Soft, ambient synth blues
There’s a special sort of connection we have with sadness. Whether it’s a heart-breaking monologue, a scathingly honest poem or gently descending fingers on a piano, a kinship is lit one way or another. Yet there is something more to sadness when it is sung – a present honesty in voice that typically begs the listener to understand. The latest album by Willis Earl Beal, Noctunes, is a testament to that association. In this specific instance, it’s heartbreak – the vessel often chosen by musicians of sadness. Noctunes is an emollient album from start to finish, soft in its entirety, but brutally devastating in the details.
At first listen, Beal’s voice is absolutely stunning in its acrobatic movement and smooth transitions. The synths pair well with Beal’s style and dynamic, their relative tameness allow for him to carry the weight of the song on his lungs. From the get go, Beal’s expertise in both high and low ranges are impressive.
It’s fitting that he occasionally writes music for the brokenhearted given that he also goes by another moniker – Nobody. For the wounded listener, it’s easy to slip into his shoes. After all, when we are beat down, don’t we all feel like nobody? There’s a certain level of irony here. In reality, Nobody is Everybody, especially when everybody at some point feels like nobody.
The first track, “Under You,” is almost like an unheard of before lullaby. The droney synth colors the background as Beal details the song with a disarming vocal melody. It’s a good introduction to the album and what to expect. Not only does it showcase what type of music the album encumbers, but it also demonstrates what the subject matter largely is – namely, his recent divorce.
“Stay,” an emotional appeal to his ex-wife about rebuilding the marriage despite the rubble that remains. “I’m still holding on,” he sings midway through over and over again in various melodic lines. The plea is genuine as his voice soars into the highs of his falsetto near the end.
Musically speaking, the album is staid throughout as percussion is severely drawn back and the place of the bass is manned by the synths. There is no upbeat track and the listener is forced to focus solely on Beal’s voice and lyrics, which are ostensibly beautiful, but often repetitive in nature. So much so that Beal often multi-tracks his voice throughout the entirety of Noctunes. Beal is a poet with a voice rather than a musician with lyrical ability.
Pick any track and there’s something to enjoy. However, the entire album can be daunting as it tends to run together from track to track. The synths have a stripped nature throughout Noctunes despite the occasional drum/click track to accompany Beal. If there’s a need to simply listen while relaxing, then this is a perfect album to soak in during a meditation. Although be warned, some tracks are quite emotional. Beal has a bright future, he only has room to grow and fans get to go with him. Take advice from his last track, “Midnight,” and “let’s just run.”