Willis Earl Beal has been out of view for over two years: turns out he was busy prepping Noctunes, his sweeping new LP. The feel of this music occurs to me as space-soul: not space in George Clintonesque way, but in the sense that it feels like Beal’s intense vocals feel like they are floating in a void of subtle synths and heartache. On Tender Loving Empire.
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When this was played in the office last week I somehow got the initial impression that it was the album where Sam Smith finally ‘does a Scott Walker’. Instead this is the latest missive from American oddball Willis Earl Beal. Now I had him down as some kind of whacked out bluesy Daniel Johnston sort but here he reinvents himself as a drifting, spacey soul man.
His voice would be impressive to pretty much anyone but luckily to those of us who run for the mute button when Smith and his ilk holler away on television, Earl chooses to use it in a way no-one could have predicted. The songs can barely be described as such….they are drifting quasi-ambient pieces over which he slowly intones words before seemingly drifting away into the ether. You come away from the thing not 100% sure you’ve enjoyed it but knowing you’ve heard something personal and effecting.
Each track moves along at a snails pace…it creeps along. The music is basically different varieties of ‘Streets of Philadelphia’ type synth and pulsing electronics. This home fi approach to instrumentation means that Beal can stretch his voice out and use different intonations without any worries that the music is actually going to change. ‘Like A Box’ is particularly impressive sounding like the great early TV on the Radio of 'Young Liars'.
It’s bleak throughout - this is soul noir from the bottom of a pit of despair. The kind of record Marvin Gaye should have made in his Belgium wilderness years. There’s something about this records naked honesty that after on listen it stays on your mind all day.
YOUR RECENTLY VIEWED ITEMS
- Noctunes by Willis Earl Beal
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