Review : Willis Earl Beal - Acousmatic Sorcery
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
Consequenceofsound“I had never seen someone grasp the attention of a crowd so quickly before ever singing one note,” said Chris Robles of the Town Hall Pub about Willis Earl Beal‘s first club show at this local watering hole in Chicago. Beal has undergone somewhat of a meteoric rise with his signing to XL Recordings, opening tour slots for indie rockers WU-LYF and London DJ SBTRKT, and even some high-profile slots during this summer’s festival season. It leaves one pondering: Who is Willis Earl Beal? The question is never fully answered on his debut album, Acousmatic Sorcery, but what is clear is that we are witness to a unique talent being born.
On Acousmatic Sorcery, Beal wears many faces. He channels the music box blues of Washington Phillips on instrumental opener “Nepenenoyka” before leading into the junkyard Tom Waits stomp of “Take Me Away”. First single “Evening’s Kiss” is pure bedroom emo folk akin to that of early Lou Barlow four-track recordings. To lesser success, he even takes a stab at a Nick Drake-esque folk song in “Sambo Joe from the Rainbow”....full text
PrettymuchamazingThere are a lot of people who want Willis Earl Beal to be someone he’s not. It’s a tempting proposition. After all, the kid has pipes that immediately bring legends to mind; it’s tough not to wonder what it would sound like if Beal wrapped his hands around Sam Cooke and Otis Redding standards. We’ve caught brief glimpses – this YouTube video, a couple of songs on his debut album Acousmatic Sorcery – but those glimpses will have to suffice. “Some people have talked to me and have wanted me to be a neo-soul artist,” Beal told Pigeons and Planes. “Nothing against neo-soul, but that’s just not what I want to do.”
Rather than the next Sam or Otis, Willis is a creature all his own. Acousmatic Sorcery is less a collection of songs and more an experiment in sound-making, as if Beal walks to and fro, picking up instruments and figuring out how to use them make something like music. The album’s lead track (at least in this iteration, since the tracks have been shuffled in their various release forms) is “Nepenenoyka,” named after the Belarusian lap harp that sounds its central melody. The thin, tinny notes are discordant and out of tune; Jandek, one of Beal’s most-cited influences, immediately jumps to mind.
“I don’t really know how it’s played,” Beal admitted in a must-read interview with GQ. “It came with a lot of suggestions for songs, and I didn’t have the patience to look at it or read the directions. I just got a toothpick or whatever I could find and just went up and down on it, and pre-recorded a lot of different patterns and overdubs until I got something I thought was interesting.” The track is a big, bright flag telling listeners that what they’re about to hear is probably not what they expected....full text
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