Album Review: Liela Moss – Internal Working Model

[Bella Union; 2023]

Years ago, a dear friend shared Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Talk, “Your Elusive Creative Genius” and when I first listened to Liela Moss’ third album, Internal Working Model, it was all I could think about. Whether it was a “divine attendant spirit” ,which could be partly her partner and former bandmate in The Duke Spirit, Toby Butler, or Liela inspired by her daemon within, the cast of being a couple, or perhaps all of the above, she created something remarkable. 

Liela is eloquent and elegant in the way she shares her philosophy through songs and when talking about her art. Here, she lives by her own words in tracks with the synth pop great Gary Numan on “Vanishing Shadow”, then a beauty of a ballad with Jehnny Beth, “Ache in the Middle”, before inviting Dhani Harrison in for the closer, “Love As Hard As You Can”. Internal Working Model is as she desired; a “carnival of good will” rooted in compassion, a look inside her own deep empathy. 

You know the album is going to move you when straight out of the gate, “Empathy Files” drags you underwater with its warm and hollow bass wobbles. Ominous but enticing musically, it matches the contradictory concepts of “empathy files” and “having data for miles on you”; nothing creepy here. Her voice is instantly beholden. She keeps the album moving with “WOO (No One’s Awake)”, where looped bells form the rhythm and warmed up under synth pads it is almost epic. 

Collaboration requires that the artist’s unique styles combine in work that is reminiscent but at the same time, you can’t quite put your finger on which influences what part. There is an ease to the memory jog. The synth pop pioneer Gary Numan is all over the intervals of “Vanishing Shadows”, but in that masterful way that you feel the vibe, you feel a progression, but it is Liela. It is a stomping piece.

“The Wall From the Floor” begins in ethereal synth tones and haunting vocals. If a transition from ambience to grunge can ever be considered smooth, she does it here. The back half of the song is brimming with layers of distorted guitar and vocal sounds as she “arrives in the place to be”.

Oh Liela, “Ache in The Middle” is so lovely; the rise and fall of her vocals are mesmerizing. Originally offered to Jehnny Beth’s partner Johnny Hostile for instrumentation, as the story goes, the Savages singer heard it and thinking it was cool, sang on it then offered it graciously to Liela – “an absolute gift”. It is tender and intimate but with the guarded power of Beth’s voice. 

Some use a wave machine to wake, so it’s fitting for “New Day” to include those rippling tidals and magic tinkling loops. The theme of the entire work is empathy and it’s put on display in this minuet.   

Pulsing bass hits and rubberband punch ball balloons push you out and draw you back with the tides of “Come and Find Me”. You can feel Liela’s heartbeat in this one, before it explodes into an alternative rock track that could find a home on Nine Inch Nails’ Year Zero. Her final track  “Love As Hard As You Can” is another collaboration this time with Dhani Harrison. It could have been in Stranger Things with its rolling toms and that angelic voice: you don’t want the album to end just yet.

Liela Moss has always worked well with others whether it is UNKLE, Nick Cave, Giorgio Moroder, The Heritage Orchestra, Lost Horizons or being Alexander McQueen’s or Phillip Lim’s muse. She soars above her previous albums My Name Is Safe in Your Mouth and Who the Power, delivering Internal Working Model just as she planned, with upped movement and rocking pulse, all while teaching us a constructive moral imperative in this new year. Liela’s daya feels so good.