In Review: Willis Earl Beal – Acousmatic Sorcery

Willis Earl Beal comes bundled with an irresistible hook: unknown musician needs to make music by whatever means necessary and maybe needs a friend… Uses shit-all to make songs, posts his phone number on fliers to take requests, busks on Chicago’s train stations… Gets rough home-recordings published by Found magazine… It’s a likeable back-story that critics are now content to pick apart for its genuineness and sincerity, when such characteristics can absolutely make or break an artists “buzz.”

But Beal’s struggle isn’t far from what most unrepresented brilliant artists and musicians face.  Instantly pegged as an outsider musician his lack of proper training, Beal compensates for his lack of technical ability and means with a ragged bravery of just going for it. And that’s part of his appeal; Beal is like a sojourner, stripped to his rugged essence. People like the idea of the diamond in the rough, and Beal is an artist ready-born with his own cult. He needed to make these tunes, out of some compulsion perhaps. We’re lucky to even hear them.

That too is part of the cult and mystique of this 28 year-old Chicagoan.  There’s an incredible purity and intensity to his songs; they seem to belong to Beal first and to us second.  Beal is an outsider musician in the sense that he richly draws from the outside, the left-brain, the ineffable ether of language, noise and music. As such the best that can be said about his debut Acousmatic Sorcery—complied from tracks released by Found Magazine—is also the worst: it’s pure and unadulterated, but by the same token wiry, unfocused, and at times awful on the ears. The semblance of melodies and structure can barely be made out amid the scrapes and hiss, but they’re present to be found. And more importantly the sonic landscape of Acousmatic Sorcery—whether because of the homespun production values or Beal’s incredible vocal range—is a harrowing one, full of graveyard whistling, dark nights of the soul, and existential wandering.  Loneliness and melancholia pervade throughout the album, especially on beautiful tracks like “Evening’s Kiss,” “Monotony,” and “Sambo Joe from the Rainbow.”

Beal’s potent poetry and hallucinatory images stand out against the murk and din, begging the question would his music lose any of its power or beauty with proper production. Maybe, maybe not. Like the “lost demos” of Neutral Milk Hotel, most of the songs on Acousmatic Sorcery seem transmuted from some other, deeper, truthful place. While absolute purity does not always equate to absolute perfection when it comes to the craft of making music, Beal remains a magnetic performer and powerful  poet.

– Review by Chance Dibben

Check out this stunning video directed and animated by Beal himself for his song “Evening’s Kiss”

Acousmatic Sorcery is out now on XL records