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Design By Humans
Published On: Sat, Apr 21st, 2012

Willis Earl Beal: Acousmatic Sorcery

Willis Earl Beal
Acousmatic Sorcery
(XL Recordings)

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When people talk about this record, they almost always start with Beal’s biography: Army service, medical discharge, homelessness, and his habit of leaving CDs in public places. It has become an integral part of Acousmatic Sorcery. But even with all that backstory, the most interesting part of Willis Earl Beal’s debut LP is the actual album.

The music isn’t pretty, shiny, or glossy. Using lo-fi recording techniques, Beal whispers or growls over out-of-tune guitars, with which he creates his own unique musical language. Songs like “Monotony” could very well be played by any pop-rock band, but they wouldn’t sound right without Beal’s sedated two-string guitar work or his shaky voice. But Beal’s marvelously unusual style saves his music, and renders brilliance out of simple tunes.

The one, glaringly obvious comparison to Willis Earl Beal is Tom Waits. Many tracks on Acousmatic Sorcery are reminiscent of his work circa Rain Dogs. “Masquerade,” for instance, sounds like it could be a story improvised by Waits on “Nighthawks at the Diner.” I doubt Beal was paying intentional homage to Waits. They simply share the same musical sensibilities. And people in this world who share Tom Waits’ musical sensibilities should definitely have record deals. Everything about Acousmatic Sorcery, from the way it’s recorded to the way it’s written and performed, is filled with snaps, crackles and pops. That’s a plus. The album is worth at least one good listen, if only because of its intrigue and strangeness.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

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Willis Earl Beal: Acousmatic Sorcery