In his short 28 years, Willis Earl Beal has been homeless, in and out of the army, failed to hold onto various jobs, and traversed the country from his home of Chicago to the southwest and back. With a variety of CDs and his trusty portable CD player always by his side, his love and devotion for all kinds of music opened his mind, giving him the motivation to write and record his own songs. The self-taught Beal quickly produced his first album, Acousmatic Sorcery, a collection of sparse beats, rhythms, and grooves that frame his raw lyrics focusing on his life experiences.
The album draws you in with the opening track, “Nepenenoyka,” a mesmerizing instrumental played on what sounds like a toy piano. From there, Beal rolls through a set of tunes that lie somewhere between 1930s blues and Tom Waits. Songs “Take Me Away” and “Ghost Robot” represent both ends of his musical spectrum, while the rest of the music lines up somewhere between the two. The album closes with “Angel Chorus,” which brings the return of the toy piano — only this time it has been manipulated to create a haunting, almost creepy sound, the perfect end to Acousmatic Sorcery.
Beal’s music provides a look into the mind of a musician who is untainted by “yes men” and record label execs looking for a single they can sell. The rawness of the music and vocals is what makes it an enjoyable listen — let’s just hope he can stay true to this sound on his future endeavors.
(Hot Charity/XL Recordings, 304 Hudson Street, 7th Floor, New York, NY 10013)