Somebody Knows Willis
Willis Earl Beal has seen a lot in a short lifetime. Born in Chicago, he’s spent his twenties discharged from the Army, working odd jobs, homeless and then as a contestant on Simon Cowell’s X Factor. In 2012 Beal was signed by Hot Charity/XL Recordings and immediately released Acousmatic Sorcery, and now in 2013 he delivered Nobody Knows. Beal’s music is hard to classify, a tale of two albums that are the best of times and the worst of times.
On Acousmatic Sorcery, his debut, Beal spent a lot of time and space figuring out who he was as an artist. Most of the items on the album were atonal, deconstructed sketches of song snippets, never fully flushed out and lacking consistent melody, harmony, rhythm or any of the things we associate with music. The album was often difficult to listen to, as if a gifted young child is making his way through the preschool music room, figuring out how all of his new toys work. Nobody Knows. builds on Beal’s experimentation on Sorcery to make an album of itself.
His songs have structure, sections and thought-out chord progressions. “Wavering Lines” opens the album with a nice old spiritual feel and interesting orchestrations that complement its simplicity. “Coming Through,” featuring Cat Power, adds a noticeable and agreeable addition of instrumentation that serves to groove the rest of the album into an R&B and gospel feel. “Everything Unwinds” continues the progression with a slow lament to spinning out of control. There are some other nice torch-like songs including “Blue Escape” and “White Noise.”
Nobody Knows. clearly stands out in relief of Acousmatic Sorcery. It is everything that the first album was not and shows real talent, promise and development. Let’s all hope Willis Earl Beal has more growing to do.