“I had never seen someone grasp the attention of a crowd so quickly before ever singing one note,” said Chris Robles of the Town Hall Pub about Willis Earl Beal‘s first club show at this local watering hole in Chicago. Beal has undergone somewhat of a meteoric rise with his signing to XL Recordings, opening tour slots for indie rockers WU-LYF and London DJ SBTRKT, and even some high-profile slots during this summer’s festival season. It leaves one pondering: Who is Willis Earl Beal? The question is never fully answered on his debut album, Acousmatic Sorcery, but what is clear is that we are witness to a unique talent being born.
On Acousmatic Sorcery, Beal wears many faces. He channels the music box blues of Washington Phillips on instrumental opener “Nepenenoyka” before leading into the junkyard Tom Waits stomp of “Take Me Away”. First single “Evening’s Kiss” is pure bedroom emo folk akin to that of early Lou Barlow four-track recordings. To lesser success, he even takes a stab at a Nick Drake-esque folk song in “Sambo Joe from the Rainbow”.
The genre-hopping and dusty lo-fi recording takes its toll on Acousmatic Sorcery‘s ability to gel as a cohesive album. After several listens, it can sound like a compilation of poorly recorded bootlegs. “Ghost Robot” and “Swing on Low” find Beal trying his hand at rapping, but with lines like “I’m freewheeling like Bob Dylan,” it’s best that Beal lean on his folkie blues-troubadour tendencies. The gentle acoustic strum and Beal’s delicate vocals on “Monotony” redeem the affair and perfectly showcase his blooming talents.
Despite a few missteps, Acousmatic Sorcery is still a unique debut announcing the emergence of a fresh talent worthy of the buzz Beal has been receiving. With an expanding studio budget and Beal figuring out just who he wants to be as a musician, there’s a lot to look forward to from this Chicago treasure.
Essential Tracks: “Monotony”, “Evenings Kiss”, and “Away My Silent Lover”
Feature artwork by Cap Blackard.