The story of Willis Earl Beal is a strange but compelling one. Once a military man, then a dropout on Simon Cowell’s The X Factor, Beal now finds himself standing at the open mouth of a musical tyrannosaurs, pulling teeth and making music. Ranging from lo-fi and r’n’b to experimental folk and gospel, Beal’s ear for a soulful melody has made him a star, albeit a low-key one. A curious and cool individual, cut him open and he bleeds art.
Building on his origins for his latest record, Noctunes, much is unfortunately left to be desired. Created around a despondent and distinctly 80s style synth line, the album’s most prominent feature is its indistinctness. Each track fades into the next almost too seamlessly. While the lyrically and melodically strong “Flying So Low” and “Like A Box” capture everything that Willis Earl Beal is about – soul, oddity and fearlessness – they fail to stand out as memorable.
However, the gentle spirit that Beal so simply carries is met within the spooky “Lust”. “I am sitting here and have been since three-eleven this morning,” Beal sings. A master of folk storytelling, the essence of what Noctunes tries to convey rears its head here.“Those girls on those movie screens, I imagine how they laugh, smiling at me,” he continues. Arguably the only real standout track of the record is “Lust”, which ditches the crying synths for an equally sombre guitar. The result is alarmingly more pleasant than the bulk of the record.
Other than “Lust”, the differences are far and few between over the course of the rest of the album. “Say The Word” offers something a bit jazzier, and “Start Over” gives Beal a chance to stretch his vocal chords. Other than that, Noctunes is a fall from form for a very gifted and likeable songwriter. The downfall for this album has been his distaste for convention. In the end, Noctunes reeks of nothing but disappointment. A homogenous blur of tracks that add little percussive hardiness, and barely any interesting harmonies that are awash with an array of uncharismatic synthesisers. Too artsy for its own good, the songwriting chops of Willis Earl Beal have left left us on a sour note. He may be soulful, but that’s about it regarding his latest album.
Release: 28th August 2015, Tender Loving Empire
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