Willis Earl Beal: Acousmatic Sorcery (XL)

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Willis Earl Beal: Take Me Away
Willis Earl Beal: Acousmatic Sorcery (XL)

Beal's story is as interesting as this often engrossing debut album.

In 2007 at age 23 after being discharged from the US army, he went and lived in the New Mexico desert while suffering from depression, then returned to Chicago, lived with his grandma and stole from the supermarket.

He put up posters saying if you called his number he'd sing you a song. (Over 300 did). If you wrote to him he would also draw you a picture.

Right here we see his "point of difference" and he is honest in admitting he had "no job and no reasonable plateau for hope".

When his story was told he got flown to New York, signed a contract, hung out with Damon Albarn, Mos Def wants to make a film of his life and he's now opening for SBTRKT.

He's a Tom Waits fan and in places this debut has that gruff, clank'n'grind bluesy quality (Take Me Away, the dissonant rap of Ghost Robot and hidden piece at the end) or like Gil Scott-Heron coming down a bad line.

But there are also minimalist pieces like the hypnotic Evening's Kiss (“clip-clop concrete, heels on it, feel disillusioned and cool catatonic, always in a daze without smoking that chronic”) and eerie poetry over what sounds like homemade gamelan and percussion (Sambo Jo from the Rainbow).

He's also got a gospel quality (Swing on Low) and writes lean ballads (Monotony and Away My Silent Lover with rudimentary guitar).

Like a black Daniel Johnston or a more alt.folk Roky Erickson, he's oddly mesmerising.

But he's also a smart cookie and if we read the "novel actually about something" which comes with this album he is well read, or at least knows literary characters from movies. And he can certainly turn a phrase and story: "He cried like Miss America in a Malaysian monsoon".

His X-rated drawings and novel were done after he split up from his girlfriend "and all I had was a well of degenerate thoughts".

Some might look at the drawings of sexual acts and sometimes angry and graphic text and say "Quite".  

But in an era when college graduates peddle alt.country and old time religion like they were born into it, Beal is an uneasy outsider poet-cum-sound machine.

He's real, and that's rare. And sometimes scary.

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