Arts Writer Katy Trame can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.