Willis Earl Beal, “Acousmatic Sorcery” (Hot Charity, 2012)
I’ve been hearing quite a bit about Willis Earl Beal lately. About his former homelessness and his relationship with his grandmother. About how he used to leave CDs in random public places and give out flyers that said “I like oatmeal, train stations, night-time and chamomile tea. Call me.”. About his “years of toiling in obscurity” (though he’s only 27), making music while working the night shift as a hotel porter. And among the few things white hipsters can totally get behind, a formely-homeless black guy who wears Bukowski T-shirts and makes music using discarded instruments found at flea markets is definitely one of them. These biograpic details are the stuff legends are made of. And his lo-fi sound, reminiscent of 90s indie rock bands but, unlike those bands, definitely un-middleclass, only reinforces his “authenticity”.
What’s surprising is that, regardless of the hype, his songs are actually good. While listening to the whole album (Acousmatic Sorcery) might tire a little - variety is not one of Beal’s strengths and the songs are not exactly what you’d call catchy - there are enough interesting things going on to make it worth your time. Sambo Joe From the Rainbow and Monotony are highlights. And if you have a thing for album closers, as I do, bonus track Masquerade is as good as they come.The song’s strongest asset, apart from Beal’s skin-crawling voice, is the monotonous catchy-yet-subtly-unnerving whistling that never quite lets you become comfortable with the song - a warning to always be on your guard*. Have a listen.
*I may not be the only one finding myself wanting to yell “Yo, Omar’s coming, YO!”