Ethereal, Minimalist Pop
Willis Earl Beal is a machine. Album after album, even short runs, seem to flow effortlessly from the head of the somewhat eccentric musician to the ears of his many avid fans. Generally speaking, Beal fans are greedy by nature, due to the fact that Beal releases so much music and so frequently, it’s hard to take time to digest and fully appreciate each release as they roll out.
Last August he released Nocturnes to much acclaim, but his latest album is more like an EP. The short album, Through the Dark, has eight (technically, seven) songs of varying atmospherics that highlight the soulful, pop vocals of Beal. This all just before his European tour.
Beal has his own flavor that distinguishes itself almost immediately from any other little-known “pop” artist out in the world today. He manages to pair passionate, falsetto-laden vocal gymnastics with minimalist symphonic electronics. Clearly the focus of each track is Beal over the backing musicianship as the strings and keys are simply manufactured from computer tapping and cutting, but that’s enough. Beal has a hauntingly lonely voice, which arguably is his best instrument and quality as a musician.
The shortness of an EP is the perfect length for a Beal record as his songs do not seem to distinguish themselves much from one track to the next. The time signatures are essentially the same, the instrumentation roughly collectively borrowed from the track before and after it – the only distinct differences seem to be in Beal’s vocal approach. For instance, because Beal has incredibly proficient vocal control, listeners rarely get to experience his normal chest voice; however, tracks “Through the Dark,” for which the album is titled, and “Warm Tonight,” Beal showcases his chest voice control. Often these vocal switches is what lends any modicum of dynamics between any one track. Near the end of “Warm Tonight,” Beal transitions effortlessly between his chest and falsetto resulting in a highly infectious trance-inducing piece of music.
Not many artists performing today can get away with releasing music that sounds like it’s a demo, but Beal manages to release tracks that would only be worse if added more. This is his approach listeners know him so well for – minimalism. Less is certainly more with Beal. Perhaps other pop musicians today could learn a thing or two about the subtleties and benefits of writing music for the minimalist rather than explosive chaos littering the airwaves.