Liela Moss – Internal Working Model: Album Review

Testing, teasing and thoroughly tempting – Third solo album from Duke Spirit vocalist Liela Moss is a triumph.

Release Date:  13th January 2023

Label: Bella Union Records

Formats: CD / Vinyl / Digital

There’s every chance that our regular visitors will be familiar with Liela Moss.  Internal Working Model is her third solo album – it follows 2018’s My Name Is Safe In Your Mouth and 2020’s acclaimed Who The Power – but she’s probably even better known as the vocalist with indie/art/alt-rockers (take your pick), The Duke Spirit or, if you missed her in that guise, then maybe you’ll remember her from one of her many collaborations with the like of UNKLE, Nick Cave, Georgio Moroder or others.  Whatever or whoever caused you to recall her name isn’t really too important.

But what is important is the news that Internal Working Model is a triumph.  Packed with tunes that, alternately; test, tease and tempt the listener, it’s an album that’s packed full of pleasant surprises – and I don’t just mean the guest appearances from such honourable celebrities as Jehnny Beth, Gary Numan and Dhani Harrison.  Synths may be calling the tunes here, but Liela exercises a remarkable flexibility to draft in folky, poppy, orchestral and operatic influences to sweeten the eighties dystopia that forms the bedrock to many of the songs.  Internal Working Model is an album that will provide ample rewards to anyone willing to take the time to listen and absorb, confront the shocks and overcome the challenges to reach the enticement that awaits.

We live, there is no doubt whatsoever, in challenging times, and, with Internal Working Model, Liela seeks to offer a way of dealing with those challenges.  As she explains: “I’m trying to find a way to plug myself into a new community.  I am imagining a tribe, navigating away from our very centralized culture, dismantling it and revising the way I think things work.  We see the beneficiaries of the status quo suppress realness and well-being by selling you a banal alternative that upholds their agenda.  I want to add the firepower to burn that old house down… Lyrically, I’m laughing and yelling at surveillance capitalism, I’m throwing down sentences that reach out to simply feel good on good terrain, to feel safe on planet Earth.  There is turbulence, but an understanding that the urge to restructure is growing; human goodness cannot be truly suppressed.”

Well – there’s a lot of admirable ambition encapsulated within that mission statement and I’m not sure that Internal Working Model reaches every one of the buttons it aims to press, but Rome wasn’t built in a day, and there’s no doubt that Liela and her collaborators do manage to strike a few matches, even if the old house still remains standing.  For the time being, anyway…

Opening track Empathy Files sets the scene for what’s to come.  Liela seems to pick up the story where Kate Bush left off, with a spacy, sinister vocal that delivers her dystopian lyric – “We’ve got empathy files, we’ve got data for miles on you,” to a driving percussive rhythm.  Eighties-style dystopia remains in place in the fuller-sounding WOO (No-one’s Awake), as a tinkly percussion part and a solid bass add colour to the swirly synths.  It’s almost poppy in places, especially when the string effects cut in, but the dark mood of the song’s foundation serves as a constant reminder of our dark times.

As soon as I heard current single Vanishing Shadows, I was reminded of Gary Numan and his 1979 hit single, Cars, so it wasn’t really a surprise to learn that Numan is, indeed, the song’s guest vocalist.  The song churns along in an authentically eighties way; one of the poppier cuts on the album.  Liela’s vocal on The Wall From the Floor alternates between the plaintive, personal pleading of the verses to assertive authority as the full instrumentation kicks in.  One of the album’s strongest tracks, it would work as a big ballad in a different setting but, drenched as it is in electronica, it unsettles the listener in a way that Tom Jones, or any other career balladeer, would never manage.

Jehnny Beth steps up to provide guest vocals on Ache in the Middle, another of the album’s genuine highlights.  After demoing the song, Liela had offered the tapes to Beth’s partner, Johnny Hostile, to develop the instrumentation.  “He asked for the lyrics,” recalls Liela, “Which was unexpected as I don’t think I’ve heard him sing.  Then he said, ‘Jehnny heard it, she thought it was cool and decided to sing on it.  She doesn’t mind if you don’t want to keep it, but she’s done this – what do think?’ I was like: ‘Are you crazy?  This is brilliant, this is an absolute gift.  It’s one of those rare things where you get more than you expected.  That doesn’t happen often, does it?’ “  And the proof of the pudding is plainly evident; unsurprisingly, the blended vocals are heavenly and the instrumentation – probably the most diverse on the album – is rich and highly engaging.

Falling somewhere between folk and quasi-opera, the delightful New Day reminds me of one of those tunes used to accompany a speeded-up film of a flower opening at the start of Spring, before the pace is lifted once again for the crashing, insistent Come and Find Me, yet another of the album’s gems. 

The album draws towards its close with Welcome to It, a song that is propelled along by an irresistible, primitive, bass and percussion rhythm and is, just maybe, the album’s most easily accessible track .  The album’s third guest, Dhani Harrison, joins the fun for closing track, Love As Hard As You Can.  The song’s message, as Liela explains, is a simple one: “Love your friends, look after your neighbours, listen to different points of view, calm the anger, be less grasping, give things away when it’s easy to do, and don’t worry about it” – all admirable and worthwhile objectives and, there’s no doubt, we’d all be in a better place if we all lived by that simple code.  And, in support of the message, the sound is fleshed out to a richness that contrasts vividly with the sparseness found in other parts of the album, as piano, solid bass, non-intrusive percussion and violin effects all drop into the mix.  It’s a worthy end to a fascinating album.

Watch the Official video to Ache in the Middle – one the album’s many highlights – here:

Liela Moss online: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / YouTube

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