Willis Earl Beal // Acousmatic Sorcery // April 2 // XL
At the risk of sounding retarded for a native English speaker, I don’t even know if acousmatic is a real word. Then again it’s a part of an album name, the place where everyone is allowed to make up words and form pretentious phrases, nothing wrong with that. In the case of Chicago’s Willis Earl Beal, the title is misleading. Acousmatic Sorcery doesn’t try to outclever its audience. Quite the opposite. Beal’s debut LP is as basic as singer-songwriter guys ever get. The only complex thing here is Beal’s personality.
Acousmatic Sorcery is not one of those lo-fi albums that feature a long haired guy playing hi-fi music (shoutout to my boy Kurt Vile). Beal sounds like he is recording the music in his own kitchen, 50 years ago. It takes skill to sound this lo-fi. For some, the recording quality will be the most memorable thing and it could before Beal’s trademark. Luckily Acousmatic Sorcery doesn’t try to sound that it’s all about being lo-fi (shoutout to my boy Ariel Pink). The songs on here are well formed and offer much more than just the appeal of terrible quality. Beal is not afraid to experiment. For every blues heavy moment like Take Me Away, he offers something that is not expected from a singer songwriter, like the drone opener Nepenenoyka or its extension Bright Copper’noon. Considering that most of the time it’s just Beal and his guitar, every little detail helps making Acousmatic Sorcery into something more than just bedroom recordings.
But hey, never mind all the lo-fi bollocks. Beal is more than your average slacker with an acoustic guitar and a 4 track, telling you about his sad life. More than any lo-fi songwriter in recent memory Beal is relying on atmosphere to paint his moody picture. His strong voice, which sounds much darker and threatening than what is generally expected from a 20-something, wrestles the eerie recording of the guitar to create a foggy image of mystery. Beal’s music is not the sort of thing that will get called night time music, his darkness is concealed inside him, he sounds broken down and yet reluctant to get help. Acousmatic Sorcery is music for the pointless spring mornings, when the mist outside is so thick that you can’t see 5 meters away from you. The sort of stuff that wouldn’t be out of place on the soundtrack of the first Silent Hill game. Even the brighter sounding tracks on here like Evening’s Kiss still sound demented. A lot of the music here relies on the listener to embrace Beal’s grey persona and while the louder tracks can be hits or misses, the bleak moments on here like the highlight Sambo Joe From The Rainbow is what makes Acousmatic Sorcery a troubling, yet rewarding listen.
There’s a video somewhere on the internet that shows Willis Earl Beal attending the X Factor audition. One can only wonder what sort of music the guy would be making if he got through the preliminary rounds but for now the stuff on Acousmatic Sorcery will do. It’s the sound of a troubled man that is filled with desperation, yet painfully introverted. This reminds me of that Pop. 1280 album where a bunch of guys played tired minor chords and sang in faux-creep vocal style to come across as terrifying. Take a leaf from Beal’s book guys. It’s possible to imagine the stuff on here not making any impact if it had been produced differently but good number of tracks here have something more, raw personality. For music that could be described as grey, Acousmatic Sorcery sure does feel vivid with darkness.