Review : Willis Earl - Beal Acousmatic Sorcery
PitchforkIt's hard to stand out in the world of independent music. "College Grad Moves to Fashionable Urban Enclave and Starts a Garage Rock Band" isn't the most compelling headline, regardless of whether the music is any good. How do you get people to pay attention? One common method in the last couple of years has been to swaddle your music in the gauze of "mystery": no bio, no photos, a cryptic name that puts the artist one step ahead of the engineers writing Google's search algorithms. Another is to actually live an unusual life before you first sit down with a publicist to write a press release. This is the path of Chicago's Willis Earl Beal.
Before news came earlier this year that he'd signed to a subsidiary of indie giant XL, very few people outside of Chicago had heard of Beal. A profile in the Chicago Reader from July of last year told the story of a 27-year-old African-American man who grew up on the South Side of Chicago, had been in the Army, lived with his grandmother, bummed around Albuquerque, and sometimes left CD-Rs of his music in random places. He was a visual artist who had drawn the attention of Found Magazine. He printed his phone number on flyers and invited people to call him and he would sing them a song. He busked a capella on El platforms. After the news came that he'd signed to XL, we discovered that he had auditioned the reality television show "The X Factor". Add it all up and the urge to ask, "What's the deal with this guy?" is overwhelming....full text
GuardianThe cover of Willis Earl Beal's debut album bears a phone number and the promise to sing you a song if you call him: part of the beauty of this Chicagoan's extraordinary avant-blues songs is that they sound like they were recorded down phone lines. He's said, "I want to be like the black Tom Waits", and that's plain on the discordant stomp of "Take Me Away" or on "The Masquerade" ,where he's a consummately devilish raconteur of revels. But Waits never did, for example, rap deftly (as on "Ghost Robot") over a freaky chromatic fug that recalls kids' TV shows from the 60s....full text
BbcA young man with an old soul, Willis Earl Beal has little place in 2012. He isn’t one for travelling without moving, social media exchanges an alien concept; his stories are born from first-hand encounters spread across the United States. From New Mexico to Chicago, his journeying is the genesis of this debut set – and somewhere along the way, Mos Def got in touch proposing a film based on Beal’s life to date. His dramas are small but universal: the flush of love at first sight, and the pain of unrequited affections; the drag of minimum-wage drudgery. And everything is styled by the lo-fi feel of recording into cheap karaoke machines.
Acousmatic Sorcery possesses an offbeat magic, its hold on the listener tight but its rattle archaic. Beal hasn’t sold himself at the crossroads – he’s spied the dusty remains of those who’ve failed to broker deals with higher powers and pressed ahead alone. So this set emerges rough-edged, ill-fitting, barely a whisper compared to the modern studio majority; yet it resonates with such feeling that its contents are irresistible. Its beat-poet blues at times recall Robert Johnson as remoulded by the mindset of Saul Williams: listen to the wandering Cosmic Queries, the chain-gang clank of Swing on Low, and the trail from Mississippi blues to Brooklyn beats is brightly illuminated. Ghost Robot is boombox punk referencing Bob Dylan, while Evening’s Kiss – a lovelorn tale of being smitten by a waitress – is barely there at all, weighed from wafting into the ether only by a heavily plucked acoustic. Its analysis of self-doubt echoes across generations, even if the end product is as ‘modern pop’ as a Howlin’ Wolf anthology....full text
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