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Posted on August 6th, 2014 (9:00 am) by Hannah Rank

There are just a few select people out there that remind you just how mediocre you are as a person. Most people tend to think, at least on some subconscious level, that they are special. Then they hear about someone like Willis Earl Beal.

A homeless vet, turned folk artist, turned magazine cover story, turned signed, touring soul singer (and now, apparently, actor) in the span of just a couple of years. His story, which gets told and retold nearly every time someone writes about him, has become a kind of hero myth, or blown-up PR stunt, or even a dream biography for fans of the outsider music archetype. You decide. Whatever we’re meant to take from his background and persona, cultivated in the media by numerous interviews, in the end the most important part about him as an artist should be his music.

So, what about the music? Through two albums, one self-produced and the second a more polished, major studio venture, he’s dropped his label, Hot Charity (indie subsidiary of XL) and is self-releasing his latest musical venture Experiments in Time. It’s a real departure from his sophomore XL release Nobody knows.. It’s even somewhat of a departure of his lo-fi debut Acousmatic Sorcery, which put him on the map for both the music industry and cult worshippers. For Beal, Experiments in Time is a reflection, a poetic exercise where process and performance are very much intertwined. The edges of his consciousness, his endless streams of thought, seep onto each expressive verse and simplistic chord.

This album is about singular contemplation, about "stagnation" as he muses in the opening track "Questions.” There’s basically one central thematic tone throughout the album, a dark grey cloud that hovers over him as he weaves through the endless tunnels of his philosophy, his lonesome desperation, his memories, and his feelings. When speaking of this album, Beal positions the time taken to record it almost as another central instrument. He notes that as he recorded and played his songs back, “You’re listening in a different time...Here are these emotions, and here I am again, re-transmitting them to myself. The more I listen to it, the more I felt the same. Time has, and simultaneously has not, passed.” Time becomes another reflection within this album, though Beal rarely discusses it. He begs a discovery within a discovery, listening to the surface and what’s beneath, pretty weighty stuff for fifty-three minutes of music that’s already fairly heavy.

You could of course take the trees for the forest on this album, crinkling your nose at points where the production is distractingly bad, where his powerful yet untamed voice goes out of tune, and where his musings sound rambling and unfocused. That, as they say, would be missing the point. The album, upon first listen, could seem to lack clarity and variety, but the variety is there, yet subtle and synesthetic. The variety is sprinkled throughout the dreamscape of the album, in tracks like the philosophical gospel on “Same Auld Tears,” the lo-fi R&B riffs on “Slow Bus,” and on the revelatory “Now is Gone.” Beal grabs onto true inspiration in this album that flows out of his every pore. This album finds its way through a field of “Questions” to an awakening in “Now is Gone,” telling in a story in unique and insightful ways that may not always make sense. Such is the way of Willis Earl Beal.

Track List:

  1. Questions
  2. Same Auld Tears
  3. Monotony
  4. In Your Hands
  5. Waste It Away
  6. Heads Or Tails
  7. Who Knows
  8. Traveling Eyes
  9. Slow Bus
  10. I Am
  11. At The Airport
  12. Now Is Gone
Willis Earl Beal: Experiments in Time
Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

75 / 100
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