April 20, 2012
Review: Willis Earl Beal – ‘Acousmatic Sorcery’
Willis Earl Beal – Acousmatic Sorcery
“My name is Willis Earl Beal. Write to me and I’ll make you a drawing,” says a message on the Chicago musician’s homepage, before rather unwisely displaying his full address.
This seemingly earnest offer from a man as apparently remarkable as Beal seems part of the slightly unbelievable backstory that his label, XL, have picked up and run with. Forced to leave the army for medical reasons, the young Beal drifted into depression and away from his home town to the deserts of New Mexico, writing and crudely recording countless songs that were left, along with his contact details, all over the southern state. With a wayfarer’s image and an apparently authentic dose of ‘the blues’, Beal’s is exactly the kind of story that would attract the covers of a dozen magazines and collaboration offers from Damon Albarn long before Acousmatic Sorcery was announced as his official debut.
A gruff, Beefheart-like growl of a voice, junk shop instrumentation and rag-tag lines of often quite macabre imagery should be a combination that at least piques interest. Yet in Beal’s execution there’s a weariness that unfortunately comes across as simply dull, and songs like the pseudo-punk ramblings of ‘Ghost Robot’ have the kind of lo-fi Dictaphone sound and scrappy guitar work that its creators obviously believed necessary to leave in, maybe to cover up some of the album’s more pedestrian tracks.
‘Cosmic Queries’ is a metallic cacophony in the vein of Tom Waits’s more industrial moments, but without Waits’s sardonic observations and black wit. ‘Evening’s Kiss’ and ‘Monotony’ are minimalist strummers, Beal taking a more delicate approach that slides him still further into the mundane. But aside from the grit in ‘Take Me Away’, or the more attractive touches of tape-looped music box sprinkled throughout, Acousmatic Sorcery is a far better story than it is a record.
Read this review in context over at THE STOOL PIGEON