Critics have been unrelenting in their efforts to brand Willis Earl Beal with labels ranging from blues to folk, gospel, lo-fi, indie, R&B, and art rock to name but a few. Due to this he has remained an elusive and enigmatic figure as a “defence mechanism” for fear of being tied to any particular genre, a tactic that so far seems to have worked. The fact is Beal’s career was still in its primordial state when these labels were being pinned to the Chicago born artist. His latest release “Noctunes” marks the moment his career finally developed the ability to breathe oxygen and sprout legs to tread new ground.
A departure from Beal’s grittier material, Noctunes has more of a minimalistic feel and is heavily laden with the ethereal droning of synthesisers, echoing guitars and pianos and of course Beal’s own astoundingly versatile vocals. Where songs such as “Too Dry to Cry” (from the album “Nobody Knows”) dealt with themes of macho posturing and phallic imagery; Noctunes is more sincere in its approach showing a much more vulnerable Willis Earl Beale than we have ever seen before.
From the very beginning we get the impression that this is a very therapeutic album. Beal himself stated that the album was intended to be a collection of lullabies to aid his troubled mind. As you may have guessed from the title, Noctunes is dark but gentle, light yet sorrowful. The album serves as a possible reflection of Beale’s turbulent life experiences of being homeless to becoming one of this generation’s most promising artists.
Particular highlights include “Lust”, a track in which Beal remains ever faithful to his blues roots and which also features some of Beal’s most arresting lyrical work yet. The song tackles the all too familiar subject of sexual desires and their destructive capabilities; a recurring theme throughout Beal’s body of work. The light percussions on “Survive” introduces a subtle hip-hop element to the album before being accompanied by a cameo appearance of the operatic, booming voice fans have grown so accustomed to. The orchestral miasma of tracks like “No Solution” and “Stay” capture the dream-like essence of the album and perfectly marry with Beale’s heart-breaking vocal performance.
It seems as though Beal has become increasingly frustrated by those who constantly try to pigeon-hole his music and has defied the know-it-alls with Noctunes; his act of adolescent rebellion against the musical powers that be. Did it pay off? Well, although some tracks sound like they would feature on your mum’s yoga CD, Willis Earl Beal proves he has gargantuan levels of talent and limitless potential for the future. Unfortunately, Noctunes feels like Beal is holding back slightly by abandoning the eccentricity and left field instrumentals that fans of the “Nobody Knows” era might come to expect on this album. If you’re craving something delicate and sonorous after a long day at work then look no further; because Noctunes should come with a “do not operate heavy machinery whilst listening to this album” warning.
“Noctunes” will be available on August 28th via Tender Loving Empire