Album review: Willis Earl Beal, Acousmastic Sorcery

By Graham Reid

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Album cover for Acousmastic Sorcery by Willis Earl Beal. Photo / Supplied
Album cover for Acousmastic Sorcery by Willis Earl Beal. Photo / Supplied

Beal's story is interesting. In 2007, at age 23, after being discharged from the US army, he lived in the New Mexico desert while suffering from depression, returned to Chicago, lived with his grandma and put up posters saying if you called his number he'd sing you a song. (More than 300 did). When his story was told he was 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 a 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). Oddly mesmerising.

While college graduates peddle alt.country old time religion, Beal's an uneasy outsider poet-cum-sound machine. Real, and that's rare.

Stars: 4/5
Verdict: A black Daniel Johnston with homemade gear and his X-rated art in the booklet.
Buy this album here.

- TimeOut / elsewhere.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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